May 18 2013

Review: Dream Thief #1

Dream Thief #1 (Artist: Greg Smallwood)

A new crime series with a twist from Dark Horse leaves us with more questions than answers. Sounds like a perfect start to a new series.

Dream Thief #1 (2013)

Dream Thief #1 (Dark Horse)

Writer: Jai Nitz

Artist: Greg Smallwood

Publisher: Dark Horse

Rating:  ★★★★½

More info

Not to be confused with Image Comics Dream Merchants #1, also out this week, the new title from Jai Nitz (The Green Hornet) could almost be described as a superhero story, although super anti-hero would be more apt. Having spent four years planning the series, it draws its inspiration from contemporary crime drama like The Wire just as much as the world of capes. When we are introduced to John Lincoln, he’s a bit of a cad. Waking up in a unfamiliar room after cheating on his girlfriend, he’s charming and a little bit roguish. Yet the most intriguing thing about this book is the power is he ultimately endowed with, one that may even have readers questioning their own moral compass.

“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?” It’s a simple enough question, but Nitz takes us on a journey that will lead us to also ask how we got there by the final page of this debut issue. Between jobs and down on his luck, Lincoln harbours some resentment to his girlfriend for not being intimate with him, despite this being partly the result of PTSD following home invasion several months before. His life turns upside-down when he comes into contact with an Aboriginal mask, granting him a power that is more of a curse than a blessing: the ability to kill the “wicked” while he sleeps.

Nitz’s skill lies not just in taking an initially unlikeable character and giving readers someone to latch onto, but also in keeping us on our toes on every single page. The plot turns on a dime, allowing us to think we are comfortable with Lincoln’s newfound “talent” before truly challenging us as it escalates its intensity and ferocity. As we reach the end of the first issue, we learn that we shouldn’t even trust the narration that has been running through the book, for reasons that become clear on the final page. It reads like a murder mystery, except we know who the murderer is. Working out the steps from there is counter to narrative intuition, and it seems designed to keep us off-balance. It’s legitimately full of surprises, and that in itself is a rarity.

Greg Smallwood marks his first major break with Dream Thief, but that belies a talent that comes to the page fully formed, complimenting Nitz with an almost noirish crime style that isn’t a million miles away from the stuff Sean Phillips is putting out in Fatale or Criminal. His art is clean and bright, using shadow and minimalist colour for maximum effect. The Aboriginal mask that gives Lincoln his Sandman-like abilities is part indigenous Australian and part wrestling mask, and instantly iconic. Indeed, there isn’t much here visually that Smallwood hasn’t touched, with his fingerprints to be found right down to the lettering. It’s a wonderful fusion of art and clever storytelling, and we can’t wait to see how the rest of the five-issue series pans out.

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