Horror comics as a subgenre tends to be a rather rigid medium; the medium tends to be oversaturated with gimmicks over growth, so that stories center around The Idea rather more than they do a character, say. More often than not, they tend not to evolve in shape, scope, or scale—a slasher stays in his hunting grounds (even if the hunting grounds change), or a novelty of setting limits on narrative direction. They might be limited by format—four-issue miniseries, anthology strips, publication legacy.
None of these things are wrong or bad comics—indeed, the joy of the medium is how the stories thrive under the conditions of their restrictions.
The thing about Nightmare Country, however, is that it doesn’t give a damn about any of it. Now on its fifth issue, the book has managed to defy definition in its gimmicks, shape, scope, and scale. Early on, it seemed that the book might be a serial-killer-on-the-hunt sort of story, with Corinthian on the trail of Flynn; conversely—and confoundingly—it could be a story of the new Corinthian as a type of gruesome anti-hero. It could have been a haunting tale, with Flynn’s recurring visions of an unknown, unnamed demon. With Mr. Agony and Mr. Ecstasy about, it could have aped Hellraiser.
All of this, when it could have gotten away with simply being a Sandman book.
Every issue of Nightmare Country recasts its horror and drama, and reinvents the driving force of the story; issue #5 alters the scale more dramatically than any issue preceding. After last issue’s direct connection to a classic Sandman issue, the book now fully embraces not only the larger Sandman cast, but the expansive Universe mythology of Lucifer.
A number of metaphysical bomb drops occur in this issue, from the inclusion of The Endless (both present and alluded to) to the assuredly controversial confirmation as to the identity of a lurking angel as a major icon in American religion—and whose purpose at creating an American prophet is tied up in the comic’s own dark implications and the rather grim past of a certain religious movement.
These are all very bold moves for the book, certainly, but what the issue seems to confirm for the reader more than anything else is that Tynion, Estherren, and the assorted guest artists are crafting a story wholly its own, even operating under the pressures of a classic. They are expanding this mythology, small wrinkle and reveal by small wrinkle and reveal, without compromising their own compelling ideas.
Nightmare Country’s fifth issue might be the issue longtime Sandman readers wanted; it manages to be that without losing sight of itself.
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