Have you ever had a dream so vivid you had a hard time distinguishing reality from the dream? How would you know? Where do we draw the line between the waking world and the dream world? Are we even awake? And what if your dreams were more than a mish-mashed construction of your subconscious? What if your dreams were hiding something so important others would kill you for that knowledge? What if your dreams had a purpose?
What if I stopped asking questions in a psuedo-profound manner?
Dream Merchant #1 is an intriguing start to a story that blends the philosophical and the psychological aspects of dreams and dreaming while blurring the lines of reality for our main character. Winslow has been suffering from intensely vivid dreams since he was a child. And while we’ve all had one or two realistic dreams on occasion, for Winslow the waking world and the dream state have become harder and harder to separate to the point that his adoptive parents committed him to a psychiatric hospital. It isn’t until he undergoes a hypnotic therapy session with his new doctor that Winslow comes to the attention of the Regulators who seek something contained within Winslow’s dreams, something the rest of the world has forgotten. On the run from the Regulators and the law, Winslow and Annie – a hospital volunteer – get some help from the titular Dream Merchant, an elderly man determined to protect Winslow and what he has hidden away in his subconscious.
As first issues go, Dream Merchant makes the most of its 52-page debut from writer Nathan Edmondson (The Activity, Dancer, Where is Jake Ellis?) and artist Konstantin Novosadov. There’s a purpose to every page as much as there is an as-yet-to-be-revealed purpose to Winslow’s dreams. By doubling the amount of pages, Edmondson gives us more time with Winslow, taking his time to set up the psychological state of our hero without the story feeling rushed. The first fifteen pages are necessary for the reader to assess Winslow as well as plant the seeds of his philosophy regarding dreams and what constitutes “reality”. Even once the action picks up – and boy does it pick up – Winslow is still unsure of what is and isn’t real. Sticking the main character in a mental institution cleverly puts us on edge about Winslow’s mental state, keeping the reader just as unbalanced. Fortunately, he has Annie to talk to, which benefits the reader as much as Winslow since Annie acts as a grounding character that keeps Winslow from becoming too introverted. Though she’s just as likely to pose questions about the nature of dreams and whether or not Winslow is actually “waking up,” she provides the necessary force to push him forward. Given his struggling grasp on reality, Winslow needs Annie as much as he’s going to need the Dream Merchant in order to survive.
For a relative newcomer to comics, Novosadov’s beautifully fluid art lends itself well to the book, almost acting as a reflection of the dream state Winslow finds himself falling in and out of over the course of the issue. Novosadov shows a real eye for color as well, using a varied palette to set the mood of a page from the sterile brightness of the psychiatric hospital, to the dull greys of Winslow’s past, and the warm tones of Annie and Winslow’s conversation on a train. My favorite panels and pages happen to be the dreamscape. Though we start with an outsiders view of Winslow falling into a world of mountains rising into a jeweled pink sky, every panel featuring the dreamscape from there on out is from a position below Winslow, as if we’re falling with him. It’s a wonderful use of perspective that adds to the dream-state without detracting from the story.
Final Thoughts: An absolute must read. Plenty of story and action to make you want more.