The Sandman Universe: Nightmare Country #1 begins by posing the question "Do you remember your dreams?" to college-girl Madison Flynn. It is the sole text in the dominant, top panel on the issue's first page, hovering atop a rendering of the sun setting over New York City and the world descending into twilight. It isn't an uncommon question. Typically, one interprets it to mean, "When you wake up in the morning, do you recall what you dreamt of during the night?" Flynn does not take it this way. Instead, Flynn tells the man asking this question of her at a party, the man she will take back to the dorm room she inhabits alone for the night, about recurring dreams she had as a child of a house made of candy and gaining the acceptance of her middle and high school bullies. And then she recalls happier dreams, built on the idea that she was special, that the future was bright, that great things were ahead.
She doesn't have those dreams anymore. Over a half-dozen panels, as she shrinks in prominence from breaking through the borders to a miniature silhouette, the color draining from the world around her, she explains that those dreams have been replaced by gnawing, anxious thoughts about reality and hopeless fantasies about a bleak future where even the simplest human art poisons everything around it.
Yes, she remembers her dreams. The memories are distant.
It shouldn't be surprising that a comic set in the Sandman Universe includes dreams as a prominent theme, yet Nightmare Country approaches the topic differently. In past Sandman Universe works, dreams stood in for the fictions we create and the identities we construct. Here, dreams take on a new light, one bluntly articulated by the menacing Mr. Ecstasy, introduced towards this issue's end: "Dreams are a trap."
Through these moments, Nightmare Country's creative team—writer James Tynion IV, artist Lisandro Estherren, colorist Patricia Delpeche, and letter Simon Bowland—succinctly distill the sense of disillusioned dread that haunts many today. In particular, it afflicts a generation raised on their parents' insistence that they were destined for great things, which, guidance councilors assured, could only be achieved by taking out some student loans. As they settle into adulthood, most with no great works to share but mounting debt, there's the lingering feeling that they've arrived late to the party and forgot to bring anything to offer. And also, the house is on fire.
Nightmare Country takes its title to heart, presenting a world where nightmares like the Corinthian walk freely among us, barging into our rooms to investigate our artwork uninvited. We know he should not be there because this is the daytime when the linework is firmer and the colors less expressionistic, unlike the loose lines and watercolor hues of the night before. It is distinctly not the Dreaming itself, resplendently depicted by guest artists Yanick Paquette and Nathan Fairbairn, cut with the Corinthian's crimson memories of his previous life as a serial killer. These memories are as distant to him as Flynn's dreams are to her.
Despite being a nightmare, the Corinthian passes as human as long as those stylish sunglasses hide the teeth in his eye sockets. However, scratchy lettering with inverted colors, presumably inspired by Todd Klein's seminal lettering on The Sandman, reminds us that sensory-deprived Mr. Agony and sensory-overloaded Mr. Ecstasy and their like, designed to both disturb and intimidate, are not of this world.
Is Nightmare Country a story about the land where nightmares roam? Or a country that has, itself, become a nightmare? Both? It will take more issues for the fullness of the plot to reveal itself, but the first issue is asking the right questions: Do you remember your dreams? Fondly? Where have they gone? Can you get them back? Should you? The issue dances beautifully on the border between the waking world and the Dreaming, with stunningly emotive visual storytelling that resonates with haunting clarity. It's one nightmare from which you won't want to wake.
Published by DC Comics
On April 12, 2022
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Lisandro Estherren and Yanick Paquette
Colors by Patricia Delpeche and Nathan Fairbairn
Letters by Simon Bowland
Cover by Reiko Murakami