Dream Daddy #5 concludes Oni Press’s anthology series based on the hit dating sim. The dads of Maple Bay have come together for a tabletop RPG night hosted and DMed by Hugo, but as a new dungeon master, he starts to realize what comes with great narrative power. Does this issue conclude the series with a critical hit?
The team on Dream Daddy #5 have crafted both an excellent send-off to the series and a loving tribute to the characters of the game as well. Writer Josh Trujillo is juggling all seven of the dads in this issue and he nails all their voices expertly while giving each a little time to shine. From a restrained, yet faithful number of bro-isms from Craig to Damien’s penchant for spouting trivia in a way that borders on–but never crosses into–pretension, each dad’s personality manages to shine even in such a large cast. Trujillo even captures some of the subtler details of the characters like Robert’s deep investment in his RPG character’s arc or Joseph making late night plans that are no one’s business. Details like these convey an understanding of the characters beyond the surface-level archetypes the dads are marketed with like “Goth Dad,” or “Fitness Dad.”
The issue’s plot revolves entirely around the tabletop RPG the dads are playing and the interpersonal conflicts that arise out of it, making it a character-driven read that really benefits from such a strong hold on the dads’ voices. Damien and Hugo are especially fun to read with Damien’s RPG veteran attitude bouncing well off Hugo as he tries his best to hide is lack of experience. Trujillo isn’t afraid to let these characters’ flaws rear their heads, but he also gets at the heart of those behaviors, which lets the conflict resolve from a place of empathy. Of the main cast, Mat was perhaps the only character who felt a bit more under serviced than the others, but with such a big ensemble of strong personalities, it didn’t distract from all the excellent character work being done in this issue.
Speaking of excellent character work, where do I even begin with the excellence illustrator D.J. Kirkland and colorist Matt Herms bring to this issue? Kirkland knocked the fantasy character designs out of the park. I love how he capitalizes on the fanservice aspect of Dream Daddy while keeping true to the characters and how they would likely equip themselves for a fantasy adventure. A couple designs I want to shout out in particular are Brian’s barbarian and Damien’s blood mage. Brian is dressed in short shorts, strappy sandals and a harness that makes it clear that bigger guys like him are just as sexy as the Craigs and Roberts of the world. Damien’s fantasy attire is the same as the clothes he wears regularly, which is perfect.
Kirkland’s style emphasizes expression, which is made clear through choices like the way he renders hair. I love how Craig’s hair swoops across the top of his head and all the volume added to Damien’s hair, so it towers over his forehead in a way that evokes the Gothic architecture he loves. Each character’s hairstyle is exaggerated just slightly enough to immediately convey a bit of their personality, which is great for readers who may have been following the series without playing the game. Kirkland adds little details like tiny dots of stubble on Hugo’s chin or freckles placed just so on Brian’s arms and chest, details that invite the reader to look closely at the work and appreciate how thoughtfully done every page is. I have one tiny, inconsequential nitpick and that’s the absence of Robert’s tattoo on his hand. There aren’t even many panels where it would even be visible though, so it’s the farthest thing from a big deal.
My other favorite aspect of Kirkland’s artwork is simply how damn adorable he draws all the dads. From the rounded edges of Hugo’s mustache, the little flowers in Brian’s fantasy beard, and even the ear-to-ear Naruto grin on Ernest’s face in a photo, all the character renderings are so warm and energetic, it makes each page a delight to look at. There are a few panels where Kirkland allows a character’s shape to become blobby and round to convey their sense of embarrassment which were particular favorites of mine. These panels do an excellent job expressing the character’s feeling by allowing their model to lose rigidity in favor of conveying emotion.
Matt Herms is a colorist you may recognize from some of IDW’s Sonic the Hedgehog comics and his skill in working with colorful video game licenses is right at home in this issue and pairs well with Kirkland’s line art. In lighting the issue, Herms carefully places shading on characters, so their renderings stay warm, but with enough depth to avoid looking flat. I love the way Herms renders fog and smoke in a gentle haze that only lightly obscures the characters and his work with bright light like the glint off a die or a glowing spell being cast really leaps off the page. When multiple spells are being casted at once, the page glows with gradients of each spell’s hue fading gradually away from the caster, letting each effect stand out without overshadowing each other. Herms work fits the tone of the book excellently and works with Kirkland’s line art in a way where both artists are elevating one another and therefore amping up the energy of the book overall.
Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou caps off the series with a showcase of the same excellent lettering he’s brought to every issue. The tabletop RPG scenario gives Otsmane-Elhaou a lot to do in the way of sound effects and he doesn’t disappoint at all in delivering exciting effects that dance across the page. Narration boxes are color coded to immediately make clear who’s speaking with a thing outline that doesn’t interfere with the text’s legibility, a technique used throughout the series. As usual, his lettering ties the issue together nicely and feels pitch perfect with the tone of the book.
Overall, this issue of Dream Daddy did exactly what every last issue of a series should do: make me ache deeply for more while also feeling completely satisfied. The creative team really made this issue a celebration of Dream Daddy‘s cast, rounding out a series that was an incredibly fun celebration of the source material. I won’t go into spoilers, but for the sake of tantalization, I can assure readers that there’s a moment with Craig near the issue’s end which proves this creative team is truly here to give the gays everything they want.