Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Writer(s): Zac Thompson, Lonnie Nadler
Artwork: Eric Zawadzki, Dee Cunniffe (colours)
Release Date: 3rd May 2017
“The city will show you the way.”
The latest step in aging drug addict Arnold’s investigation into the disappearance of his friend Manny sees him actually venturing out of the Dregs, seemingly for the first time in a long time, into the quote-unquote “real” Vancouver.
Once again, it’s clear that co-writers Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler have some strong feelings about the subject matter they’ve covering, but their delivery manages to never feel preachy. It’s there, but it’s not being shoved down our throats, which allows us to enjoy the story while still appreciating the overall message.
The way the Vancouver residents react to Arnold is both genuinely moving and worryingly familiar; I’m sure we’ve all seen people edging away from that one “crazy homeless guy” when they ‘intrude’ on their daily lives, and while it’s all too easy for society as a whole to simply ignore these people, this series – above anything else – should remind us that every single one of them is a human being with a story of their own.
It’s also more apparent than ever that Arnold himself is clearly an intelligent and well-read individual, but that the years of substance abuse have tainted his perception to the point where has to find his own way to try to understand the world around him. In fact, the strength of Arnold’s intuition is pretty much the only thing keeping him on track right now, and the way his hallucinations and inner ‘detective noir’ monologue keeps him moving in the right direction, almost unintentionally, provides the relentless driving force behind this story. We can’t help but will him on, even though we already know what awaits him at the end of his investigation, and that there are definitely no happy endings to be had here.
As strong as the narrative and socioeconomic subtext undoubtedly is, the artistic partnership of Eric Zawadzki and Dee Cunniffe deserve just as much credit for helping this series to resonate as deeply as it does. Zawadzki continues to prove himself to be an absolute master of layouts, with several blindingly creative choices – such as the Town Hall page which is blocked out in similar fashion to the hall itself – throughout the course of this issue. He also clearly isn’t one to shy away from panels, with a twelve, a thirteen and even a fifteen panel page thrown in for good measure here. It’s also doubly impressive that, in spite of the abundance of panels and unconventional layouts, he never loses track of the natural flow of the story.
Zawadzki’s depiction of Arnold himself is mezmerizing, by turns tragic, resolute, fearful and furious, and his thick-lined, heavily-inked style – with more than a hint of Mignola to it – really helps to underscore the ‘homeless noir’ feel of the story. Cunniffe provides the cherry on the sundae, bringing Zawadzki’s pencils and inks to life and helping establish the washed-out, dreary facade of downtown Vancouver with his understated palette of blues and greys.
Effortlessly treading the line between social commentary and crime mystery, this latest issue pushes the story forwards with every single panel, particularly when Arnold begins to retrace his steps, returning to the Dregs in an attempt to hopefully (or perhaps hopefully not) discover the truth behind the mystery of Manny’s disappearance.
Honestly though, there’s only so many different ways I can praise a series that feels like it was written and drawn specifically for me, but this is pure poetry, man. A heady blend of hard-boiled detective fantasy and stark, unapologetic reality, The Dregs is hands-down one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time.
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