The Sandman Universe: Nightmare Country Vol. 1
James Tynion IV, writer; Lisandro Estherren & Maria Llovet, artists; Patricio Delpeche, colorist
DC Black Label, 2023
I am delighted to see that the Sandman Universe is not over after all, and James Tynion IV is absolutely the right writer for this particular series (he is such a fan that it probably bothers him to not have this published under the venerable Vertigo imprint). It stars the Corinthian–he of the mouths for eyes–certainly the most memorable of the Dream King’s nightmare creations. But something strange is happening: humans are sharing visions of the Smiling Man who were not visited by the Corinthian in their dreams. In addition, they are being hunted by a pair of nightmares named Mr. Ecstasy and Mr. Agony who do not seem to have come from the Dreaming.
That is the central mystery of the series. But longtime Sandman fans are also rewarded by many references to the classic stories, which is especially pronounced in the nightmare sequence included in each issue. Illustrated by a star-studded cast of guest artists (including Yanick Paquette, Andrea Sorrentino, Francisco Francavilla, and others), these pages draw directly from the visual language and characters of The Sandman. Even without the flashbacks it is a rich cast: Lucien the librarian and Matthew the raven are prominent minor characters, not to mention the angel Moroni (who is making some kind of power play), the current Dream, Death (although she does not actually appear in person), Desire, and finally the ancient witch Thessaly. Thessaly gets involved right at the end of the collection, and immediately regrets it. She is about to face an unknown predator in the final panel: quite a cliffhanger.
Artist Lisandro Estherren and colorist Patricio Delpeche are responsible for most of the art in the main story. They work in a loose impressionistic style that reminds me a bit of both artists Marc Hempel and Teddy Kristiansen from the original series. Of course, the series was notable for frequent artist changes, with each chosen for their compatibility with the particular story arc they worked on. Here the guest artists also contribute to the visual diversity. All in all, this miniseries is a treat for Sandman fans, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. A sequel is already in progress.
Undiscovered Country Vol. 4: Disunity
Scott Snyder & Charles Soule, writers; Giuseppe Camuncoli, layouts; Leonardo Marcello Grassi, finishes; Matt Wilson, colors; Crank!, lettering
Image Comics, 2023
It’s been over a year since I read the previous volume, and I forgot just how surreal the story is. The American A.I. Aurora has split the group up. Charlotte and the journalist Valentina (with her drone Buzz) have landed in Zone History (a strange Zone obsessed with milestones in U.S. history); Chang, Janet, and Ace are also in Zone History (but a part focused on a future where America rules globally). Uncle Sam explains that the zone was built to test out many different historical inflection points at once, which the designer referred to as “channels.” He thinks Charlotte and Valentina are there to learn something, then reunite with Chang, Janet, and Ace. Daniel and Alexander are somewhere else, a mystery location he declines to reveal.
With both groups it quickly becomes apparent that this is not the normal reality. Not only are Charlotte and Valentina experiencing a succession of historical events–from Paul Revere’s midnight ride to Pearl Harbor to the Civil War–but they keep dying and resetting the scene. It’s like a real-life video game, driven by science so incomprehensible that it looks like magic. The other group starts out in the Pax Americana, but the Great Global Alliance is still opposed to American dominance. And other team members have already died in their current timeline: so, the whole experience has an air of unreality.
But they are reunited in the end, and find themselves in Zone Bounty (you can tell by the gigantic ears of corn). As Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Pan-Asian Prosperity Zone Chang contacts the PAPZ Pacific Fleet, which will send the group into Spirality in the next arc. The Supplemental Materials that close the collection include character and device designs, flags, and cover variants.