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Who Is the Corinthian in ‘The Sandman’? His Creepy Origins, Explained

The Corinthian in the Sandman comics, wearing sunglasses and smiling.

Netflix’s The Sandman is slated to drop on August 5, and new details are coming out about the colorful cast of characters who will be joining Tom Sturridge as Dream of the Endless. The series will see Dream, also known as Morpheus, setting out to rebuild his kingdom after being imprisoned for 70 years by an order of magicians trying to gain immortality. This month, Netflix announced that Boyd Holbrook had been cast as the Corinthian. But who exactly is the Corinthian? What’s his history in Neil Gaiman’s original Sandman comics? Here’s everything you need to know to understand this enigmatic character!

The Corinthian in The Sandman Comics

Boyd Holbrook as the Corinthian, holding a knife and smiling.

In volume 2 of The Sandman, The Doll’s House, Morpheus returns home after having gathered all the tools he lost during his incarceration. Once he’s there, though, he gets some bad news: many denizens of the Dreaming have gone missing, including four important beings known as the Major Arcana. One of these beings is the Corinthian, a nightmare that Morpheus created.

The Corinthian is immediately recognizable as a young-ish looking man with white hair and sunglasses. When he takes those sunglasses off, he reveals his most nightmarish feature: where he should have eyes, he instead has two sets of teeth set into his eye sockets. In The Doll’s House, the Corinthian shows up on Earth after disappearing from the Dreaming and promptly begins a career as a serial killer. Not only that, but he becomes an inspiration for other serial killers, who call themselves “collectors,” and he even speaks at their first convention.

But murdering people was never Morpheus’s plan for the Corinthian, and when he finally catches him, he tells him as much:

You disappoint me, Corinthian … You were supposed to be my masterpiece, or so I thought. A nightmare created to be the darkness, and the fear of darkness in every human heart. A black mirror, made to reflect everything about itself that humanity will not confront. But look at you. Forty years walking the earth, honing yourself, infecting others with your joy of death and what have you given them? What have you wrought, Corinthian? NOTHING. Just something else for people to be scared of, that’s all. You’ve told them that there are bad people out there. And they’ve known that all along.

With that, Morpheus unmakes the Corinthian, taking his life back and turning him into an inanimate skull.

That’s not the end of the Corinthian, though. In The Kindly Ones, way over on the opposite end of The Sandman‘s long run, Morpheus needs help tracking down a young child, Daniel Hall. Morpheus enlists the help of Matthew the Raven, and then resurrects the Corinthian so that he and Matthew can work together. When the Corinthian comes back, he’s still a pretty gruesomely violent guy, but he’s much more loyal to Morpheus and willingly works with Matthew to find Daniel.

The Corinthian uses his special abilities to complete his quest. He’s able to see the last moments of someone’s life if he places their corpse’s eyes into his sockets, and he’s able to gain an important lead that way. When he finally tracks Daniel down and discovers that he’s being held captive by the god Loki and the spirit Puck, the Corinthian strangles Loki, takes his eyes, and uses them to see where Loki has spirited the boy away.

Other Appearances

The Corinthian also makes a few appearances outside of the main Sandman series. In The Sandman Presents: The Corinthian, the Corinthian makes his way around 1920s Venice, learning how to murder human beings with the help of a human companion named Columbine. In the Sandman spinoff The Dreaming, the Corinthian is turned into a mortal as punishment for his crimes, and is replaced in the Dreaming by a mortal woman named Echo.

Why is His Name the Corinthian?

The word “Corinthian” has several different meanings. During his confrontation with Puck in The Kindly Ones, Puck mentions that the Corinthian’s name could be a reference to “the letters, the pillars, the leather, the place, and the mode of behavior,” meaning the Epistle to the Corinthians, Corinthian pillars, Corinthian leather, the city of Corinth, or licentious and hedonistic behavior. In an interview in The Sandman Companion, Gaiman confirmed that the Corinthian’s name refers to the behavior.

Excited to meet Netflix’s Corinthian? You don’t have to wait long! He’ll be creeping into your screen in August.

(featured image: DC/Vertigo)

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Julia Glassman (she/her) lives in Los Angeles, where she consumes massive amounts of Marvel movies, folk horror, and other geekery. Her writing has appeared in Joyland, Make/Shift, and other outlets.