Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Writer(s): Zac Thompson, Lonnie Nadler
Artwork: Eric Zawadzki, Dee Cunniffe (colours)
Release Date: 23rd January 2017
Homeless people are going missing from “The Dregs”, a squalid five-block area of Vancouver filled with down-and-outs, drug addicts and society’s cast-offs. And, as we discover from the opening few pages of this stunning new Black Mask Studios series, the attempted gentrification of the city has led to the affluent new restaurant owners in the area utilising a rather unconventional new ingredient in their menus. Yeah, you can see where this is going, right? Enter Mister Arnold, a Dregs resident and hardcore substance abuser who, upon discovering that his friend Manny is the latest person to disappear, embarks on a bout of do-it-yourself detective work to find out exactly what happened to him.
The twisted take on gentrification by co-writers Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler is chilling and intriguing enough, but the real meat of this series – pardon the pun – lies in its chief protagonist and narrator. The idea of having a homeless drug addict with a fairly tenuous grasp on reality narrating what is essentially a noir detective novel is a stroke of absolute genius, and adds a truly fresh perspective to the somewhat tired crime mystery genre. Thompson and Nadler remain respectful of Arnold’s mental state throughout, however, never poking fun at his substance abuse issues and spurious leaps of logic, and avoiding the temptation to play the undeniably absurd situation for laughs.
Eric Zawadzki’s artwork is both detailed and expressive, and his layouts are fantastically creative in places, giving the pages a sense of dynamism as Arnold’s somewhat abstract investigation style inadvertently leads him in the right direction. The issue is full of intriguing visual tics, such as having a street map of Vancouver in the gutters of one of the pages, or the contorted, hallucinogenic way that Arnold sees people’s faces in his own drug-addled mind, and his work is buoyed significantly by the always-impressive colours of Dee Cunniffe. Zawadzki also does a stellar job during one particularly interesting moment where, presumably, Arnold loses grip of reality altogether temporarily, having a full conversation with a noir novel staple who, as it turns out, isn’t really there.
As with almost all of Black Mask’s offerings, there’s a decidedly political slant to The Dregs, with a frank and unapologetic assessment of the way the upper classes view those considered ‘less’ than them, and of the way it’s all too easy for the rest of us to block out homelessness and poverty while still walking past it every day. The message is handled in a powerful way here without ever becoming preachy, and the subversion of the established Raymond Chandler-esque detective novel tropes into something far more current and relevant is, again, a truly genius move by the creators.
One of the most accomplished debuts of 2017 so far, The Dregs provides an utterly unique twist on an established genre while also putting forth a socially relevant message about the way we look at the world of poverty and substance abuse. Highest of recommendations for this one.
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