This issue of Jai Nitz and Greg Smallwood’s Dark Horse book Dream Thief sees John Lincoln, using the skills of a dead lawyer he absorbed (long story), in the midst of planning the prison release of his father, who’s pretty dead, but whose ghost is currently possessing an old friend, fellow dream thief and practicing convict, Ray Ray Benson. The inanity of the above paragraph is just one of the reasons I really like this book. Another has been the “dance-of-the-seven-veils” approach to revealing the lore behind its titular myth; slowly and by degree. At first we thought it was just one, then two, but now it seems there is actually a small community of dream thieves with a still hinted-at strange history, but one that is grounded in the real-world pragmatism of its street level participants, including Lincoln’s father and of course the former slacker John, himself.
While working on his dad’s unusual case, which will eventually let his dad’s soul find peace and possibly save John from any future problems with the Dream Thief world, he also has to deal with a renewed interest in his girlfriend’s murder (which would be very damning and difficult to explain), and he has a touching moment with a member of his first ghost’s past; great character work there.
After a lot of exposition that is frankly beginning to get a bit confusing, especially in the context of dream thief rules and abilities, the issue closes with a first, as we are finally shown one of the ghosts as he/she is in control of John’s body, to be continued next time. Like I said, the pacing in this book is methodical, and while it’s nice to see attention paid to a proper roll-out, the narrative sometimes suffers from a bit of process this issue. Saying that, this reminds me of something Brubaker might write, and its approach - while slow - remains gripping.
I’m so glad I decided to cover this book’s first series for the site, because otherwise I may have missed Greg Smallwood’s art in it, and that would have been a fucking shame. His stuff in Dream Thief has this velvety finish to it that I can’t get enough of, especially when vetted through his great use of color, which he here traipses evocatively through different eras, whether it’s the grimy neon sheen of 1985 Miami Beach nightlife or the more sober tones of backwater mercy kills and modern day prison blocks.
This is all, of course, on top of his great grasp of expressiveness in facial features and form, which makes everything feel natural yet hyper-real, like it could be rotoscoped or something. There hasn’t been much in the way of action in this series as yet, which doesn’t help that slow pace I was talking about, but Smallwood does an admirable effort of being dynamic wherever possible, such as when John remembers the lives of his ghosts, the first one of which (a boxer by the name of Cordero) is featured prominently here.
The way Smallwood runs these memories through a filter of scratched distortion is great, not just in context of the shady and harrowing life-defining moment he “relives,” but also when set beside the soft but by no means slavishly clean regular story panels.
In the end, I’m okay with the fact that Dream Thief: Escape #2 continues the slow-ish rev of its story, but only - as the end of this book promises - if the action picks up next time. Not only will that wake up the story a bit, but it will allow Smallwood’s art and layouts to explode in one of his always amazing flourishes. Stick with this one, guys and girls, something tells me there are great things afoot.
Writer: Jai Nitz Artist: Greg Smallwood Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 7/23/14 Format: Mini-Series, Print/Digital