Review: Dream Gang

Sometimes it is necessary to judge a piece of art by a different standard than the usual guidelines one would use to judge traditional storytelling. It’s a practice best avoided when possible, as pretending something that isn’t meaningful or enjoyable is still worth the asking price is the easiest way to tell your audience that you have no regard for how they spend their money. Next time you find a critic excusing a story’s faults because its "heart is in the right place" or "we need more of this thing," double-check to see if that reviewer has your best interests in mind. But yes: sometimes a change of perspective is necessary, not to excuse a story’s faults but to understand in what other areas that it flourishes. Dream Gang is not especially good at creating emotional connections with the reader, it is not very good at illustrating compelling drama, and it’s really not very good at creating memorable characters. If you’re looking to Dream Gang to be taken on an emotional roller-coaster or even a half-way decent world-saving epic, I beg of you to look elsewhere.

An epic, however, is not the exact same thing as an adventure. Dream Gang is a voyage through a celestial world of dreams, nightmares, and concepts given dream-flesh. The characters are drawn thin and archetypal while the concepts that surround them are large and given goodly amounts of depth and continuity with which to bring its world together. A young man is given a superhero-like form in the world of dreams with which to investigate the dark lessons surrounding his old friend and to save the real world from being invaded by a mad dream construct.

Dream GangNeither of these two story points reach satisfying conclusions, however. The drama involving the young boy and the threat posed by the villain Zeirio amount to very little in the end, with only a few scattered moments in which it appears as though Zeirio stands as any threat to the status quo or is even a negative influence on the world around him. Those moments do exist and they are extremely important, otherwise there would be literally no stake to carry the story, but the actual foundation of the story is weak and its sense of drama or tension collapses at the slightest touch. Respectively, the main character, nor his friend’s dying memory, exist as fully realized characters, and as such, the conclusion in which our hero must let go of the memory of someone he cherishes falls completely flat as we’ve not been given time to reflect on the importance of their relationship.

Those who skipped to the bottom to see that I’m actually giving Dream Gang a decent rating must be confused, as I’ve spent the last 400 words saying every reason that I can think of to not give it a chance. That’s because what Dream Gang does well, it does very well and it spends its precious time on the things that it excels at. What Dream Gang does well is dream logic and fanciful continuity.

Entire multi-billion dollar industries have been built upon continuity, often a continuity between various stories, but it is a concept that can be attractive even in self-contained works. The idea of watching a world come together seamlessly and make perfect sense according to its rules holds a very strong "nerd appeal." It’s the reason that people find themselves drawn to Star Trek when Star Wars is more quickly paced and action-oriented. Star Trek, at least the original TV shows, did their best to make sense by their own rules and to reward viewers for paying attention and seeing their understanding pay off by being given the opportunity to understand the climax and what series of events led to the dissolution of the main threat or conflict.

Dream Gang gets its appeal from a strange cocktail of the inherent, exclusive nerd appeal behind a consistent continuity and the free-flowing, trippy and welcoming nature of an extended dream sequence. While you may get a greater reward-for-time-spent with Marvel or DC’s continuity, and as for trippy, psychedelic dreamy-comics, my personal recommendation is still Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand, it’s not often that one gets to have both in such a cohesive, albeit dense way.

Dream Gang is strangely intimate, its visuals are exciting, effervescent and surreal while its writing is very business-like, moving from one piece of essential information to the next. The result is a concoction greater than the sum of its parts and wholly unique.

Dream Gang is not a "must-read." It’s a curiosity best served in isolation with an open mind and time to kill rather than between lunch breaks. It may not leave a lasting impression the way that a great drama or comedy or adventure does. What small impressions it does leave will be invariably positive if you open your mind up to what Dream Gang does have to offer. If none of what I’ve spelled out here sounds interesting at all, then I urge you to give Dream Gang a hard pass. If you are at all curious, however, following that curiosity to its conclusion would not be ill-advised. I mean I had fun with it.

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Dream Gang Writers: Brendan McCarthy Artist: Brendan McCarthy Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $14.99 Format: TPB; Print/Digital