June 4, 2013

Review -- DREAM THIEF #1

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

Dream Thief #1
(Jai Nitz, Greg Smallwood; Dark Horse)
4/5 stars
What would you do if you woke up in a strange room and didn't know where you were, or what you'd done the night before to get there? This is a question repeated thrice in Dream Thief #1 and its answer gets darker and deeper and bloodier each time it is asked.

So Dark Horse is re-embracing the superhero genre with a slate of new series, and Dream Thief may be the best of the pack. Right now, this book is slated to be a five-issue mini, but I have a feeling that, assuming the next four issues are as good as this one, Nitz and Smallwood will get to play the long game with their character. 
This is one fine piece of comic book making, and it has the potential to go just about anywhere. It had me from the get-go and kept me flipping pages with intensity.
In Dream Thief, Nitz has pulled off the difficult job of making his protagonist loathsome. We're not talking anti-hero here, we're talking asshole-hero. John Lincoln is a thoroughly reprehensible individual: egotistical, smug, self-centered, he's the kind of guy who cascades through his life pinging off other people and using them to his advantage. He's the kind of guy who blames everyone else for anything that goes wrong in his life. The kind of guy who, honestly, even a pacifist would punch. Yet somehow, through the machinations of Jai Nitz's narrative, we're engaged in what happens to him. Are we rooting for him? Are we waiting for his comeuppance? Neither of these things are necessarily true. What engages us is watching him come to terms with the mystery that surrounds him.

This is a book about an Aboriginal Mask and the exploration of Justice (with a Capital "J"). Freed from the constructs of societal expectations and definitions, bad deeds are punished utterly, completely -- there is no gray area here -- there is no lawyering or tricks or loopholes -- the Dream Thief is all black and white. The irony here is that the vessel that Justice inhabits is vaccuous, vain, petty, and cruel. That's some strong mojo; those Aboriginals apparently knew what they were doing. This dichotomy will no doubt make for good storytelling, leading to questions of identity and motivation that might not otherwise have a platform from which to spring.
Then, of course, there is the somnambulism drama in this book. I sure do love me some "I did it in my sleep" stories.

Complementing Nitz's writing is the art of Greg Smallwood. Dream Thief #1 is apparently Smallwood's first foray into the world of big-time comic creating, yet he seems to have stepped into this series fully formed. Smallwood says that Alex Toth and Chris Samnee are his influences, and his pages show it. I also see a little Greg Scott in his characters. Regardless, Smallwood is his own man and his storytelling is inventive, engaging, and sound. He even plays with the echoes Nitz has written into this book, to the point of using punctuation itself as a layout motif. He's handling all the art duties on this series, including the lettering, and he's got the talent to do it. One thing for sure, no matter what the ultimate fate of Dream Thief, you'll be seeing more of Greg Smallwood.
Dark Horse has got a hit on their hands. I just hope enough comic buyers realize this.

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