Chris (The Genre Fiend)'s Reviews > Dream Thief Volume 1

Dream Thief Volume 1 by Jai Nitz
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This review is courtesy of an Advance Review Copy through the good folks at NetGalley.

Mild spoilers within.

Let's look at Dream Thief, a.k.a. "An Object Lesson in How the Final Page Can Completely Change Your Opinion of a Story" (though for clarity's sake I'll stick to calling it Dream Thief).

The story probably wins the award for "Biggest Swan-Dive Into The Plot" since it starts fairly calmly paced then accelerates with the speed of a Fast and Furious character in a souped-up Maserati. Our protagonist, John Lincoln, is gradually introduced in the first issue as a bit of a slacker in a relationship with a young woman, named Claire, who's getting over the trauma of a home invasion. John's sister is a cop, his best friend is some kind of football financier, and the first issue culminates in John murdering his girlfriend at the behest of an Australian Aboriginal mask that channels particular ghosts and turns him into a badass.


Wait, what?

Yeah, the shift from character introduction to full-bore, hi-octane plot is pretty jarring, but after it gets going you may feel the need to check your seatbelt or update your will since you could end up splattered on the roadside at a moment's notice. That's just a roundabout way of saying the plot is batshit crazy and ultra-super-mega-oh-my-God fast.

At least, it is in the beginning.

As it progresses, Dream Thief gives the impression of being a more anthology-focused story with book-ends to John's personal story at either end. Each of the middle issues feel reasonably standalone and present a different ghost inhabiting John's body, providing him with vengeance to exact on their killers and sleighters. The problem with this is that the character-heavy focus on John at the beginning and end of the book only works if that character is present for his arc, and since the centre portions of the book are standalone - and don't feature an awful lot of John as a character so much as a conduit for the ghosts and the plot - it undercuts the emotional payoff at the volume's conclusion.

Artwork by Greg Smallwood is subtle yet punchy. There's great use of shading and the colours definitely pop, and it utilises a kind of grungy, dark filter at times that evokes the illustrations of Sean Phillips and Michael Lark with a slightly noir undertone. Facial expressions are nicely done (with the standout being John's sister's WTF face during a moment in a hospital at the book's conclusion), so great work there. It's simple yet elegant, and doesn't divert attention from the dialogue.

I feel like Dream Thief is a bit of a Great Concept, Poor Execution nominee - or, rather, Great Concept, Not Enough Room For Execution. 5 issues is a little brevitous for a book with high-concept ideas to play with, so a bit more room to grow would've been nice to see the story expand and have the concept of John being a human ouija board played around with a little. I almost feel like this is the equivalent of a television pilot; perhaps writer Jai Nitz pitched this to see if readers enjoyed the idea, thus leading to a larger ongoing series or something. I can understand not wanting to commit to a massive high-idea story right off the bat, and Dream Thief does deal with a lot of concepts that'd alienate a lot of casual readers and bring in the more involved, deeper-meaning crowd for better or worse. Personally, I think we could do with more cerebral content in comics these days, so Dream Thief is definitely a great step in that direction.

There are two things that prevent this volume from leaping to my shortlist for Book of the Year. The first is that the plot in the middle portion stops and starts a little, especially during a chapter where John avenges a lawyer murdered at the hands of the KKK. I feel like the book couldn't decide if it was going to go full-throttle or slow and character-y, so it made several moments a little jarring. The chapter afterwards, largely dealing with a poker game and a half-drowned priest, suffers a similar problem.

The second issue is the ending is way too rushed. A sixth issue to spread out the conclusion would've helped the book immeasurably, since it's intended as the culmination of John's arc and an ending to the plot threads set up with the death of his girlfriend at the novel's beginning. It's not an entirely dissatisfying ending, but it does barrel along with some convenient corner-cutting to deliver John to his final confrontation and subsequent aftermath. If the story had ended there, as is, I'd've reacted harsher to it; there is so much presented within as ideas that cry out for further exploration, John's arc feels like it's only just begun (despite the one in this book having its own conclusion) and there's far too much potential on display for Nitz and crew to simply call wrap-up on the whole affair.

Then, we get to the epilogue on the final page of the book, and I'm able to breathe a sigh of relief. Dream Thief will undoubtedly return.

As a first instalment to the narrative, the book works well enough. As I said the pacing can get a little jittery but is still pretty engrossing, and if this is indeed the launching point for something bigger then bring it on, I say.

STORY: 3.5/5

ARTWORK: 4/5

DIALOGUE: 3/5

OVERALL: 11.5/15
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Reading Progress

February 6, 2014 – Started Reading
February 6, 2014 – Shelved
February 6, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
February 6, 2014 – Finished Reading

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