By Patrick Wolf
When people think of Vancouver, they tend to think of what they see on TV: the 2010 Olympics, the beautiful mountains, the set of Dead Pool, etc. What they don’t think of is its hidden horrors and poverty. I don’t tell a lot of people this, but I'm originally from Vancouver—specifically one of its worst parts, Surrey. Growing up in Surrey, I remember passing by drug dealers and prostitutes every day. In fact, I passed them so often I even got to know some of them. Unfortunately, I never learned that much because they’d always just ‘vanish’. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. I just assumed what everyone else did: they either got clean or overdosed. Years later I discovered the truth: a serial killer named Robert Pickton was preying on them by the dozens.
What made the situation even worse, though, was that Pickton’s success was partly due to the apathy of people like me. Everyone assumed what I did: the missing either overdosed or got clean. Nobody cared, and so Pickton continued to have his way until his murder count reached the 100’s. In many ways, The Dregs is an allegory of this horror. It’s not afraid to show Vancouver’s darker side (specifically East Hastings Street), and it does so through the use of a brilliant, Swiftian metaphor: the cannibalistic café. So, you ask, is the story any good? My answer: It’s more than good. It’s a masterwork.
The Dregs stars Marlow, an old, homeless man who fancies himself a detective. After his friend, Manny, mysteriously vanishes, Marlow goes on a quest to find out what happened. Unfortunately, the closer he gets to the truth, the closer he gets to the hidden horrors of the city. When he nearly suffers the same fate as Manny, Marlow tries to warn the citizens. But it seems like no one cares. And if they do care, it’s because they already know—even the prospective victims.
Every time I think I’ve discovered the comic of the year, a new better one pops-up. This time, though, I’m certain The Dregs is the best. In fact, I’m so confident in its brilliance, I’m not afraid to rank it with some of the greatest graphic novels of all time: Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and Sin City. That’s how good it is. In fact, I’d even go so far to say it’s better. The Dregs has it all: drama, noir, comedy, horror, adventure, action—you name it.
But what really sets it apart is Marlow. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a poignant, tragic, harrowing character. What’s more, Marlow has no superpower. He’s old, drug-addicted, and defenseless. But, there’s something about him, something about his bravery and resolve that truly elevates him above the traditional superhero. Marlow’s a human in its purest sense. Perhaps, he’s the only true human in Vancouver and that’s what makes him great.
Another great thing about this series is how the city of Vancouver is a character in-itself. Most stories like to be set in big, generic cities like New York or L.A. Rarely, though, do they think what role the city may play. In The Dregs, on the other hand, Vancouver is a lot like Marlow: it’s lonely, dark and knows the truth, but can’t speak it. All it can do is show you the way. But it’s you who must choose the path. What path would you chose?
I’d tell you what I’d chose, but I think I’ve said enough to convince you this story is amazing. The only complaint I have is that some of the plot is a bit stretched. Without spoiling too much, at one point, Marlow gets captured and nearly chopped up into tomorrow’s meal. It was at this point where it should’ve been obvious to Marlow who killed Manny. But, for some reason, Marlow’s investigation continues for another two issues. At first, I just thought he wanted to double check and make sure all his ducks were in a row. But, as the story went on, it turned out he just didn’t get it. He just didn’t put it together—even after the bad guys tried to kill him in the exact same way they killed Manny. I’m sorry, but for me, that was a little unbelievable.
That said, with the exception of this minor hitch, the story’s a near masterpiece. It’s dark, terrifying, and moving all at the same time. Zawadzki and Cuniffe’s artwork is outstanding, and Thomson and Nadler’s writing couldn’t be better. Don’t miss out on this series. I have a feeling it’ll be talked about years from now. There’s certainly not much else that can stand up to it.
The Dregs vol. 1 (#1 - 4)
Writer: Zac Thomson & Lonnie Nadler
Artist: Eric Zawadzki
Colorist: Dee Cuniffe
Letterer: Eric Zawadzki
Publisher: Black Mask Studios