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Sandman meets The Matrix. Interested? You should be. That's the feeling that comes from finishing this book. To be fair, this first issue from Image's new limited series The Dream Merchant is more set up than pay off, but the story it seems to be setting up has the definite air of greatness. So take a sip of this warm milk, tuck yourself in, close your eyes, and listen to this little lullaby...
The story centers around a teenager named Winslow who is haunted by a reoccurring dream of him floating near some Big Ol' Rocks in a clouded, purple/maroon netherworld. Having been checked into a mental institution as a boy, he now struggles with telling dream from reality. Which world, the waking or dreaming, is the real one?
Winslow's life has slid into an easy routine, talking with his schizophrenic best friend and getting contraband books from the cute Volunteer Lunch Girl. However, the status quo does not a story make, and sure enough things start to go wrong when a hypnotherapy session seems to expose him to a Big Ol' Bunch of Bad Guys.
Bad Guys attack, disaster ensues, and Winslow and Anne The Cute Volunteer Lunch Girl are forced to go on the run.
The art here is really strong. The stylized nature makes it seem really fresh and interesting. The pencils, panel work, and coloring really goes to set up the atmosphere of the whole book, something that you don't see a whole lot in the Big Two. Amazingly enough, the art is done by a newcomer with a name like a shotgun blast of consonants, Konstantin Novosadov.
The only thing is, and this might be a personal problem, but I had a hard time telling what age the characters were in the middle. Look up there. They could be early-mid teens or early-mid twenties. It's not a flaw that breaks the book, and to be honest a lot of main-er stream books make their 16-year-olds look like 20-something models, but it was a little jarring to suddenly find out the characters are younger than what you had in your head.
The writer, Nathan Edmondson, does a great job here too. The writing is engaging and flows naturally, at times reminiscent of Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman's prose-esque writing style. It doesn't go out of its way to explain everything and that's great! It creates a mystery, a solid story engine that drives the reader forward. However, it's a double edged sweet ass dream sword. The same writing mechanic makes a few pieces of the story, for instance the rules of the dream people, muddled. I'm sure that everything will be cleared up in the remaining five issues, but it can still be a bit frustrating when you're in the dark.
Go read The Dream Merchant. That's the recommend. It's a solid read and a six issue limited run so it's well worth your time. If anything else, read it just for the... hey... hey, are you asleep? Wow that warm milk stuff must really work... are you-- I'm just going to go. Okay... well... goodnight.