Have you ever picked up a new, unfamiliar comic on a whim only to find it’s absolute garbage? “Dream Thief” #1 is the exact opposite of that. The new Dark Horse Comics miniseries by Jai Nitz and Greg Smallwood is an unexpected thrill, marrying witty banter with dashes of murder and mystique.
“Dream Thief” follows John Lincoln, a movie director/ stage magician going through what you’d call a rough patch. His relationship with his girlfriend has gone cold, his sister thinks he’s a jackass burnout and, oh yeah, he has a crazy Aboriginal Mask that seemingly uses his body as a vessel for justice while he sleeps. How inconvenient!
From the get-go Nitz presents John as a bit of a prick; he says the wrong things, makes increasingly questionable decisions and is overall morally detestable. It’s a brave choice to make the lead character so unlikeable, yet Nitz manages to give John enough engaging qualities to make him interesting and surprisingly relatable. This balance serves especially well once things start getting weird, as the aforementioned mask leads John to some pretty dark places.
The actual “dream thief” idea is cool, if not a bit confusing. Not much explanation is given regarding the mask or its supposed powers, but everything happens so quickly that you just roll with it. This “less is more” approach allows the author to set the stage without bogging the book down with needless exposition. There’s also an interesting subplot running throughout in the form of a letter; by the issue’s end you realize John’s troubles may not be unique to him. Nitz showcases a real gift for dialogue in this first issue as each character is decidedly different and fully formed. Though the initial plot is a bit bare-boned thus far, the author has woven an intriguing narrative that’s nabbed me hook, line and sinker.
While it’s Nitz that sets the issue, it’s Smallwood who spikes it. “Dynamic” gets tossed around a lot when reviewing art these days, but damn this issue has some dynamic stuff. Smallwood’s work has a real edge to it; each panel is better than the last and his stylistic layouts are particularly inspired. He makes great use of shadows and especially color, changing the tone from warm to ominous to even psychedelic with every panel. One particular highlight appears during John’s first time in “mask mode” as the artist splices two scenes together into one brilliant splash page. Smallwood also does his own lettering, adding yet another level of dynamism to the issue. It’s great seeing an artist get such free reign in a book, especially when it results in a master class of storytelling such as this.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I loved this issue. I went in with admittedly low expectations and went out fuming I had to wait for the next installment. “Dream Thief” #1 is the start of an exciting, original tale that has a lot of promise. Though the issue is light on explanation (what does the mask do exactly?) it’s heavy on intrigue. That alone is enough to keep me coming back for more. In the end, “Dream Thief” is no whim — it’s a must buy.