In “The Dream Merchant” #1, Edmondson and Novosadov wrap their hands around the mysterious space between wakefulness and unconsciousness, squeezing until we realize just how vulnerable we are when we close our eyes.
Written by Nathan Edmondson
Illustrated by Konstantin Novosadov
A double-size issue to kick off a new sci-fi series from Nathan Edmondson and newcomer Konstantin Novosadov. 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.
This new series from Image Comics introduces Winslow, a man plagued by nightmares who seems to have misplaced the line separating dreams from reality. As we read his tale, we learn more about the forces fighting to preserve or destroy the seemingly invaluable content of his unconscious mind. To the credit of the creators of this series, we are never allowed to feel comfortable as we learn about this new world. The pacing could seem erratic, as the temporal and physical settings, tones, and even the realities of this issue change rapidly and almost constantly. However, considering how desperate and confused the main character feels throughout the story, the reader’s race to keep up actually mirrors his emotional state; creating a sense of empathy for the protagonist.
The opening page is graced with eloquent narration that draws the eye across the work effortlessly. Every detail, from the layout to the carefully chosen words, creates a forceful gravity that pulls us forward. In the story Edmondson gives readers a chance to learn a bit about Winslow’s history. He is the definition of a victim of circumstance, who has never had the opportunity to take control of his own fate. Sympathetic, relatable, and believable, Winslow is a very successful adaptation of the everyman archetype. In fact, all the characters in this book are well realized. Their natural dialogue and complex bask stories allow the audience to imagine that they might have met them waiting in line for coffee once, brushed passed them on the subway, or taken a class with them in high school. They seem like real people. One striking departure from this realistic tone is the figure of the Dream Merchant. The creators build a mysterious and powerful portrait of a being who is intriguing and new. Novosadov’s art is especially well-suited to the task of illustrating this particular character, in his hands this old mage springs to life.
Novosadov’s art is stylized, retaining a consistent aesthetic as he alters proportion and structure throughout the work. He uses line and angle in surprising ways. The art departs from the realistic nature of Edmondson’s characterization, reminding readers that Winslow and the other characters belong to a plane of existence that is just outside of our own. The design Novosadov uses for the characters of “The Dream Merchant” #1 is diverse; each new person we encounter appears unique and stands out from the other cast members. The visual storytelling is a strong component of this title. Whether illustrating silent interaction, environment, or action the art is clear and easy to read. The sequence in which Winslow is depicted as a child relies heavily on the artist’s skill. The depiction of his mother and father, their personal strife, and the meager living conditions tells us as much about the character and where he came from as the words on the page. However, Novosadov’s prowess as a storyteller is not limited to subtlety. The action sequences are equally well articulated. One particularly effective example involves a high-speed chase in a pick-up, which moves with real weight and speed through the two dimensional space of the page.
Edmondson is able to capture a tone of desperation in the pages of this issue. Winslow’s narration is accessible, and mesmerizing. The glimpse into the extraordinary circumstances facing this ordinary man builds sympathy for the main character. By the time the book speeds up, establishing the conflict of the story, the audience has been given an opportunity to become invested in Winslow personally. This makes it easy to root for him, even if it is not exactly clear what he is up against. In this issue, he faces the villainous ‘Dream Regulators.’ These decidedly bad guys are not particularly frightening, or unique. They do serve their purpose, however; giving Winslow and his companion, Anne, something to run from. Their design feels a bit familiar, and their motivation remains, as a now, a bit foggy and unclear.Continued below
Exploring an impressive range of highs and lows, “The Dream Merchant” #1 succeeds in introducing a believable cast of characters, building connections between those characters and their audience, explaining the obstacles those characters face, and generating a novel mythology. With all that this issue accomplishes, there is little time to instigate a stunning plot twist, or to fully explore some of the more mysterious elements of this story. Due to this fact, the focus on exposition may make the issue come across as a little predictable. Establishing a world that seems to work so organically may cause readers to feel that the plot was predictable, without realizing that the craft and originality of this title is remarkable. A misguided sense of hindsight bias, or feeling as if everything was obvious all along, may hinder the overall impression of this book. Edmundson and Novosadov have made this title feel so natural that it may fail to inspire a feeling of surprise. The technical quality of the work here is impressive. The team has been quite successful in telling this story; exploring the vulnerability associated with sleep and the mystery of dreaming in a way, that just might keep you up at night.
Final Verdict: 7.8 — A technically impressive, emotional weighty introduction to a world where dreams really do come true.