On a week in which Marvel Comics was beginning the opening salvo of this year’s annual crossover mega-event, Bullet Proof Comics on 2178 Nostrand Avenue in the great borough of Brooklyn was host to a very different kind of event. Featured this past Wednesday were Raphael Moran, the writer and creator of DREAM REAVERS, alongside Shaun Noel and Abede Lovelace, the creators of CITY OF WALLS. In the case of DREAM REAVERS (which is published by APE ENTERTAINMENT), this was a follow up of a previous Bullet Proof signing with Moran back in September 2011, when the series was just being launched (http://nextooze.com/comic-books-in-new-york/report-review-of-dream-reavers-signing-bullet-proof-comics-and-a-bonus-review). Now the entire four issue mini series is complete and set to be collected in a trade paperback later in the spring, with a subsequent anthology tale due later in the year. This time, however, Lovelace and Noel’s CITY OF WALLS comic (published by STAND ALONE PRODUCTIONS and COMIXPRESS) shared the table, with fresh copies of the fourth issue of the black and white series. Besides being friends and Brooklyn creators in arms, Lovelace contributed art for the third issue of DREAM REAVERS, which is the connecting factor. Armed with fresh silver pens for autographs as well as posters and even key-chains of their comics (at least in the case of DREAM REAVERS), the event went off without a hitch during the middle of a usual busy and bustling “comic book day” at the iconic shop (only blocks from Brooklyn College). Comic shop signing events are often more intimate and less intimidating, as well as less crowded, than most events at conventions, and this one was no exception. Having covered a great deal of data about DREAM REAVERS at last year’s signing, this event for me was a matter of saying hello to some peers as well as getting a chance to get more of their often under-ordered comic book stories.
Moran noted that one hurdle was the publication strategies of APE ENTERTAINMENT itself. It is a company which publishes a mix of licensed material (RICHIE RICH, CASPER THE FRIENDLY GHOST, STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE, and KUNG-FU PANDA) as well as creator owned material like DREAM REAVERS. The company apparently focuses more on selling comics digitally than in print, which can effect publication schedules as well as supplying the books to Diamond Distribution. Moran noted that while the content for the four issues were supplied per Ape’s schedule, the issues themselves were printed late. While Ape is apparently capable of selling a million copies of one of their video game licensed comics digitally, the company struggles to create as much presence in shops as other companies that rely on licensed material such as BOOM! Studios or IDW. Regardless, most of the work in producing a creator owned comic is promoting it, often by arranging for signings like this. Thus, the relationship between shops and creators remains key, and Bullet Proof Comics is definitely one of the shops that gets that.
Now, onward with the reviews!
DREAM REAVERS #2-4: While it has been a long time since DREAM REAVERS #1 came out, it is certainly enjoyable to be able to read the other 75% of this epic fantasy series in one sitting. While series writer/creator Raphael Moran did seek for this series to be five issues instead of four and wanted a longer and cheaper debut issue akin to Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ SAGA which came out on March 14th. However, it is worth noting that all of these issues contain 28-30 pages for $3.99 per issue – a far better ratio than most Marvel and DC comics priced at such a level. Marc Borstel is the regular artist and colorist for this series, although specific dream sequences are drawn by other contributing artists such as Enrique Rivera (issue #2), Dave Hedmart and Adede Lovelace (issue #3). In the previous issue, readers met the four stars of the series – mischievous addict Marcus Randal, empathic healer Sophia Santos, spoiled rich girl Nyla Deardon and the lobotomized Aaron Pierce. All four are psychics and all of them fell into a coma at the same time. The main plot of the series kicks in more starting with the second issue, as the realm to which they have arrived and the dangers they face are explained and made stark. Pierce and especially his father Sigmund prove to be especially pivotal to the plot of the series. Sonia and Aaron were the first to meet within the dream realm of Astral, and they are quickly joined by Nyla and Marcus; Nyla was plucked from her own “Disney Princess” style dream by Marcus in a delightful sequence drawn by Rivera. Astral is the realm of dreams, a place between the living world and the underworld in this series. Sigmund Aaron was a scientist attempting to find a way to free his son Aaron of the violent multiple personality with plagued him; when an experiment to accomplish this goes horribly wrong, both he and “Evil Aaron” wind up in Astral. Only while Sigmund became an explorer and captive of “The Spire”, which is the central hub of Astral run by positive Sprites, the evil entity became the Spook King, who seeks to lead a legion of Spooks – the literal monsters of nightmares – in a raid across both Astral and the real world. A “Dream Reaver” is thus someone able to travel through and manipulate dreams, as Marcus can; since all four are psychics in the real world, they have godlike potential in the dream world. The question becomes, can our four heroes manage to put aside their differences and disbelief to confront the nightmares of everyone in the globe?
It only becomes somewhat obvious that this series was once drafted to be an issue longer in issue four (or arguably the last chunk of issue three), when the pace of the story speeds up to get to the conclusion. This could be a dilemma, but by this point the rules of the fantasy realm have been established and the cast has been assembled, and even the supporting casts of these characters in the “living world” have started to converge as the stakes become real. The Spook King is a convincing villain for the piece, even if some could argue the concept of a character having to literally battle their dark half has been seen before – it is also a timeless metaphor. While I do not want to give away the finale, I will say that a moment in issue four in which the leads literally summon the belief of heroes from the dreams of everyone into an army of familiar figures to ride into battle with is easily the coolest thing I have seen in a comic book all year. One can spend minutes analyzing that splash page to find familiar figures of religion, legend, fiction and yes, comic books – only altered so nobody gets sued. The art for the series is quite good; shifting artists for the dream sequences of each character is a wise move to give each a unique flavor and style all their own. Borstel’s pencils and colors for the majority of the story balance everything out wisely. The he makes people look “real” an in proportion (while Nyla has a fine figure, she envisions herself thinner and does not have the same body type as Santos) while making monsters and other creatures look as they should. I took note with the wide range of colors chosen for this series. Many comics and even other forms of media such as video games these days often seem afraid of using vibrant colors, feeling always using something faded or washed out is more “realistic”. In DREAM REAVERS, the color palette is wide enough to cover a vibrant daylight party, a spire of sprites and positive glowing energy, or a dark world of monsters, bog, and zombies. There are pinks and purples and yellows and so on mixed with browns, olives, and so forth. While the change of costumes for the characters at the end may remind some of no end of fantasy film and video games, the fact that these are teenagers inspired by such things helps it work out. Having four different characters who seem to be drastically opposite who have to combine talent is a time honored tradition, from the GHOSTBUSTERS to the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES to even Japanese manga like YU YU HAKUSHO; it may seem overly familiar to some, but comforting in that way as well.
Overall, DREAM REAVERS is an enjoyable mix of time honored traditions with some creative ideas about dreams and fantasy, told in an engaging manner with many interwoven characters and secrets to be revealed. It also is a series which isn’t about superheroes, nor does it seem ashamed of noting their influence in culture in places, which is refreshing. This is a solid fantasy issue, worth checking out whether as individual issues or trade.
CITY OF WALLS: BOOK 4: This is the fourth chapter in what is intended to be a six part saga from writer Shaun Noel and artist Abede Lovelace; the first three parts were released and compiled into a trade paperback collection back in 2009. This issue hit the printer at COMIXPRESS at the end of last year, but it is never too late to continue along with the tale of three plucky kids in the walled city of Kowloon. In the previous chunk of story, the characters of Daniel, Jin, and Ariana were introduced and their status quo was set up. Daniel is an imaginative and brilliant boy who is worried about being accepted into a private school of “the noble class” and having to leave his friends behind. Jin is the son of a racing whiz who is a junkyard raiding engineer in training. Ariana works at a store with her rough and huge father who often is the source of supplies. Faced with dead end lives in a bleak city, all three had planned to build a plane and fly out of Kowloon into California – the sort of grand plan imagined by kids. Unfortunately, venturing into a rough part of town for supplies (and where Jin’s father died in a racing crash) got Daniel seriously injured by a vicious thug. Book 4 covers the aftermath of that incident and where the characters go from there. Daniel has to recover from his injuries, and while Ariana’s devotion to him gets her in trouble with her father, Jin’s guilt about the incident causes him to throw a sledgehammer into their dream. While the characters are engaging and the drama of the series flows forth akin to a grim and imaginative opera, the real star here is Lovelace’s artwork. One can see how Lovelace has improved as an artist since the start of CITY OF WALLS, although his instincts for heavy shadows and atmospheric page layouts remains as sharp as ever. With a more generic artist, this series might almost seem boring; but with this great use of blacks and whites, the script is given incredible weight. The strength of the artwork here isn’t a demerit to the script by Noel; Ariana in particular seems to take a stand against her father and for the continuation of the trio’s dream here. Having seen the characters unite at the end of trade (or Book 3), it is tragic to see the circumstances of their actions as well as Jin’s reaction seem to pull them apart. Above all, this is not a story where one can make a safe bet on the conclusion based on traditional story tropes, which is always refreshing in comic books. While the critical buzz on this book has led to more work for both creators, hopefully the conclusion of this gripping series hits the shelves soon.
As a bonus at the signing was an ashcan comic called ANGST which was written/created by Raphael Moran, drawn by Atul Bakshi, inked by Ed Watson and colored by Tim Tilly. The premise is that Travis Moore was an average high school student until he and his shady friend Derek witness something they shouldn’t have and Travis suddenly finds himself at the center of an “INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS” style plot. The story has a twist at the end which some may see coming a few pages beforehand, but the cartoony artwork is engaging and for a freebie ashcan strip, it’s perfectly satisfying.
For anyone in the Brooklyn, NY area who wants a crack at DREAM REAVERS, it is available for order from APE ENTERTAINMENT, but it can be had at the next signing event with Raphael Moran as well! That will be at the recently opened EXCALIBUR COMICS on 7402 20th Avenue in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn on May 9th from 1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. EXCALIBUR COMICS is a block away from the B4 bus stop at Bay Ridge Avenue and 20th Avenue on 74th street, and is the first genuinely new comic stop to open in the area since the boom of the 1990’s. Make sure to check it out!
This Week’s Comic Book Reviews – http://nextooze.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-3-28-21-who-knew-mole-man-could-do-a-split-review
City Of Walls website – http://www.cityofwalls.com/creators.htm
Dream Reavers on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/DreamReavers
Dream Reavers at Ape Entertainment – http://ape-entertainment.com/comics/creator-owned/creator-owned-a-m/dream-reavers/
Bullet Proof Comics – http://www.bulletproofcomix.com/home.html