The Corinthian is a fictional character in Neil Gaiman's comic book series The Sandman. His first appearance is in The Sandman #10 (October 1989), which is part of the second story arc, The Doll's House.
The Corinthian is a creation of Dream. His most notable physical feature is his lack of eyes: in their place, two rows of small jagged teeth line each eye socket. The Corinthian often wears sunglasses to cover this up.
The Corinthian does not appear to suffer in any way from his lack of eyes, and indeed claims to be able to see perfectly well. He also has certain powers concerning the eyes of other creatures. He is able to quickly remove eyes from their sockets without damaging them. By placing eyes into the mouths where his own eyes would be, he can observe the last thing witnessed before the death of the eyes' owner. It's suggested that he can also use the eyes for himself, at least temporarily. Each of the mouths in place of the Corinthian's eyes appear to be fully functional, capable of speech and breath. He also appears to enjoy eating eyes through his mouth-sockets, and will happily take eyes from any source, be it human, animal or god. He seems to be a sort of eyeball aficionado, showing joy at the opportunity to eat particularly rare or choice eyes (such as those of a god.)
The second Corinthian is extremely skilled at hand-to-hand combat. He is extremely resistant to damage; during his battle with Loki, he survived a gout of godly fire with little more than an "OWW" and a few blisters. He apparently has a swift healing factor as well, since the blisters were gone mere minutes after the battle had ended. During his search for Daniel Hall in the Norse land of Swartalfheim, the Corinthian snapped the neck of a dire wolf with his bare hands, showing apparent superhuman strength.
The first incarnation of the Corinthian displayed an excellent memory, stating "I don't forget things." The Corinthian's second incarnation has not demonstrated many of the abilities of the first, such as possession, though this is likely because he has yet to encounter an opportunity to use them. The second incarnation of the Corinthian has demonstrated the ability to perform divination such as scrying to track a target. As a nightmare he has shown the ability to distinguish between humans and dreams. Neil Gaiman has stated that the Corinthian is gay on both his journal and in The Sandman Companion, in the sense that he is only dreamed by men and boys.
It is not certain, from the text of the comics, whether the abilities of the two incarnations of the Corinthian are entirely the same, as there are simply not circumstances wherein the first Corinthian could have displayed the fighting skills or divination displayed by the second; conversely, similar statements can be made of the second not displaying skills of the first. When Morpheus recreates the Corinthian, he states that the previous incarnation was flawed, though it is unclear whether those flaws stem from the absence of the Dream Lord's supervision of the Corinthian (during Morpheus' incarceration throughout the largest part of the twentieth century) or from some intrinsic imperfection in the first Corinthian's construction.
The Corinthian is AWOL from the dreamscape following Morpheus' escape from capture; however, Dream eventually catches up to him shortly after saving Rose Walker from harm. The Corinthian was meant to be Morpheus' masterpiece: "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." Instead, Dream finds his creation has walked the earth for about 40 years, playing the role of a serial killer who removes his victims' eyes. Dream had created the Corinthian as a nightmare that would show humanity its own dark nature. Dream judged him a failure, however, because in 40 years time, the Corinthian did nothing other than commit gruesome murders, which fell far short of Dream's original, much grander intent. As punishment, Dream "uncreates" him, leaving a skull and some sand. He then remarks that the next time he creates the Corinthian, he "shall not be so flawed and petty."
Dream does eventually recreate the Corinthian in The Kindly Ones. This new, more reliable Corinthian helps rescue and protect Daniel just before Morpheus dies. In the process, he battles, defeats and eats the eyes of Loki, who, along with Puck, was holding the child hostage.
The Sandman Presents: The Corinthian
A 3-issue miniseries called The Corinthian: Death In Venice tells the story of how the first Corinthian entered the waking world and learned how to murder human beings. In the series, the Corinthian displays his talent for possessing the bodies of the living, a process which causes the possessed body's hair to turn white and the eye sockets to bleed as the eyes are replaced (possibly eaten) by The Corinthian's teeth. The story takes place in Venice, in the year 1920, and includes such tangential plot elements as police corruption and anti-communist violence and paranoia. The story also features Charles Constantine (a member of the same infamous family as John Constantine), a World War I veteran who has repeatedly struggled with his inability to kill. During the war, Charles refuses to bayonet a helpless young German soldier named Stefan Wasserman. In retribution, Charles' own commanding officer shoots Charles in the groin, castrating him, and shoots the young soldier in the head. Wasserman's body, however, had been inhabited by the dormant spirit of The Corinthian, who has haunted and pursued Charles, both in dreams and in reality, ever since.
The Corinthian wants someone to teach him "how to kill", and finds himself frustrated with Charles' inability to do violence even in self-defense. He eventually develops a rapport with Charles' traveling companion, a wealthy, traveling heiress who is degenerate and possibly insane. The woman claims that she cannot die, that she is the living incarnation of Pestilence, and refers to herself (and asks others to refer to her) by a new name each day, changing identities as she travels about. After she fatally shoots The Corinthian, and he survives by possessing the body of her young Italian lover, Amedeo, the woman recognizes The Corinthian as something other than human who can "become someone else." The two form a pact in which the woman agrees to teach The Corinthian how to murder, and The Corinthian agrees to teach her how to "stop being you."
The pivotal moment in the story comes while the characters are all attending the Venetian Carnival in costume. The woman, now calling herself Columbine, and The Corinthian Arlecchino murder another celebrant, but The Corinthian finds himself unable to take part, cursing himself. However, he eventually finds a way to fulfill both her promise to him and his promise to help the woman "stop being [herself]", by slitting her throat. Charles Constantine, happening upon them while dressed in his own carnival costume, finally steels himself and kills The Corinthian, who offers no resistance, with his own knife. The tale draws to a close with Charles leaving the country and The Corinthian beginning his murder spree, starting with Amedeo's young lover and the policeman guarding her in jail.
The new Corinthian appears again in The Dreaming spinoff, returning to earth for the three-part "Souvenirs" storyline. Later in the series he hunts down Echo, who was previously a murderer who cut out the eyes of his victims, as per the instructions of his boyfriend Gabriel who was one of the first, and only surviving, victims of the first Corinthian when he went on his murdering spree. A result of this is the accidental death of Matthew the Raven. As punishment the Corinthian is turned into a mortal and Echo (made a natural female in the Dreaming) is given his position. As a mortal he develops compassion for humans and comes to understand fear, particularly after the death of his lover Sila. He is eventually deemed fit to come back and serve as the Corinthian, with Daniel Hall finding another place for Echo.
- An exact double of the Corinthian's skull appeared in the treasure chest of Daniel Hall during his brief Justice League of America appearance. Dream appeared to duplicate the skull before infusing it into the new Corinthian, and this is likely the source.
- Keen-eyed viewers may spot a brief Corinthian reference in Alice Cooper's video clip for "Gimme".
The origin of The Corinthian's name is unclear. In a later story arc of Sandman, The Kindly Ones, Puck politely refuses to ask whether his name is taken from "the letters, the pillars, the leather, the place, or the mode of behavior."
- "The letters" is most likely a reference to the Letter to the Corinthians, or First Epistle to the Corinthians. This is also the passage containing the "dark mirror" reference, see below.
- "The pillars" is a reference to the Corinthian style of pillars.
- "The leather" is possibly referring to the "rich Corinthian leather" phrase used in the advertising of Chrysler cars.
- "The place" is probably referring to Corinth, Greece.
- "The mode of behavior" (Corinthian behavior) is indulging in luxury and licentiousness.
In the Death In Venice miniseries, a beggar (who is not entirely reliable) claims that he exchanged one of his eyes for one offered to him by The Corinthian, and that he called him by the first thing he saw when he opened his new eye - a Corinthian pillar.
It is also likely that the name is a reference to the Biblical verse 1 Corinthians 13:12, which is the source of the phrase "in a mirror, darkly". This is clearly related to the Corinthian's "Black Mirror" nature.
According to an interview with Gaiman in The Sandman Companion, The Corinthian takes his name from the mode of behavior; specifically, "a Corinthian" was another term for a rake: a devil-may-care, ne'er-do-well.