Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. This week, Matthew assesses the collected edition of Black Mask Studios’ ‘The Dregs’, available soon in trade paperback.

Image: Eric Zawadzki and Dee Cunniffe/Black Mask Studios

Image: Eric Zawadzki and Dee Cunniffe/Black Mask Studios

By Matthew C. Brown. Listen. The city is breathing. Do you hear the air whistle and rasp through cancerous lungs? Can you see the hot air freeze against the cold on an empty street? Death rattles and hums in this city. It’s all part of a larger organism, a system, that feeds on people. Parts of this city have been abandoned to the degradation of capitalism and the grey morale of pulp nihilism. But you can’t see that, can you? Not really. You don’t visit the The Dregs in your everyday life. Your ears aren’t tuned to the right station. Your eyes aren’t open after hours. You’re not playing a hunch. So you don’t see Arnold searching for his lost friend Manny, but he sees you, and a whole lot more for that matter. You see that empty street? Well it’s not empty, but it will be soon if Arnold can’t stop the bleeding. The homeless are being strung up and bled like pigs for the culinary enjoyment of the rich. So if you can’t hear it or see it, you’ll taste the end of your humanity sure enough. It’s in your mouth. Let’s hope you didn’t bite off more than you can chew.

This all begs the question of the value of human life. Are we counting the cuts of meat that we can glean from the body? Are we so material? It may not be that bad yet, but our society has reduced a majority of the population to hours and wages, to dollars and cents. To say the lives of people are sold by the pound is not so far-fetched. Exploitation is the name of the game, and those who try to escape end up in the Dregs, on the streets, without protection, without hope.

It’s rare for a pulp noir story to be socially aware, poignant, and educational in its intentions. Not only is The Dregs a self-aware pulp noir that touches on the best of its genre, but it also has a human core that most noir does not. This story will change your mind. It will tune your ears and open your eyes. Let it in, because while it is a heightened tale — and yes, it’s about cannibalism — it’s not actually that far from the reality of the system in which we live.

The core of this noir is, sadly, not at all far from the reality of what is going on in Vancouver. This story literally hits close to home for the writers, and the reader benefits from their passion and depth of feeling for the plight of the homeless and addicted. Not only should writers Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler, artist Eric Zawadski, and colorist Dee Cunniffe be commended for their truly innovative and beautiful storytelling aesthetic, they should be commended for using art to draw out truth.

This story is filled with human truths: The Sisyphean nature of man’s struggle, the windmills we fight for naught, the existential circles in which we run, the dragons we chase, the cracks in the system, and the people, swallowed and disappeared.

As a detective you must believe, as foolhardy as it may seem, that there will be answers somewhere down the street or around the corner. Justice is elusive in the city. For Manny, for Arnold, and thus for the richest of the city as well, the people who benefit from their plight and exploitation. Justice is the dragon of the people, and art like this inspires and illuminates the chase.

Black Mask/$12.99

Written by Zac Thompson & Lonnie Nadler.

Art by Eric Zawadzki.

Colors by Dee Cunniffe.