Writers: Lonnie Nadler + Zac Thompson
Art: Eric Zawadzki
Colors: Dee Cunniffe
The Dregs #1 tackles the expansive socioeconomic gap between the homeless and rich using a brilliantly provocative metaphor; cannibalism!!!
The rich are literally eating the poor in this wonderfully cerebral new series from Black Mask. Through the eyes of our vagabond protagonist, Arnold, we are introduced to The Dregs; the five city blocks in Vancouver, BC that houses the entire homeless population of the region. Drugs and urban decay litter the streets as a billion dollar corporation threatens resettlement under the false promise of gentrification. All the while, a posh restaurant with a sinister menu suspiciously opens its doors in the worst of locations as many of The Dregs’ underprivileged citizens go missing.
Arnold is the hero of our story as much as he is a victim of The Dregs. Much of his inner monologue hints at the man he used to be before the throngs of drug addiction ensnared him. All he has left are the remnants of his wit, the clothes on his back, and his favorite Raymond Chandler novel but he must call upon what’s left of himself if he is to find his missing friend, Manny, and unravel the mystery that threatens to, literally, swallow The Dregs whole.
You’re all very smart people. I’m not spoiling anything by revealing that Manny was gruesomely eaten in the first few pages of the story. Like eaten, eaten. Manny was literally cut up, minced into sausage, and served at that upscale restaurant. And that’s just the first layer of this story, written phenomenally by Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler. The veteran writers from Vice are clearly saying something about the gap between two ends of the economic spectrum and how many members of the upper class use their power and influence to maintain and expand that gap. I commend for commenting on such a socially relevant subject matter and furthermore how seamlessly they weave their message into their script. The dialogue is engaging, foreboding, and enthralling as Arnold takes the audience deeper and deeper into this world. And for a central allegory that is rather obvious, Thompson and Nadler find a way to remain subtle. Their message is presented slowly and methodically so that it retains its potency despite its predictability. It’s excellent work.
What makes the book truly special though is how it engages the audience. Using precise plotting, meticulous pacing, and deliberate art and visual cues, this first issue immerses the audience into
its world. Arnold takes a hit of a hallucinogen at the start of the story and the artist (Eric Zawadzki) is sure to include small, box panels that feature what Arnold is seeing versus the book’s reality. Furthermore, Arnold notes that the drug makes him paranoid before he begins his detective work that carries us through the rest of the story. This was a brilliant move by the writers because you can’t necessarily trust Arnold’s observations and deductions throughout the book. Together, these small cues from the creative team create a great deal of tension for the audience as simply put, we are dealing with a mystery and we can’t trust our lead investigator.
The Dregs #1 is a shining example of the power of the comic book medium. With a hardboiled-noir mystery about the upper class literally eating the lower class, the book boasts a socially relevant theme rendered with an imaginatively grotesque allegory. And using art, pacing, and dialogue, this first issue sets up an enthralling and engaging story. These are merits that all great comic series’ share and The Dregs uses its first issue to position itself as an early series of the year contender. That, plus cannibals! I highly recommend it.