Lucy Dreaming Provides A Dose Of Reality To Middle School Angst And Intergalactic Battle

by Noah Sharma

Teenagers have one function: to grow into adults. Every action they take is either a step towards adulthood or a mistake. But the experience of being a teenager doesn’t really feel like it. Perhaps you’re able to pick them out in hindsight, but how many of your daily actions felt meaningful, nourishing, or formative versus busywork to keep you busy until you were arbitrarily cut loose? If you have the distance to say, how many of them helped you get where you are? Adolescence is supposedly the most essential part of our life story, but how much of yours would survive an editor if you tried to write it?

Lucy knows. It is precisely zero.

Her story is boring; it’s monotonous. Taking classes she’ll never use, surrounded by kids she disdains as much as they hate her, she’s making it through this waste of her story by reading better ones. Ones with the triumphs and violent catharsis she never feels. But though she’s already jaded by the changes of puberty, Lucy’s about to become the protagonist in a way she never expected.

Lucy Dreaming is treading well worn roads at this point. There’s barely an angle on ‘child on the cusp of adulthood realizes that they’re party to something greater’ that hasn’t been poked or prodded somewhere along the line. As such, the bigger question is how well it stands out in that crowd.

The first point in writer Max Bemis’ favor is his deeply relatable depiction of adolescence. Now note that I say relatable rather than realistic or convincing – more on that in a moment – but there’s no denying that Lucy’s voice is one we’ve all slipped into at one point or another.  Bemis gets the contradictions of being a teenager and uses that knowledge to position Lucy in our hearts and minds expertly. He understands what comes down to the situation around us and what was always about our own insecurities and he brings that to the fore without feeling didactic. It’s never wise or easy to try to tell a teenager what they’re feeling, but Bemis does so in as empathetic and unflinching a way as I could expect from three pages of comic.

Of course, there’s some slang in there that’s either completely divorced from modern adolescence or perhaps so woefully outdated that it’s actually come back around into common usage, but it thankfully doesn’t bring things to a halt. Instead, Lucy’s musings, beautiful and revealing in their brevity, fail reality by being completely without illusion. This is largely contained to an introductory monologue, so its job is to introduce the character, but at times it can be distracting just how brutal an eye Lucy is able to turn upon herself. Especially after introducing the narration as explicitly being Lucy’s private but conscious thoughts, it’s surprising to hear her accurately diagnosing her worries and neuroses at, what, thirteen? This girl is way too with it and funny to be a middle schooler, but, though it spoils some of the naturalism, that just means that we get to follow along with a particularly enjoyable character.

Much like its protagonist, Lucy Dreaming has no guile about what it is. The cover of “Star Saga” makes it clear what we’re in for even before Barc Landin’s furry companion defends his mastery of the “Life-Wind”, and it’s well played. Certainly there’s some easy shots taken at the philosophy of a certain film trilogy hexology trilogy2, but the true target is the simplicity of our traditional view of heroism.

The fourteen pages Lucy spends as Princess Fadarr are delightful. This section is colorful and energetic in the way that only a child could sustain and contrasting that against the not so subtle failures of its status quo is not only engaging but continues the issue’s never obnoxious relationship with growing up. Perhaps the reason it works so well is that Lucy is never really taken in by appearances; Bemis never asks us to believe that Lucy doesn’t see what’s right before our eyes. She reacts as quickly as anyone and calls it like she sees it and that journey, not of ‘this isn’t everything I thought it would be’ but of ‘obviously there are downsides I don’t involve in my daydreams’, is infectious and pleasantly well balanced between the sharpness of satire and the cartoonish levity of Lucy’s innocence.

Of course, while it’s fun in the moment, it could easily feel like Lucy Dreaming is leaning on Star Wars were it not for a crucial revelation that Lucy is not the only one. Suddenly there is a greater narrative, caught somewhere between Lucy’s (believed) real life and that of the dream. Though it does not erase the criticism I mentioned, it reveals it as clever misdirection, opening the doors not only for more cutting takes on fantasy staples but an engrossing mystery that holds the potential for something new.

It’s also another brilliantly subtle look at adolescence. For, honestly, how many people look back on their teenage years and realize that the essential lesson was precisely that: the they are not different, that they are not the only one?

Michael Dialynas is likely known to many for his work on The Woods, meaning that there should be little doubt that he can handle teenaged tantrums and interstellar strangeness. With Lucy Dreaming however, he’s demonstrating different takes on that repertoire. Lucy is younger than Isaac or Karen and more irreverent. The result is a looser, more animated style that really embraces its wackiness wherever it can, but it turns out that sardonic teens and toyetic [despots] are just as much a part of Dialynas’ wheelhouse as the rabbit-eared alien monkey who cameos on the first page.

Lucy’s showdown with General Rathe (wow, Star Wars names are that stupid, aren’t they?) is a visual treat and one that Dialynas seems to savor. There’s a real sense that Dialynas is enjoying himself on this series even as he delivers all the weight and energy and character that he is called to provide. The colors alone are incredible, the Star Saga pallete building to a crescendo. It’s stunning on its own, but doubly lovely once compared to Lucy’s waking life.

The faint, pastel colors that Dialynas uses on earth team with a flattened lighting aesthetic to create something that is simple and attractive, but fascinating when compared against the fuller, more dramatic style of Lucy’s dreamworlds.

The differences in linework are also very fun, with the simple, almost newspaper comic-esque shapes of the real world contrasting against the broad specificity of Barc Landin’s bone structure. It’s immediately clear that Dialynas is having a ball playing with so many different styles on this book and that energy suffuses every page. There are even some sections where Dialynas uses increased detail for comedy, making the death of one alien trooper even more memorable. The result is something that captures the weight of Bemis’ writing without becoming off-putting or inappropriate for younger readers.

Lucy Dreaming comes out of the gate swinging, offering readers a relatable slice of life and a deeply amusing roast of the space opera genre soldered together by an engaging little mystery. Though minor flaws exist in pacing and dialogue, Max Bemis and Michael Dialynas balance the ingredients just right to ensure that the issue’s few weaknesses feel entirely secondary to its numerous strengths. In total, the biggest problem with Lucy Dreaming #1 is that it depends strongly on where the series will go from here, but it’s rare that a series leaves me so motivated to find out what happens next month.

Oozing with personality and charm, Lucy Dreaming’s writing is incredibly clever, its characters relatable, and the art is both lovely and distinct. This is a comic I can honestly recommend to pretty much anybody.

Lucy Dreaming #1 is currently available in comic shops from Boom! Studios.