"Dream Thief: Volume 1" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Originally published as Dream Thief #1 - #5
Written by Jai Nitz
Illustrated by Greg Smallwood
2013, 150 Pages
Trade Paperback released on March 12th, 2014
John Lincoln has seen better days. He's out of work. His girlfriend is acting all kinds of weird. He's waking up next to dead bodies with no memory of how he got there or what happened. OK, that last one is a bit strange. After a night out with his best friend Reggie, John steals an Aboriginal mask from a museum. That's when things get crazy. John gets possessed by the spirits of the recently deceased, gaining their skills and memories, and avenges their deaths. He's unsure as to why this is happening, but it may have something to do with his father, whom he hasn't seen in years.
Dream Thief works like a bloodier version of Quantum Leap. John suddenly wakes up next to one or more corpses and has to remember what happened, why he killed these people, and figure out what to do next. Each of the first few issues works as a somewhat standalone story with John possessed by a boxer / mechanic, a former soldier / current gay porn star, and a black female lawyer. He taps into each of their memories and abilities to accomplish his goals. For example, when he gets into a fight, he can throw a punch like the boxer. John fills in the gaps as to what he's been up to while his eyes were closed slowly at first as he's still learning how to control these strange new powers.
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John's journeys take him through most of the American South, but with no clear connection yet. There's a larger power at work here that is slowly revealed throughout this trade paperback. For the first time John seems to have a purpose, but he doesn't quite know the rules of his new status quo. The character grows and matures as the story goes on. He develops his own code of honor about the killing, even though he has little to no control of it while he's unconscious.
The story behind Dream Thief is intriguing and definitely worth the price of admission, however Greg Smallwood's artwork takes it up to eleven. It's very hard to believe that this is his first published comic work. First off, the art direction is top notch. The panels are rarely set up in a traditional rectangular fashion. Instead, Smallwood plays with the layout, providing different shaped panels to go with the story. A fight scene might be broken up into several thin panels showing close ups of the action instead of a huge splash page. Panels shaped like a giant exclamation point lead up to a startling revelation by the bottom. I could go on and on with these examples because they are plentiful and equally awesome.
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What really stands out is the onomatopoeia. Instead of using your basic “POW!” and “BAM!” like the classic 1966 Batman TV show, Smallwood works it into the artwork. An image will be broken up to resemble the world “SLAM” instead of a basic rectangle. It's a great effect that Smallwood uses perfectly. Where this comes into play even more is when John taps into the abilities of the dead folks that have possessed him. When he punches someone with the power of the boxer, the word “WHAM” is shown in the center of the image. Within the word, the coloring is black and white instead of color and it's a shot of a boxing match so you see the glove and the ring. Meanwhile, outside of the word is the current fight scene with John punching away.
This trade is packed with extras, including a huge pinup gallery, variant covers, and alternate designs for the character. It's also a book that encourages you to tear pages out of it as there's a John Lincoln paper doll and paper inaction figure. Awesome!
This comic works as a fantastic origin story for John Lincoln. By the end, everything is in place for him to find out more about his new powers and figure out what to do next, but there are still plenty of questions left unanswered. I'm looking forward to the continued story of Dream Thief and I definitely can't wait to see what else Greg Smallwood has in store.