John Lincoln is a classic loser. He has no job, no ambition, and no empathy for anyone but himself. Even though his girlfriend Claire takes care of him, he cheats on her. But one morning, John wakes up next to a dead body: his face wearing a strange mask and his head filled with someone else’s memories. As he slept, an angry ghost used his body to exact revenge… on Claire.
One of the most interesting things about Dream Thief is its narrative structure. John completely loses his identity to the spirits who possess him, so much so that every morning, he needs to piece together what he did the previous night through clues in the ghosts’ leftover memories. This process puts a lot of the story right inside John’s head, which is the perfect place to watch him turn into a likeable hero. Central to this development is John’s ambivalence over the ghosts’ activities. Because he’s reluctant to keep killing, the lazy John begins taking action to solve the ghosts’ crimes without using the ghosts’ methods.
The supporting characters in this book are unusually interesting, most being either murder victims or the victims of murder victims. The fact that the ghosts’ memories stick around after their vengeance is complete allows them to continue affecting the story in interesting ways. Since so much of this tale has to do with John’s transformation into a hero, the ghosts’ memories may be the most important of their contributions to his life. Injustices like vigilantism, homophobia, betrayal, and racism mean nothing to John until he experiences them through the ghosts.
The narrative line of this volume is complicated, thanks to the multiple flashback structure of the ghosts’ memories in John’s memories of his own memories. Luckily, the artist and the writer seem to have had a real meeting of minds. The story is a fascinating fun house, instead of the baffling maze that it could easily have become. The art itself is very good. Alex Roth fans are definitely going to want to take a look at this volume’s cover.
As far as superhero stories go, this one does a particularly good job of expressing the double-edged sword of John’s powers. On one hand, he permanently absorbs the life experiences and skills of the ghosts, but on the other hand, they’re forcing him to kill people in his sleep. The book implies that his dad, and possibly others, are in jail because they’ve followed the same pattern. John’s father may be central to the plot of the next volume in this series. After a first volume of this caliber, there’s no question that the second volume will be worth picking up.
The violence might turn away the squeamish, but it’s never overdone and far from gratuitous. Frankly, for a revenge story, there’s much less violence than one might expect. The primary focus is on character development, not gore.
Dream Thief is both a classic hero story and a fresh take on the genre. Older teens and adults are most likely to enjoy both the subtle character treatment and the complicated plot. This volume is the beginning of a fine, solid story with a promising career.
Dream Thief, vol. 1
by Jai Nitz
Art by Greg Smallwood
Dark Horse, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: OT (16+)