There's a lot of work to be done in a brand new comic book miniseries. You need to introduce readers to the characters they'll be following, set some of the stakes that said characters will be coming up against, and throw in a couple of curve balls to keep the reader coming back for more. Jai Nitz and Greg Smallwood's Dream Thief #1 was a clear example of this, as the issue was all about establishment. And as my interview with Nitz showed, there was an awful lot to establish. Protagonist Jhon Lincoln is something of a perma-slacker whose found himself in the possession of (or possessed by) an aboriginal mask that seems to cause him to avenge unjust murders in his sleep by killing said unjust murderers. Of course, that's only part of the story, which made for a rather dense opening issue. Fortunately, Dream Thief #2 takes full advantage of that previous work and runs with it.
And boy does it run a long way.
This issue dives right back into things, delivering a succinct recap of what took place in issue #1 for those who require a reminder while dovetailing directly into the situation that John faces in the here and now. After gaining the memories and abilities of wrongfully murdered Armando Cordero last issue, Jon has now received the same from Jimmy Oliver, another person who was unjustly murdered. And like last time, Jon doesn't immediately remember what he's done while asleep (and possibly possessed), so the opening pages involve a mixture of Jimmy's memories and Jon's own flashbacks of what he did to repay those who cut Jimmy's life short. Nitz uses this sequence well, creating some instant interest in what's going on, particularly in the question of how all this occurred, while also providing an excuse to drop a sizeable amount of exposition in an easy to digest format.
Of course, Smallwood must also be complimented for his role in these looks to the past. As in the opening issue, the victim memories and John's flashbacks are rendered very differently on the page. The new memories that Jon finds himself muddling through are always hazily coloured in black and white, visually demonstrating their temporal position in the past and the confusion Jon feels in finding them all of a sudden in his own mind, while Jon's flashbacks are always done in a ragged-edge crimson, emphasizing the bloodshed and brutality that he unleashes on his victims. The grey / red dichotomy is simple to explain, but the impact on the comic book page is palpable. It lends a degree of visceral realness to this tale of crime and mystery that really puts a focus on the wasted lives of the victims and the ultraviolent response of John.
That being said, this feeling is obviously aided by Nitz's focused storytelling as he spends nearly the entire issue peeling back layer after layer of both who John is avenging and how he ended up in Wilmington, North Carolina to do so when he was so recently in Atlanta, Georgia. Both of these questions are intriguing ones, and Nitz's narration along with Smallwood's art combine perfectly to slowly reveal the answers. The book continues to be rather violent, but it never descends into needless brutality. There is a certain degree of restraint on the creators' parts, as the worst actions are merely threatened or left off-panel.
Verdict - Buy It. One of the most impressive parts of Dream Thief #2 is that it manages to read as a done-in-one story, resolving the mystery of Jimmy Oliver's death and punishing all the guilty parties, while also forwarding the wider story of John Lincoln and his relation to that aboriginal mask. Indeed, the issue even finishes with a hint of what John will be facing next month in Dream Thief #3. Jai Nitz and Greg Smallwood do a brilliant job of balancing their micro and macro-narratives, delivering a satisfying issue that will read even better within the context of what's to come.
Colours by Nelson Daniel
I don't know if I'm imagining it, but it's feeling like the smaller publishers are starting to take chances on new, creator owned concepts. The licensed books are still in their rotations, but we're also getting things like Boom!'s Suicide Risk, IDW's Half Past Danger, or even Wild Blue Yonder, whose first issue dropped this week.
Wild Blue Yonder was actually Kickstarted last year, with the partnership with IDW announced around the same time, so it has been a bit of a long time coming. However, a book that's all about post-apocalyptic sky pirates and their fight for ongoing survival is the kind I'm more than willing to wait for. Fortunately, I'm also happy to report that one issue in the book is off to an excellent start.
This title is pulpy as all get out. It feels like what you'd get if Indiana Jones met Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (but if it was actually good). Post-apocalyptic books are near a dime a dozen at this point, but Wild Blue Yonder finds a way to make it all feel fun and fresh. I would posit that a big part of this is the "wild", because while aerial dogfights in and of themselves promise a certain amount of entertainment, what sets this book apart is that it honestly feels like anything could happen. There are rules that everyone has to live by, but they are not yet completely defined. Whether it's the mountaintop bars or the flying fortresses, this book is jampacked with off the wall ideas that are perfectly realized.
Writers Mike Raicht and Austin Harrison are concise raconteurs, telling the reader all they really need to know about the general history of the world in the book's first two pages. The world was coming to an end, and in a desperate bid to avoid it, man took to the skies. However, this escape is not a safe one, as man has found reason to fight himself in the skies, making continued survival anything but guaranteed. From there, we meet Cola, our young female protagonist who just so happens to be something of an ace pilot. She has ample opportunity throughout the issue to prove her worth, demonstrate her cool under fire, and show the give the reader a bit of an idea of how badass she is.
In spite of her aerial prowess, the ongoing fighting has depleted her crew and they need a new gunner. This leads us to Tug, a young man without nothing left to live for who will have to do. The whole thing moves along at a fast clip, with the type of quick back and forth banter that you would expect from something as pulpy as this. Motivations aren't flimsy per se, but they are the bare bones of what is needed to move characters from point A to point B. And happily for readers yearning for some action, point B is chock full of it.
Those aerial dogfights come into things in a big way, as it's quickly revealed that Cola's crew's problems are far from over. Tug gets a true trial by fire as the two help fight off the nefarious attackers. The whole sequence is brilliantly done by series' artist Zach Howard, as he manages to give a sense of movement and energy to these dog fights that makes them truly feel dangerous. The double page spread that introduces the battle sets the tone for this, but Howard keeps it up throughout with plenty of choice panels that focus on individual moments that add up to an exciting whole. His efforts are also greatly aided by colourist Nelson Daniel, who really shines in all the blood, explosions, and destruction that makes up this deadly battle. His harsh reds and browns create the perfect atmosphere.
Daniel's harsh colours are omnipresent throughout the issue, and while it partly makes sense for a book set after the end of the world, it does make for a very dark read experience. There is probably only a single page that could properly be described as bright, and the lack of variation in tone robs some of the impact of when Daniel's colours should really be emphasizing how bad and dangerous things are. That being said, Howard and Daniel make an excellent team, beautifully realizing the exciting ideas coming from Raicht and Harrison. I felt that the two artwork looked mighty familiar, which is about the time I realized that Howard and Daniel previously collaborated on Joe Hill and Jason Ciaramella's The Cape. Indeed, if you liked the visuals on that book, you'll love what is on offer in Wild Blue Yonder, as their work here is quite similar.
Verdict - Buy It. Wild Blue Yonder is yet another welcome entrant into the many creator owned books we've seen released lately. Mike Raicht and Austin Harrison's setting is wonderful imaginative and they seem to have a narrative up their sleeves that is more than equal to that initial idea, Zach Howard's art and pacing is spot on, and while Nelson Daniel's colours are perhaps a mite darker than necessary, they still make the book sing. You would do well to check out Wild Blue Yonder; it looks like it's going to be something special.
Colours by Jordie Bellaire
Darkness. A woman stumbles through an empty alleyway. She is trying to leave a message of warning, but her system will not work. She is bleeding, weakening by the moment. Suddenly, that alleyway isn't so empty. A dark, hooded figure follows her at a patient distance. More figures appear. There is no need to rush, because they will catch the panicked woman. The terror on her face is clear - she is disheveled, sweating, and out of options. Suddenly, the figures are upon her. The darkness returns.
This is how X-Files Season 10 #1 opens. The woman in question is none other than Dana Scully, and all we really know is that she looks to be in a ton of trouble. As openers go, these first three pages are stupidly effective in building mood and atmosphere. Joe Harris' dialogue, Michael Walsh's tight panels, and Jordie Bellaire's dark colours combine for a tense introduction that also has its fair share of creepiness and near terror. Of course, the page turn takes us back in time to "earlier that day", where things are suddenly sunny, the colours are all warm, and everything is normal. In four pages, Harris, Walsh, and Bellaire have introduced danger and begged the question of how it could possibly appear. The remaining 18 pages are spent in providing some answers.
I am likely in the minority of readers of IDW's comic book X-Files relaunch in that I have never really watched the original television series. Pretty much everything I know about the show I learned from other shows referencing the X-Files. So beyond knowing that there's two agents named Scully and Mulder, I'm more or less in the dark. Fortunately, X-Files #1 does an excellent job of bringing readers up to speed, sprinkling in pieces of explanation throughout character dialogue in a manner that comes off as surprisingly natural. Mulder and Scully have set up new identities post-X-Files, but an old colleague / friend comes into their lives to say that these identities may or may not have been compromised. Considering those first three pages, that part of the question is pretty clear to the reader, but Harris uses this revelation well to illustrate the stakes of this potential discovery and how it impacts our lead characters.
From there, things quickly hit the fan, as we see Scully slowly wind up in the position we found her in at the start of the issue while Mulder tries to save their colleague from a similar fate. These two scenes play out in near parallel, with the jumps back and forth creating suspense as the scene continually shifts at cliffhanger-esque moments. This obviously keeps the tension high, and so does the many small revelations that Harris and Walsh litter throughout these pages both in word and picture. The final scene echos those opening pages, but with all the information we learn throughout the issue, the meaning of it all is no longer the same.
Verdict - Buy It. X-Files Season 10 #1 is a solid opener for Joe Harris and Michael Walsh's run on the book. They throw the reader right into the deep end, with things look grim from page 1. However, they soon offer a life-preserver, pulling back for some background information to help provide some context to the harrowing experience that is the book's first few pages. So by issue's end, all the craziness feels like it makes a bit more sense, but the reader is still surrounded by questions and mystery that will have to be answered in following issues.