Slumber is a new ongoing horror crime series by Tyler Burton Smith, Vanessa Cardinali and Simon Robins, published by Image Comics.
Issue one is titled “Chapter 1: Dream Eater,” and what an opening chapter! If time, word-count limits, and caffeine permitted I would do a page-by-page breakdown of this beautiful comic. Alas, we will have to settle for an overview for now. Let’s go!
We begin with the initial scene: Detective Finch, a bunny-slippered, pantsless investigator on suspension arrives at a gruesome crime scene, where the seventh in a series of murders has just occurred. The victim was slain in her sleep by a suspect who claims no knowledge of having done so – a trend that appears to be consistent with the supposed 6 other suspects. However, each scene is left marked in the victim’s blood with the words: “I Seek The DREAM EATER” followed by four key-like glyphs. The only other clue tying things together is a business card to a “dream healer” named simply Stetson.
We then meet Stetson, a young, shotgun-toting woman accompanied by her elf-like partner, Jiang in a bright yet unsettling nightmare circus, filled with kaleidoscopic colors and characters. They are there to rid a client of a recurring nightmare creature that has been harming him in his sleep. Stetson appears to be very new to this role, as she recklessly and brutally kills the creature along with other denizens of the client’s dream world, much to the chagrin of Jiang, who all the while continues to futilely spout the rules of nightmare hunting to his trigger-happy, foul-mouthed associate.
In this scene and subsequent parts of the issue we are introduced to the villain, Valkira the Shadow Walker, an entity that appears to have the ability to both dreamhop from others’ nightmares and possess the living to carry out her slayings. What’s more is that Stetson has a connection to this monster, a past that has dragged her into this fight.
Finding a good writer and artist pair that complement one another in delivering a specific tone can be more difficult that some realize, but Smith and Cardinali provide a seamless work of storytelling here. And lest we forget about often overlooked comic contributors, Simon Robins’ colors are absolutely essential in making this book work.
Too many first issues fall into the trap of becoming expository dumps, lazily telling the reader everything about how the characters think and how the world works, assuming the audience needs all that upfront for the story to be enjoyable. It of course does the opposite and slows the narrative to a crawl, telling us that we need care more about the details of a character and the world instead of showing us why we should care about them. Ah, the ol’ “show don’t tell” rule, how oft art thou forgotten in a medium in which showing is precisely its function! Though, I can assure you dear audience that is not the case here! Smith’s writing is concise and creates a cinematic pace for the reader, giving us characters whose actions intentionally develop both the characters and the world. Every panel counts in a comic book, and here they made sure of it – I would not edit a single one out. Exposition is needed and rarely is it done as correctly as it is here. In fact, montages are yet another lazy tool used to catch the reader up to speed on the lives of our characters pre-debut; however, our creative trio does it again and executes a perfect montage that establishes character, tone, context, and stakes, all while being damn entertaining.
Smith’s script is tight, and Robins’ colors are dynamic (I especially appreciate the drably dark palate of the real-world juxtaposed with the vibrantly patterned palate of the nightmare realm). But I must say Cardinali is the MVP of Slumber Issue #1. Typically, when we talk about comic art we might focus on things like anatomy, linework, perspective, etc. But what Vanessa Cardinali does is tell a freaking story. Her sequential pacing and framing must not be overlooked, because she certainly didn’t. The sign of a good comic book artist is someone whose art you’d like to hang on your wall. The sign of a great comic book artist is someone who, when you take away the word bubbles, still leaves you a compellingly rich and decipherable story. Ladies and gentlemen, Vanessa Cardinali is the latter (though I’d easily hang up the Gugglepug scene from this issue in my office). I recommend once you’re finished reading this issue through, go back and read the story again without using the words. There is remarkable nuance in the simple line work.
If I had to compare this work to anything, I’d say Slumber is an R-rated Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Indeed, Slumber gives us a war against evil interdimensional creatures being fought by a reluctant, female monster killer who bucks the rules. And while I’d bet money the creative team gained some inspiration from the Sunnydale serials; this comic is no imitator. It’s an original concept with its own feel. And as we celebrate the seminal show’s 25th anniversary this year, I can’t think of a more worthy successor to Buffy than Slumber.
Image has a certifiable hit on their hands. Slumber #1 is the best series debut I’ve read in months, and as a comic shop manager who reads several each week, that’s saying a lot. It truly is a master class in story introduction.
I may be setting myself up for disappointment by gushing over this issue so hard if the next issues don’t deliver. The alternative, however, is that I may have found my new favorite ongoing title!
If you’re a casual comic reader, buy this comic. If you’re a lover of the art of the comic book medium, buy this comic. If you’re a speculator of comics that have the potential to blow up and be optioned for your next multimedia franchise, (I’m telling you now, Slumber has that potential) buy this comic. If you’re someone with a passing interest in words and shapes…you get the point.
SLUMBER #1 Where Nightmares Are A Dream Come True
- Writing - 10/1010/10
- Storyline - 10/1010/10
- Art - 10/1010/10
- Color - 10/1010/10
- Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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