Many speculative stories find power in considering symbolism through physical, literal interpretation. In the case of Queen of Bad Dreams, the metaphor in question is a dream girl. What if your dream girl really was a dream? What if, as too often happens, your dream girl left you? What if both at the same time? And, perhaps most importantly, what if you actually had to treat your dream girl like an actual person?
Much of Queen of Bad Dreams #2 consists of Ava’s story, counterbalancing the explanation we got from Emerson Chase in the first issue and taking Wei out of the role of protagonist and into, in her mind at least, the proper role of and Inspector Judge: an observer. The narration and the storytelling of the first issue was perfectly clear what the readers were expected to think of Emerson. It is, in some ways an odd reversal, the book after all is so centered around the value of seeing a person in a broad character, but here it really works to the story’s benefit. Though there are very quiet hints about Emerson, the kind that serve to raise more questions than they answer, he feels much more like a dream than Ava. He functions, at this stage, as a cypher, a reflection of every man you’ve known or heard about with the same unrecognized deficiencies, and that actually provides context for Ava’s tale. You know exactly how these scenarios play out and so every deference and deviation tells the reader about Ava.
This emotional familiarity makes it easy to engage with the tale as it unfolds and allows readers to focus on understanding the naturalistic exposition of how dreams work in this universe. It also means that Ava’s trajectory is easily predictable, but rather than making things dull this means that it’s obvious and intriguing when the Chase family are hiding something.
Though Ava definitely takes center stage this month, IJ Wei and the rest of the cast remain entertaining and well rounded. Danny Lore‘s characters all serve their function to the story, but there’s just enough care put into each one that you can believe that they extend past their appearances on the page. There’s a whisper of the thoughts that race through a character’s mind in the end of even minor lines.
At times things are repeated a little too much, but the core idea of how someone in power should treat people and who counts as people is effectively relayed and topical as it ever is. I find the question of exactly how the Chases’ are corrupt and what their game or their dysfunction is just intriguing enough to be hungry for explanation, but it wisely follows in the footsteps of its noirish traditions by keeping the scope reasonably small, at least while we’re still acclimating to the world.
One thing that is worth noting about Queen of Bad Dreams #2 is that it feels like it was written with the trade in mind. Numerous details from issue #1 are mentioned without being acknowledged or reintroduced and, while most readers should be able to understand the issue just fine, some impact will be lost. A quick review of issue #1 is recommended, especially if you’re a little fuzzy already.
The art remains an attraction to the new series, with Jordi Pérez‘s linework bringing occasional awkwardness in equal proportion to some truly forceful emotion. Indeed, this issue features a number of panels and moments that capture not only the facts of the scene but viscerally convey exactly what you’d feel in a movie theater depicting the same. You can feel camera moves or bursts of noise or the knowledge that a character feels hot or ashamed or vindicated in the moment. The flip of the coin is that there are some exaggerations that don’t work or moments of relative realism that still trip into the uncanny valley for a moment.
Regardless, the bubblegum noir aesthetic is a win for the series and, though you may be distracted for a moment by occasional quirks, you’ll remember the issue for those sharp crystallized points of incredible style.
It’s also impossible to discuss how the series looks and feels without acknowledging Dearbhla Kelly‘s contributions as colorist. The Inspector Judge uniform that serves as Wei’s primary outfit is a fine example. It’s already a stylish merger of superhero and sci-fi but it’s not every hero who can rock white with orange and teal accents, much less make it a striking benefit to the book’s aesthetic. And the palette of the series really does make that the case. Awash in pink and teal and deep, smokey purple, Queen of Bad Dreams takes a busy and usually underutilized group of colors and makes a serious case for how potent they can be.
Pérez and Kelly take center stage towards the end of the book, for an orchestral explosion of violence and color that make it clear that this book is willing to live up to its dreamlike potential.
Queen of Bad Dreams #2 stands on its characters and the power of its relationships. I think its fair to say that not much happens this issue, the majority of the book is spent explaining what has already happened and how the characters relate to those events, but the second dive into this world is just as natural, intriguing, and stylish as the first. This series is asking thoughtful questions without the narrative getting away from itself or the smug back-patting of so much other high concept sci-fi. Whenever its delicate balance of the true and the familiar starts to lean too far towards the latter, Queen of Bad Dreams offers something that begs you to question it or throws out a moment that just feels cool. The series will have to shift back into a higher gear to build on what’s been established this month and I wouldn’t mind a little less repetition, but readers of slick and intelligent sci-fi would do well to give this one a chance.
Queen of Bad Dreams #2 is currently available in comic shops from Vault Comics.