James Tynion, Lisandro Estherren, and Patricio Delpeche dip their toes back into The Dreaming in The Sandman Universe: Nightmare Country #1. The story centers around the nightmare The Corinthian, whose teeth for eyes motif has been an inspiration for a Brooklyn college student named Flynn. (It’s less inspiring to the guy she brings back to her dorm room.) Estherren’s art style actually looks like dreams with a flowing, impressionistic line and a lo-fi palette from Delpeche. However, in the early going the visuals are unfortunately all Nightmare Country has going for it.
In the tradition of many Sandman stories and spinoffs like the Death minis and The Dreaming, Nightmare Country #1 focuses on mortals with supernatural beings like The Corinthian in this case playing a background role. However, Flynn isn’t really an interesting protagonist even if her monologues about the world ending and being an outcast are totally relatable to anyone in their 20s, early, late, or otherwise. Lisandro Estherren and Patricio’s Delpeche’s art do the heavy lifting during her monologues conjuring up a future vision of New York underwater with fish being poisoned by art students’ paints and hint at her worst fear: Jabba the Hutt with teeth for eyes that’s sure to be revealed down the road.
It’s interesting to be that their more surreal work is used for the “real world” (With jaunts into the horrific and bizarre) while Yanick Paquette‘s clean line and Nathan Fairbairn’s clearly delineated, color in the lines work is used for an interlude into The Dreaming in Nightmare Country. This four page sequence’s writing style is clearly Tynion channeling Neil Gaiman, and there are real “A book is a dream you hold in your hand” vibes to it as he introduces The Corinthian to anyone not familiar with the original Sandman series. He also does a super short story about a man in Appalachia that is afraid in mirrors that along with the last few pages featuring Mr. Agony and Mr. Ecstasy is more effective than any of the main story sequences featuring Flynn, The Corinthian, and her lover. However, Tynion, Estherren, and Paquette’s characterization of The Corinthian doesn’t go beyond creepy guy with teeth for eyes that has a connection/is an inspiration to Flynn and heralds a bigger fish in the pond, the Smiling Man. He’s just a fixation for now even if Lisandro Estherren and Patricio Delpeche make crimson, scarring mini-masterpieces out of Flynn’s paintings of him.
It fits the whole actual dream/nightmare of it all, but Nightmare Country‘s key flaw is honestly how the scenes are put together. The Paquette/Fairbairn sequence has more of a prologue vibe and its combination of strong visuals plus nostalgia for the original Sandman may have worked better opening the issue than Flynn talking bullshit at the bar with a man who she ends up in bed with despite sharing almost no chemistry beyond man and woman at a bar. (There’s an awkward panel that I think is meant to be their arms brushing against each other to create a physical connection, but it’s staged in extreme close-up and is hard to follow.) But, despite a slow start, Tynion and Estherren do end with Nighmare Country‘s most entertainingly written sequence plus some gory chills in the visual department as Mr. Agony and Mr. Ecstasy match their names in the best way and have some amusing banter while killing their victim. But, of course, The Smiling One is the Big Bad and gets the final page despite only being basically “that creepy guy in the background” for now. It’s meant to be a mystery, but for now, I’m not super invested as Agony and Ecstasy steal the show.
Despite being a continuation of what is considered to be one of the greatest comics of all time, Nighmare Country #1 is a middling start to this dreamscape horror yarn. As mentioned several times, its saving grace is the art of Lisandro Estherren and Patricio Delpeche whose hazy line and colors blur the lines between sleep and waking, fear and nightmare. This series might be one to check out in the inevitable trade paperback edition instead of on a monthly basis for now with an uninteresting protagonist and a baddie that is all flash and no substance for now.
Story: James Tynion IV Art: Lisandro Estherren, Yanick Paquette
Colors: Patricio Delpeche, Nathan Fairbairn Letters: Simon Bowland
Story: 6.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 7.4 Recommendation: Read
DC Comics/Black Label provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review
Purchase: comiXology/Kindle – Zeus Comics – TFAW