Pullbox Reviews: In Our Dreams Awake #1, a twisting story bending reality & expectations

Jason Byron dreams of two lives. In one fantasy, magi reactionaries won, technology is banned, and Jason is a portrait painter hiding a contraband telescope. In the other world, he leads a cyberpunk gang amid a future of flooded cities and gilled aliens. When he closes his eyes in one world, he awakes in the next. Jason’s only desire is to wake up in the arms of his true love, Laura… Uh, or is it Fem’a Lin?… If only he knew which one was real?!

In Our Dreams Awake, the title taken from a quote by Henry David Thoreau, is a special kind of story. I’ve read it, I really liked it, and I have no idea what it’s about or even what kind of story it is. There’s no concrete tip off, nothing to direct the reader in any specific direction, just a jarring shift between settings & characters that comes with no preamble. Before you click off this article, I’m gonna tell you that this is a very positive case of “what the hell did I just read?”.

Everything starts off simply enough. Jason Byron is an artist of skill & passion, but not a highborn pedigree. He lives in a world of magic, ruled by a council of Magi and still recovering from a troubling time known as the Age of Machines. As a result of the conflict, anything and anyone tied to technology or the sciences is dealt with harshly. Jason’s grandfather was an inventor and by association he’s fallen under suspicion… which could be a problem as one of his treasured belongings is the telescope his grandfather left behind. The telescope through which he sees…

And then we jump to a gritty sci fi setting that looks like the Nebuchadnezzar in The Matrix. Dormitator Byron is called on to defuse a blooming problem involving the xenophobic humans of Alpha Centauri, aliens, and a spaceship. It’s in that blind twist that the story both spins away from me and grabs my attention. Going by the title and the very slick “reflection” design of the cover, it’s obvious that someone is living in someone else’s dream world. Or, maybe even more interesting, both Byrons are the dreamers as well as a part of the dream.

However it shakes out, writers John McGuire & Egg Embry are immersed in the worlds they’re consecutively creating. McGuire, writing the fantasy part of the dream, has done a lot with the short page count he’s been given so far. Jason Byron the artist is a loving husband to wife Laura, determined to make a living with his artwork. He’s also deeply curious about the celestial bodies he sees through his grandfather’s telescope. As his world of magic comes into conflict with his more scientific side… well, we’re left hanging on that one as the story is turned over to Egg Embry and his unique sci fi concept. In it we’re (re)introduced to Jason Byron, a person of station who has to intervene in a growing dispute before a war breaks out in the streets. What I thought was great about Embry’s contribution to In Our Dreams Awake was that he didn’t settle for standard dialogue. He’s concocted a new dialect for this future (?) place that’s off the wall while staying recognizable. In both cases, McGuire & Embry have gone to the efforts of layering their respective worlds, populating them with people who aren’t just place holders. There’s the sense that almost everyone we see in this opening issue are living their lives in between and totally independent of the panels on the page.

Keeping with the theme of the book, the two Byrons and their worlds are made even more distinct as separate artists are brought in to bring the two worlds to the page. Visually, Edgar Salazar (pencils) and Genaro Olavarrieta (inks) make good use of relatively clean lines and an earth-toned color palette to emphasize the fantasy setting. There are moments where sunlight streaming through a window is a room’s primary light source, and others where a candle in the hand is the only thing lighting the way. Almost polar opposite, Rolands Kalniņš crafts a world of dingy hallways lit by pools of harsh florescent lighting. Everything is run down, including the characters themselves. This Jason Byron is heavily scarred, his friend Mike is heavily tattooed, and both give the impression of having lived hard lives. Kalniņš sells the whole thing, and it would be obvious that this is a very harsh world to live in even without the dialogue.

In both cases, Egg Embry & Alexander Lugo handled the lettering with smooth skill. There’s nothing flashy to their work, nothing that would distract a reader from the artwork or make the story tough to follow. Good lettering isn’t flashy or elaborate. It’s easy on the eye and flows over the page without trying to reinvent the wheel.

Readers looking for an easy fix in the spirit of (insert Michael Bay movie of choice here) might not have the patience to wait for answers as the two Jasons leapfrog through their very different worlds. For those who think they might, as of the writing of this article the Kickstarter campaign for issue 1 has a prelaunch page up and running. Fans of mind-bending stories that don’t just give away easy answers might want to take a deeper look at this one.

Final Score: 11/13

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