‘Dream Thief:’ Advance TPB Review

This was my second time reading writer Jai Nitz and artist and letterer Greg Smallwood’s superb Dream Thief, and, if anything, it was even more enjoyable this time around.  I previously reviewed issues three through five, but read all five of them, so if you want to know more about the specifics about the plot, feel free to check those reviews out.  Collecting the first five-issue story arc, I experienced the action, emotion, and creativity all at once, and I noticed new details both in the art and story that took me deeper into Nitz and Smallwood’s bizarre world. 

I once again found myself wrapped up in the mystery and invested in reluctant hero John Lincoln, and so I read the whole five-issue story in its entirety and fell in love with it all over again. There is a complex and intriguing morality to Dream Thief, and even though it deals with supernatural elements, the story is still rooted in the very human character of John.  He’s not terribly likeable; actually, he’s a bit of a jerk. John has not contributed much to society, his own life, or the lives of those around him, and seemingly unable to complete anything meaningful, he just kind of exists.  He is unremarkable in every way.  What is refreshing about Dream Thief is that it is not a feel-good, “ordinary guy is given extraordinary powers and purpose” type of story.  Instead, John Lincoln has powers and a purpose foisted on him against his will, and that purpose happens to be murdering people when ghosts seeking justice possess his mind and body, which makes for a hardboiled, supernatural, and highly original crime comic.

Greg Smallwood’s art is top notch, and this is his first comic, too, so take note.  His and Nitz’s clever and unique panel breaks stand out and enhance the supernatural, even ephemeral aspects of the story, and between the art and script they use just the right amount of repetition to catch you up at the beginning of each issue. This helps to ground the story, no matter where John finds himself.  The colors are bold and bright, providing a different feel for each location, and the intercut scenes between past and present are rich in detail and presented in various and sundry ways, always for the maximum emotional impact.  Smallwood’s lettering is fantastic, his creative and dynamic sound effects often merging image and word into a type of visual onomatopoeia.  There are also a few times when the backgrounds are not scenes, but rather a visualization of what John is feeling or experiencing, and they are so subtle that they take nothing away from the action, but add to the emotional resonance of the scene.  The covers are by a plethora of talented artists, and this volume also collects all of the pinups that appeared throughout the first five issues of the Dark Horse series, which we will happily see more of in the near future.  It is interesting to see the different ways a variety of artists represent John Lincoln and the ideas behind Dream Thief, and there is a sense of community to these pinups, all of these artists celebrating and investing in Nitz and Smallwood’s creation.

Seeing all the pieces of the story come together is a real pleasure, as each issue presents a new and compelling mystery, while still retaining a larger overarching one.  The best part is Nitz and Smallwood keep the tension strong all the way through to the end, building on the events and characters in each issue.  While Nitz doesn’t give away all of his surprises, of which there are many and more still waiting in the wings, he also doesn’t keep you in the dark – you know as much as John does, discovering twists and revelations as he discovers them.  The whole book is complex, coherent, mysterious, and incredibly entertaining.  Dream Thief is a magical revelation in its own right, an action-packed story with a hero who makes you contemplate the difference between hero and antihero and between justice and murder, and it is as good as any serialized drama on cable.  Visually arresting, emotionally engaging, and the story unfolding so smoothly, Dream Thief simply comes alive, the story and characters living and breathing in your mind.  When you finish the book, actually when you finish each issue, all you want is to read more and to breathe, because you realize you’ve been holding your breath the whole time, out of wonder, suspense, and the overwhelming power of pure entertainment.          

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