Reviewed by Robert Runté
Fans of superhero comics will enjoy Smith’s Dream Rider Saga, but The Hollow Boys should also appeal to the general fantasy reader. Indeed, elements reminded me strongly of Gaiman’s Neverwhere.
The story revolves around an eccentric millionaire orphan who pens the Dream Rider comic by day and fights crime by night through his ability to track and enter other people’s dreams. When street kids start disappearing, he seeks them through their dreams, confronting rat-like monsters, a giant snake, a witch and her bogymen servants, and ultimately, a supervillain.
I confess it took me a while to figure out that I was reading a superhero comic. You know how when you’re reading a really good novel, you stop seeing the words on the page and instead see the scene unfold in front of you? I was having trouble getting off the page and into the scene in the first few pages of the Hollow Boys when suddenly, I realized that instead of the scene itself, I was mentally picturing the black and white panels of a page in a graphic novel.
That was an odd experience and a first for me, but once I realized this was actually a graphic novel—sans graphics—the story trundled along surprisingly well. Initially annoyed (as one is with all superhero comics) by the hyperbole of our hero being not just rich, but the richest person in the city; not just in personal danger, but fighting to save the world; and so on; all was forgiven once I understood these were appropriate superhero genre tropes. Similarly, I found some of the repartee a bit forced at first, but placed inside a graphic novel’s speech bubble, it was fine. Once one goes with the flow, the story of the Hollow Boys is inventive, engaging, and boundless fun.
Teen zombies, Buddhist monks, SWAT teams, Raiders-of-the-Lost-Arc-style warehouses, corporate raiders, a (nonflying) magic carpet, and astral travel—what more could someone wish for? Smith manages to throw all these disparate elements at the story to form a truly cohesive universe in which to set his tale. The underlying--and unresolved--mystery of the missing parents works well, there are some nice character arcs and a charming YA romance subplot, and even though the epilogue makes it clear, there’s more to come, the ending of this episode is entirely satisfying.
I enjoyed The Hollow Boys a great deal, turning pages long after I should have been abed. Smith has produced the best Canadian superhero adventure since James Alan Gardner’s Dark vs. Spark novels. I trust we’ll see much more of the Dream Rider Saga . . . and I can’t wait for the movies.
The Hollow Boys is published by Spiral Path Books.