While I’ve withdrawn and devolved to the point that I couldn’t name a single Senator or Congressperson if forced at gunpoint, I have a vast and comically complex database of useless pop cultural trivia frittering about in my weary brain, and reading Scott Christian Sava’s The Dreamland Chronicles dislodged this most unlikely of trivial nuggets, an excerpt from Roger Ebert’s review of 1995’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie, which describes the cast of The Dreamland Chronicles just as accurately as it describes the teenage superheroes beneath those silly Ranger helmets:
“They have names, but no discernible personalities. None of them ever says anything more interesting than ‘You guys!’”
Our protagonist is a young man named Alex, who visited Dreamland on a nightly basis as a child and visits it again for the first time in eight years as the story starts. It’s worth noting that Alex’s twin brother Daniel wrote stories based on Alex’s dreams when they were kids, and that said stories were collectively titled Dreamland Chronicles of Alexander Carter, Age 8, which has so much more personality than the simpler, blander, more forgettable title Sava decided on for his own collection.
If The Dreamland Chronicles has a selling point, it is clearly its artwork, featuring computer-rendered settings and characters. It is clear that much talent and care went into the book; the credits page has nearly twenty people listed under such unfamiliar comic book categories as “Character Rigging and Morphs” and “Technical and Rendering Support.” It cannot be denied that among the many comic books on today’s shelf, The Dreamland Chronicles has a unique look, and I will not deny that it is in its way a staggering achievement. For all its sophisticated computer graphics, however, The Dreamland Chronicles is too stilted and antiseptic to even convince, much less enchant. The character designs are moderately cute and endearing (though critters and warriors alike look somehow almost edible, with all the depth and texture of a child’s bath toy), but comic books are a refreshing alternative to films partly because they usually avoid Hollywood’s criminally overused CGI. The stiff posing and shallow gestures of these characters cannot propel the story; it is like trying to let the momentum of a computer-generated cartoon sweep you away when you can only experience the narrative by studying its trading cards.
It’s not that the characters in The Dreamland Chronicles are not expressive. Indeed, a fascinating bonus feature in the back of the book is a detailed look at the process of creating the characters in a computer program, and it includes Karen Krajenbrink’s reference drawings (in pencil) of the characters’ “emotional range” models. But that’s the problem: the characters never feel more real or memorable than static figures on a model sheet, lacking even the cute cartoon charm of Krajenbrink’s pencil sketches. They’re overly familiar archetypes with no personality to distinguish them from the hundreds of stories you already know them from (Alex’s Dreamland cohorts include a warrior elf queen, a spunky Tinkerbell stand-in and a rock giant.) I appreciate that Blue Dream Studios wants to create all-ages comics, but while some would argue that children’s stories should be sexless and toothless, I hope no one would suggest they be flavorless.
Upon waking each day, Alex is pretty flippant about all the political intrigue and physical battles he sees in his dreams. It is as if he too can find little reason to care. Ultimately, while its capable technicians probably have rewarding careers ahead of them, reading The Dreamland Chronicles is like watching someone else play a video game, and its cliffhanger ending is about as satisfying as, “Thank you, Mario, but our princess is in another castle.”