In “The Dream Merchant” #2 by Nathan Edmondson and Konstantin Novosadov, the Dream Merchant reveals to Winslow and Anne the existence of a forgotten, ancient world and the role that dreams play as pathways and havens for memory.
As fellow reviewer Kelly Thompson mentioned in her review, “The Dream Merchant” #1 was a decompressed, slow introduction that deliberately held back information to sustain suspense about the central mystery of Winslow’s bizarre and disabling dream disorder. In “The Dream Merchant” #2, Edmondson’s world-building speeds up abruptly, and a vast amount of information is tossed towards the reader by the titular Dream Merchant himself, who appeared at the end of the last issue.
In the grand manner of a stereotypical Wise Old Master or Mentor figure, The Dream Merchant holds forth for almost the entirety of the issue, telling Winslow and Anne (who do little more than listen and wonder) about why Winslow keeps having his recurring dream, Winslow’s potentially heroic role as a “Fulcrum” and the motivations of the shadowy villains that are pursuing Winslow.
Even for a mini-series, Edmondson would have done better to observe the usual writing rule about showing instead of telling. The massive information dump is clumsy and lazy, but made more bearable by Edmondon’s prose style, which is formal and poetic in its rhythms and descriptions.
However, it doesn’t help that the information being dumped is unoriginal. Despite some cliches about dreams, “The Dream Merchant” #1 felt like the beginning of an unusual journey. Running away from a mental ward is a common plot point, but the lost, helpless feelings of Winslow and Anne came across, as did their awkward and gentle relationship dynamic. Edmondon’s story seemed to be developing on these murky, personal lines that would tie into dream mysticism and commentary on psychological and social norms. In “The Dream Merchant” #2, it becomes clear that Edmondson is instead going for a much more conventional, less conceptually interesting storyline.
A reader steeped in genre conventions can guess the outlines of the plot. Winslow’s disabling dream disorder is actually a source of knowledge and power, and only he, the involuntary Chosen Hero, can prevent an event that may threaten all of humanity. It’s a typical Alien Invasion plot dressed up with some Old Gods tropes and decorated with dream mythology.
Despite this, “The Dream Merchant” #2 is worth picking up just for Novosadov’s distinctive and confident art. His craggy linework and shading stand out on his clean, dynamic backgrounds. In an issue that is almost entirely talking heads, Novosadov almost single-handedly maintains a haunting, dream-like atmosphere that makes the story feel unusual and arresting. His imagery and flowing panel transitions imbue Edmondson’s words with deeper resonance and emotion than the words by themselves would summon. Novosadov’s palette of translucent pastels and near-fluorescents reinforce the ghostly quiet of the settings. He keeps things simple, washing landscapes in glow-y blue and purple hues for nighttime and dry, pale yellows and oranges for daylight.
Towards the end of “The Dream Merchant” #2, Novosadov devotes a page for the transition from darkness to dawn, and the simplicity of the background, composition and graceful linework on this page create a luminous moment of peace and beauty.
However, the original art style and pleasant prose style of “The Dream Merchant” #2 doesn’t entirely excuse its uneven pacing and derivative characterization and plot so far. Perhaps in future issues, these aspects of the writing will catch up to the art.