Review: Queen of Bad Dreams #1

Danny Lore has been known to me primarily for the work they have done as an editor; my good friend Stephanie Cannon especially had wonderful things to say about their editing. Queen of Bad Dreams is their new comic from Vault Comics, keeping in line with that distinguished company’s efforts to create exciting new titles.

The premise of Queen of Bad Dreams is simple enough but also intriguing: Daher is an IJ (Inspector Judge), someone who hunts down dream entities (called figments) that escape from the minds of dreamers. This essentially means she must venture out to face down something from someone’s dreamscape and attempt to wrangle things fueled by their subconscious and amplified by their fears. From the headquarters of the IJs (the Morphean Annex) Daher works with an older hunter named West, which strikes a lovely Lethal Weapon vibe within the duo. The story is being narrated from the future – apparently to Daher’s child.

The narration from the future works especially well; it lends a certain drama and gravitas to the proceedings because the story merits being told. In fact, the very fact that the story is being related to us suggests a much larger story, a vast one spiraling out whose contours we can only just glimpse in this first issue. Since this is a new story in an all new context, this is an excellent way to position the reader.

A second layer to the narration is that it comes from someone very close to Daher, but without reason to lie about her. This clever perspective means that we are able to not only discern the outstanding facets of her character, but also the very real flaws in said character. Combined with the action happening on panel, Daher is drawn from a straightforward badass to a more complicated character with a mosaic of qualities, most of which seem to present themselves in both the positive and negative. For example, she is quite well-trained with significant expertise in her job, but that expertise requires diligence – diligence that has cost her in terms of her personal life. At the risk of sounding repetitive, it really helps the reader engage with the character.

At times the story works relatively closely within a framework not unlike a hard-boiled detective story – the tough investigator sniffing out clues and chasing leads and seeming generally competent and clever. However, it defies the type repeatedly; Daher is clever, no doubt, but she balances in a level of humanity that detracts from the trope. Each scene of investigation does more labor than just moving the plot, however; in each one the world is widened a bit more, Daher developed a little more, the stakes expanded a little more. The privileged son of a politically connected family has dropped a figment. The trail leads Daher into personal complications, and finally into a near-conflict that not only entices us to a new issue but provides an interesting new nuance to Daher’s character.

Overall, the writing clearly reflects the experienced hand of an editor; the pacing, the use of dialogue and captions in perfect proportion, and most importantly the sense to know when to let the art do most of the work. That being said, Lore’s writing has an excellent human quality to it; that is, both the dialogue and the narration have the feel of real human emotion and depth. There is an easy familiarity in the narration, with echoes of wistfulness, that really brings the reader closer to the character, and that is a rare achievement indeed.

The art by Jordi Perez has some real standout moments; a figment from the dream of a youngster looks like something drawn directly from a crayon drawing at a therapist’s office, wherein a disturbed youngster sketches the boogeyman. Thrown in alongside the futuristic cityscape of the opening, the discordant presence of the figment emphasizes the strangeness of Daher’s job. I was drawn repeatedly to Perez’s use of character’s mouths to convey emotion; this may seem weirdly specific, but I noticed several scenes where pursed lips or gritted teeth accompanied emotional moments. The colors by Dearblha Kelly work very well; especially in the vibrant hair colors of several characters and the hues of the cityscapes. Every scene works with an excellent palette to depict that locale, which enhances the art.

Overall, Danny Lore has done something great here; they have conceived a unique concept with an intriguing main character, and initiated the kind of mystery and interest that one desires in a first issue. I will certainly be back for more.