For a comic about three different women from the Valiant universe, Faith: Dreamside is surprisingly accessible. Each of the three leads represents a different take on super-heroics: the flying and levitating Faith Herbert (Zephyr) uses a Clark Kent/Superman dynamic to separate her personal and superhero lives; the transformative Monica Jim (Animalia) is on the run from government agents for using her powers to stand up for oppressed children, and Shan Fong (Dr. Mirage) uses her occult powers as the professional lead of a paranormal investigation television show. The plot is straightforward. Faith saves Monica from a police standoff. Monica is haunted by ghosts, so they consult with Shan, who takes them to a realm called the Dreamside to see where these ghosts originate. After a big showdown with a nightmare creature, everyone goes home as friends feeling a little better about themselves.
Why should they feel a little better? Each of them brings baggage from the past. Faith’s superhero persona was previously framed for murder, so she resorts to saving people on the down low. Monica is navigating the trauma of losing several friends and allies among her Renegade group. Shan’s late husband Hwen, with whose ghost she regularly socializes, has asked her to move on with a living partner. Despite these setbacks, all three flex their powers with confidence and operate as a competent trio. Writer Jody Houser deserves credit for maintaining a balancing act that allows all three women to deal with personal conflicts throughout the main story without losing focus. Dave Sharpe’s lettering places dialog, narration, and sound effects out of the way of the main action, always leading the eye to the next focal point. The final-act boss battle with Dreamside’s vicious Belu is taut, but effective. His introductory monologue sets up a villainous concept that is easy to understand and immediately personal: “The first moment a being became aware of a hope, a dream that would remain unfulfilled… that was me.”
Artist M.J. Kim is skilled in the levels of expression and fantasy settings required to tell this kind of genre mashup. Nightmare creatures, devious ghosts, kaiju projections—all are rendered with appropriate detail, with excellent palette choices from colorist Jordie Bellaire. In one scene, our heroes walk through the seemingly bright and cheery Dreamside, oblivious to the decaying and corrupted environment that waits just beyond. Kim and Bellaire’s artwork shows off the contrast to wonderful effect with a spread showing off the bright, daycare-esque happy images of clouds and smiling flowers alongside progressively drearier, rotted wasteland. Belu’s growth from a relatively cute little snake into a majestic king of nightmares is impressive, including its horns, wings, scales, four eyes, and split face.
Kim and Bellaire’s teamwork applies to the human moments, too. Scenes of depression and mourning surround characters in black background. A shot of violence is drenched in red. Faith’s flashbacks to her youth are colored so that people pop out against monochrome backgrounds, a nice parallel to how her levitation powers grant people and objects a golden shine. Shan’s actions and wardrobe are consistently blue and white, including the glowing effects on magic and ghosts. Monica’s curly hair and spunky expressions make rooting for her an effortless pitch, and that’s before her transformations take over a page. This story ends only four issues in, which can feel a little tidy plot-wise, but the characters are so distinct and fun to watch that readers shouldn’t mind.
Faith: Dreamside is another efficient home run from Valiant. It ought to serve as a fair entry point into the worlds of its diverse leads, whether it’s to discover where they’re from or where they’re going. Hand this comic to teens who want to see a black girl turn into a Godzilla-ish monster (and a kangaroo!), Undertale fans who thrive on seeing happiness and fortitude tested by personal nightmares, or pop culture junkies who will find a friend in the collectible-hoarding, reference-dropping Faith.
By Jody Houser
Art by M.J. Kim
Series Reading Order: https://www.goodreads.com/series/172181