Sometimes, growing up means letting go of your dreams. But what if your dreams won’t let go of you? This is the problem facing Robbie Boone.
As a young boy, Robbie was chosen to be the companion of the Princess of the Dreaming Realm. This led to nights full of adventure and fighting monsters. But as a teen, Robbie’s dreams mostly involve surviving high school and becoming a professional animator.
Still, the Princess misses her dear friend, and is curious about this high school that is keeping him away from her. To that end, the Princess becomes “Stacey” and begins attending Robbie’s school. She convinced her father, the Dream King Morpheus, that it would do her good to know something of the Waking World if she is to ever rule the Dreaming Realm.
Unfortunately, random acts of vandalism, seemingly tied to Stacey, are endangering the Princess’ bargain to stay in the Waking World. Worse yet, the absence of the Princess seems to be harming the Dreaming Realm. It will fall to Stacey, Robbie, and their new friend Ana to investigate the mystery and deal with an invasion of nightmare doppelgangers.
Despite a fantastical setting, most of Waking Life: Book Two plays out like a slice of life teen drama. There is more focus on Stacey and Robbie’s efforts to try and fit in and deal with the usual teen problems than there is on the magical threat to reality. Even when the story shifts to focus on nightmares entering the real world, the story remains firmly focused on the characters and their fears.
Ben Humeniuk has a gift for writing strong teen characters and playing with the conventions of the genre. Ana, for instance, is not the least bit disturbed by the weirdness that erupts around Robbie and Stacey and takes them at their word when Robbie explains who Stacey really is and what is going on. This is because while she may not believe in magic, neither Robbie or Stacey have done anything in the time she’s known them to make her not believe them. This is a welcome change from the usual fantasy story, where the newbie just will not accept that magic and monsters are real.
Humeniuk’s artwork is also praiseworthy. The nightmare monsters that populate this volume are disturbing, but don’t cross the line into being truly horrific. This helps keep the story grounded, ironically enough, but also keeps the imagery appropriate for the target audience.
As with Waking Life: Book One, Comicker Press has no official age rating for Waking Life: Book Two. However, given the publisher’s focus on independently published works aimed at young readers, it can be safely presumed to be appropriate for its teen audience. The monsters, as mentioned earlier, are not likely to disturb older children. There is no violence of note, nor any sexual content apart from a suggestion of two characters kissing in a bathroom stall before being discovered and Robbie’s nightmare of being on stage at a school assembly in nothing but his underwear being made a reality.
Waking Life: Book Two: Epiphenomena
By Ben Humeniuk
Comicker Press, 2023
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Representation: African-American,