Before The Sandman ever premiered on Netflix, the choice of professional Handsome Menace Boyd Holbrook for the role of the Corinthian — the teeth-for-eyes nightmare who invented serial killers — all but guaranteed a fandom attachment to him.
And just in time, there’s a book precisely for the beautiful, precious people making gifsets and writing Corinthian/Reader fic in second-person perspective: Nightmare Country by James Tynion IV and Lisandro Estherren.
Actually, it’s more than just in time. The book is five issues deep into a story about a young woman who sees nightmares when she’s awake. And her collision with the Corinthian leads to a twist simultaneously buckwild and completely fitting to Sandman’s logic.
In Gaiman’s world, nightmares walk the earth, Lucifer runs a piano bar, and dreams don’t have to be real to have power. So it’s actually incredible that Tynion and Estherren revealed that the villain of their first arc is… the angel Moroni, who supposedly appeared to Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism.
Welcome to Monday Funnies, Polygon’s weekly list of the books that our comics editor enjoyed this past week. It’s part society pages of superhero lives, part reading recommendations, part “look at this cool art.” There may be some spoilers. There may not be enough context. But there will be great comics.
Also, it was a slim week for releases, as “fifth Wednesdays” usually are, and so we’ve decided to focus on one neat book’s neat reveal. (And if you missed the last edition, read this.)
Gaiman’s Sandman — along with American Gods — are his great works of cosmological egalitarianism. All belief, from superstitions and urban legend to folk stories to organized religion, are on the table and ripe for incorporation and dramatization in the American melting pot. The comics world gives us a lot of space to watch British folks write Great American Novels, with Watchmen as the ur example. Tapping the figure of Moroni as a Sandman character is a perfect example of the kind of insight on American spiritual fucked-up-ed-ness that only an actual American writer will put into production.
Up until now, Nightmare Country has been a comic of disparate elements, all of them extremely Sandman. There’s a young artist who never dreams but sees a monster with toothless mouths for eyes when she’s awake. For some reason, she has caught the eye of the employers and their horrifically self-mutilated hired killers, Mr. Agony and Mr. Ecstasy. Which fascinates a rich asshole, who himself is guided by an unnamed, menacing angel. And the Corinthian, in what seems to be a search for the meaning of his impact on dreamers and the identity of the mouth-eyed monster who’s cramping his style, takes an interest in all of it.
The Corinthian, created at the close of the 1980s, was Gaiman’s response to America’s “golden age of serial murder,” positing that a rogue Nightmare created to force mortals to productively face their fears escaped into the Waking World and inspired enough killers that they could have a secret yearly convention about it. Horror writer Tynion — co-creator of the ferociously incisive Department of Truth with artist Martin Simmonds — has been marinating in American conspiracy theories, urban legend, and folk mythology since roughly 2016. Perspectives that Gaiman comes by secondhand, Tynion has by birthright: a queer sensibility and a cynical American’s understanding of the country’s mythology. It’s hard to think of a better match to incorporate America’s most mainstream home-grown religion into a story about the Corinthian.
Nightmare Country took its sweet time setting up smaller stakes with the staples of Sandman form: mortals getting instantly wrecked by Endless drama, a monstrous murdering duo, a rich guy who hubristically believes he can conquer the supernatural as he conquered the material. It was a comic I enjoyed reading but not one that I dropped into my friends DMs to extoll.
But your villain is the angel who invented Mormonism, back for another swing at forcibly molding the American Dream to his mysterious intentions? I can’t wait to see where this goes.