Originally published on Flickering Myth on 01/09/16.
Suddenly escaping from his every day, greyscale life, a man finds himself locked into a bizarre multicoloured dream world, taking on the guise of his ‘dream avatar’ , the Space Voyager – a galaxy-hopping comic-book character from his past. Whilst exploring the psychedelic landscape, he soon runs into trouble, joining a team of survivors in a battle against a thoughtfully-engineered creature based on psychopathic ideals and insatiable greed.
Most will likely remember 2000AD veteran Brendan McCarthy as the writer of last year’s action masterpiece Mad Max: Fury Road, but his life in comics is a little more colourful. At least as far as his latest Dark Horse release Dream Gang goes.
Providing both the story and artwork for this standalone collected volume, McCarthy creates a stunningly visual new universe to play with, based deep within the very idea of dreaming. But Inception this is not, taking on much more of a hard-sci-fi/fantasy feel to its world-building, packed out with gangly creatures, mystic superheroes and an entire dictionary of new and distinctive terminology. As the great Dave Gibbons suggests, it’s more of a hearty mixture between “Dr. Strange, The Matrix and Yellow Submarine”, whilst still entirely remaining it’s own thing.
It really feels like it’s been a while since an original release came along boasting the sheer depth and creativity of Dream Gang, a book that bases its storytelling and artwork very firmly on the more traditional comic-book approach, ditching cinematic ideals almost entirely. For those fed up of the blurring media boundaries and the constant shuddering machine of film and TV adaptations, rest assured, McCarthy’s latest feels pure. In fact, you could go so far as to call Dream Gang, between its ever-changing landscapes and funky character designs, completely unfilmable.
Obviously, with a world-building element as detailed and vast as this, there are a few teething problems however. Fans of Fury Road will no doubt remember McCarthy’s terrific sense of pacing, and Dream Gang is no different, thundering along at break-neck pace. The only issue with that here though is that, when every second word spoken is some form of complex story-specific term, it becomes rather easy to lose your way, and fast.
This is by no means a book to be read quickly or even just once; there’s an underlying language and bible to this world that deserves plenty of time and study in order to be fully understood. Once you have done, Dream Gang promises an almost never-ending chain of intricacies and clever mental nods, but on your first pass through, don’t be surprised if it all feels a bit much.
Aside from this and the occasional bout of overly-expositional dialogue (which is really just an occupational hazard considering the vastness of McCarthy’s world), this is a massively engrossing and thrilling read, with some seriously psychedelic artwork to match. It’s unusual to find a writer with such a unique and explosive new take on an idea like dreamworlds, which have been harvested so many times before, but here McCarthy really gives it his all, delivering something that not only feels welcomely retro in its styling, but that is also hugely entertaining to read.
Dream Gang is destined to be revisited for years to come and although it might not register as deeply on first glance, its legacy will hopefully prove as mighty as it deserves.
Dream Gang is available in trade paperback in the UK now.