How dreamy are 'The Dream Merchant' and 'Dream Thief'?

Two comics with "dream" in the title hit stands Wednesday, and although they're two very different comics and don't really have anything to do with each other, I naturally thought I'd combine them into one "Chain Reactions."

On one side of the dreamscape is Dream Merchant, by Nathan Edmonson and Konstantin Novosadov, published by Image Comics. From the solicitation text: "Haunted by recurring dreams, a boy named Winslow is hunted by mysterious beings and protected by an old traveler. Soon Winslow will realize that what is in his dreams is what the rest of the world has been made to forget–and what strange entities will stop at nothing to erase from his mind." It's a double-sized issue priced to move at $3.50.

On the other side of slumberland is Dream Thief, by Jai Nitz and Greg Smallwood, and published by Dark Horse. "After stealing an Aboriginal mask from a museum, John Lincoln realizes that the spirits of the vengeful dead are possessing his body and mind while he sleeps! His old problems have been replaced by bloody hands and the disposal of bodies-and now remembering where he spent last night has never been more important!"

So how do the two comics stack up? Here are a few reviews from around the web:

Dream Merchant #1

Aaron Long, Comicosity: "The very concept of The Dream Merchant is refreshing to read, delving into the mind of Winslow and all that entails. The mysterious Dream Merchant has a certain Obi-Wan Kenobi feel to him, and I am very curious to learn more about the dynamics of both characters. Edmondson does a solid job of defining these characters quickly and focusing on the mystery that is the situation, rather than bogging readers down in background stories and useless details. The issue moves along at a fast clip, which fit the story well and kept this double-sized issue light and entertaining. Edmondson’s world (both dream and reality) are extremely intriguing and based on this first issue I am definitely wanting to read more." (8/10)

Kelly Thompson, Comic Book Resources: "The visuals throughout The Dream Merchant #1 are stunning. There's a cohesive look to the book that is both consistent and extremely well chosen. Novosadov excels at storytelling from the way he lays out a page to his character acting and design. Of everything that works so beautifully in Novosadov's art, it's the colors that speak the loudest. "The Dream Merchant" has a soft subtle palette that morphs effortlessly from scene to scene, reflecting events in a way that most comics have forgotten. A night scene is flooded with muted tones, a contrasting day scene with an almost surreal artificial brightness, a dream sequence with unreal monochromatic pinks. The art has a committed and definitive style (one I happen to enjoy, although individual reader mileage may vary), but it's the colors that really impressed me page after page. Novosadov sweeps you into his world with a confident totality that is the definition of good comics." (3.5/5)

Matt LeMaire, The MacGuffin: "The only area where the art tends to suffer is in some of the dark, night scenes, where things tend to get a little confusing and lack the same clarity as the rest of the book. It’s somewhat disappointing, but doesn’t minimize the overall impact of the book. The characters,though, are one of the book’s strong points. While the mysterious companion that joins Winslow and Anne later in the issue is a little off when it comes to his dialogue–it’s almost too comic-booky for my tastes–Anne herself is a fun character. But more importantly, when I found myself wondering about her actions in the issue and whether they really fit, Edmondson swoops in and gives us the details about her, explaining it all. It’s perfect timing really, and it shows that Edmondson is keenly aware of the emotions and questions he wants to incite in the reader."

Tony Calandra, ComicBooked: "Overall this book has some potential. I really dig dream style concepts and love to see them morph into something amazing. Will The Dream Merchant do that? I can’t tell just yet. Even though this first issue is a solid 52 pages it still felt a bit empty to me. It could be because the pacing of the book is a bit slower for a first issue into the series. I wanted to know more about this world Winslow lives in and what he is trying to get from his dreams. We will see where Edmondson and Novosadov take us when issue #2 drops next month. I will check it out and see what dreamy road they begin to spin this story." (3/5)

Dean Stell, Weekly Comic Book Review: "The major problem is that it doesn’t work very well as a #1 issue.  First issues need to grab you and demand that you pay attention.  Unfortunately, Dream Merchant is both too long and too oblique.  I can already hear someone saying, “Wait!  I liked the fact that this issue is ~50 pages.  That’s a LOT of comic for the money.”  That may be a great sentiment if you want to by comics by the pound, but anyone who has grocery shopped knows that you don’t necessarily want to buy the meat that offers the most bulk for the price.  It isn’t that Dream Merchant if 50 pages of “bad”, its that a first issue needs to do something in the first 3-5 pages to command attention or else minds will wander.  I’ll be honest: I fell asleep during the opening pages of this issue.  When I returned to the comic and checked the app to see how many pages remained in a comic that I had committed to reviewing, it wasn’t a good feeling to see that I still had 40+ pages to go." (C)

Dream Thief #1

Greg McElhatton, Comic Book Resources: "The first half of Dream Thief #1 sets up the comic and John Lincoln's life perfectly. Readers learn about his girlfriend, their rocky relationship that led to his infidelity, his best friend, his sister, his pot-smoking habit, his lack of a job, his absent father. That's enough material to fill some books' first and second issues, and Dream Thief #1 presents it in ten pages. More importantly, though, it doesn't feel rushed or forced; instead it's a steady pace that moves through a day in the life of John. And honestly, if that's all this comic was, I think I'd have been happy. John Lincoln's life is a series of interconnected knots that need to be picked at for some time in order to unravel, and it's interesting enough material in and of its own right." (4.5/5)

Tommy Lutz, Read Comic Books: "Emphasize 'slow burn' on this one, and add in 'lots of dialogue' while you’re at it. The first half of this comic is a lot of fleshing out of the main characters through long conversations and narrations. Just about at the two-thirds mark the story takes a bit of a turn, and the transition feels a bit out-of-place. One moment you’re reading everyday conversations and the next you’re taking in a supernatural mystery. Each aspect moves at the same slow pace, so it’s not a matter of an abrupt change of pace, just an abrupt change of subject matter." (7/10)

Vince Ostrowski, Multiversity Comics: "Greg Smallwood’s art is a revelation and a huge boon to Nitz’s storytelling, as well. The two have been longtime friends and have collaborated for a few years on what would eventually become Dream Thief. The synchronicity that should come from knowing and working with someone for so long is present in the pages of issue #1. Smallwood has cited Sean Phillips as an influence and this is probably the clearest comparison that can be made, given his heavy use of shadow and his attention to detail. But Smallwood’s storytelling is all his own as he finds new ways to keep the setting and mood in mind on every page. He fills the panels out with unique objects and details when he can, and drops them out at key moments to highlight a reaction or emotion. Every artistic decision is made deliberately and with service of the story in mind." (9/10)

David Pepose, Newsarama: With such a striking artist in his corner, it would be very difficult for writer Jai Nitz to screw up. Thankfully, he doesn't. While Lincoln as a character isn't too terribly new — we've seen this sort of self-indulgent hero we love to hate with characters ranging from Irredeemable Ant-Man to Clerks' Dante Hicks to Wanted's Wesley Gibbs — Nitz does include enough wrinkles in John's day-to-day life that the story doesn't feel too stale. Once John finds an ancient Aboriginal mask — you're seeing it on the cover — the story does take a bit of a dramatic turn, both in terms of content and tone. Think of Boondock Saints meets The Mask, and you've got a pretty good idea of what Dream Thief has to offer: Brief bursts of violence, mystery over how John got there, and a twisted sense of morality that threatens to rob this book of any sympathy we might have for its protagonist." (7/10)

David Brooke, Adventures in Poor Taste: "The main weakness I see to this issue is there isn’t a ton of action. When the powers and hook hit you’ll be fully on board, but they come a little late for some people’s tastes. If you’re a fan of Fatale I could see you totally digging this book. The art and writing are top notch and I’m sure most publishers are wishing they had a series as unique as this one." (8.5/10)

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