Remember that show Quantum Leap? Sure you do, it was fucking awesome, and everybody knows you love stuff that’s fucking awesome. Well, in a way, Dream Thief reminds me of a really messed up Quantum Leap. Now hear me out... Instead of following Doctor Sam Beckett as he leaps from life to life, putting things right that once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home, our “hero,” sort of stands in a similar, yet opposite position as the receptacle for a revolving door of, not time travelers, but apparently vengeful spirits. So in a way, it sort of flips thatQuantum Leap dynamic on its head. I mean, sure it would be cool to leap into another person’s life, but what if yours was the one getting taken over, leap after leap, leaving you, for the most part, none the wiser.
Well, that’s kind of what it’s like for former slacker John Lincoln, whose comfortable life was thrown asunder last issue after inebriatedly stealing an apparently magic-infested aboriginal mask from a museum. After waking up not just in the (oddly 1990s superhero-reminiscent) mask, but with the memories of a murdered boxer, he soon discovers that he has unknowingly killed the person responsible, who just happens to be his own girlfriend. That’s gonna make dinner at the parents’ awkward.
Even though this issue takes place right after the end of the last - which sees our masked marauder surrounded by a holy host of dead gay porn stars (who hasn’t been there, you guys), this issue couldn’t be more different, and that’s a very good thing. Now, I was one of the Bastards who thoroughly enjoyed the first issue of the series, but as much as I did ... I found myself liking part two even more. A metric fuck ton is explained in this book, which explores a declining adult porn studio’s transformation into a drug cartel, and the very personal, very bloody fallout that happens thereafter.
And yet, as deep as it goes (porn reference? possibly), the pace here doesn’t feel rushed, forced or laborious. It succinctly explains what turns out to be a quite involved murder mystery, the victim of which is the one who had taken control of Lincoln’s body and left it after vengeance was served ... or as I guess they would say in the industry, “the money shot.”
Simultaneously, it describes further Lincoln’s own mystery as to what is happening with his mask, where it will take him going forward and in a way, why this book is called Dream Thief. We also see a limitation of the mask’s influence, as one telling scene sees Lincoln refusing to make a fatal decision, and others in which he attempts to (at least ostensibly) operate within the law.
Otherwise, though, his emotions seem strangely stable for someone who has overnight been turned from a lazy stoner to an apathetic spirit of vengeance (apart from one or two scenes which express well the gravity and guilt of his mental state), but it’s still up in the air as to whether that’s shock experienced by the character, a side-effect of the mask or just lazy writing, but everything else makes me lean towards to former two options.
One other shortcoming; while I dig the way he gains and retains the skills of each visitor his body welcomes, I’m not so sure I can believe one scene, wherein Lincoln knows how to professionally scrub a crime scene of DNA, just because one of his paranormal puppeteers used to watch a shitload of CSI. I get the x-factor rule, where you can only question so much in a comic book, but that was a pretty big stretch for me and seemed uncharacteristically forced.
Still, the rest of this is great, and there is a fantastic emotional connect between Lincoln, the dead man he is helping avenge and the audience. Nitz is able to convey incredibly well how our main character can feel so justified in doing what he’s doing, even though much of it is done without his knowing. And it’s done in such a way where each book is, at least in the first two issues, its own dedicated story. In that way, Dream Thief is the best episodic supernatural crime thriller not on TV, but it’s one that everyone should be watching intently.
Smallwood’s art is fitting and great. It’s a style that’s pretty popular at the moment (Aja meets Rivera meets Walsh): that sort of darkly-outlined scruffy cartoon look that’s not overly detailed, but is open to experimentation. Much of that, Smallwood turns loose on his page furniture. When he wants to (though he cleverly does so without reckless abandon), he can shatter and splay his page’s feng shui very effectively, whether it’s with the panels themselves, reshaped as exclamatory punctuation, or a full splash of Lincoln as he implements his new abilities to disarm an attacker. The latter spread in particular reminds me of one of those karate instructional posters; the only thing missing being the numbering of the steps.
Overall, I highly recommend this budding series; it’s a story whose uniquely depressing stifle feels fresh, and whose twists (especially the one at the end of the issue) have already turned me into a regular reader.
Writer: Jai Nitz
Artist: Greg Smallwood
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: 6/19/13