Beth Hetland (and writing partner Kyle O'Connell) continue to add depth and mystery in the fourth issue of Half-Asleep, the story of Ivy, a genius-level teen being taught (and to some degree, exploited) by her parents, who are researchers into the relationship between dreams and reality. As this issue reveals, Ivy is being prepped to be a sort of dream explorer, with the potential results bringing revolutionary changes to the world. At the same time, her mother has been keeping her at arm's length as a parent while doing crazy things to keep her on task in particular ways. In the prior issue, Ivy was essentially compelled to move into the basement of her house and sleep on the floor. When she was reunited with her father in this issue, it wasn't exactly an emotional moment; indeed, it was more a case of mutual intellectual curiosity.
What O'Connell and Hetland make clear in the comic is that everyone has a slightly different agenda, and said agenda is slightly different from what they tell the others. Ivy's mom built a device that she claimed was designed to duplicate Ivy's thought patterns and predict her future research. As the beginning of the story revealed, what she was really after was access to Ivy's dreams, which her child kept hidden from her. Ivy follows along with regard to the expectations put upon her but with a strong amount of disdain and a degree of her own secrecy. Her father is at once the most transparent and the most mysterious, as his grip on reality and society has slipped as he's spent most of his time working with dreams, away from other people.
It's not an accident that the most human character in the book is "Uncle", a sort of ape creature that Ivy's dad brought back from a dream. He has a poetic sensibility that appeals to Ivy and brings out a sense of compassion in her that's absent from the other characters. One gets the sense that one of the reasons why she's going along with all of this is to explore her dreams in her own way, for her own reasons. While Ivy's mom does love her, that love is impinged upon by the almost desperate nature of her research, as though she's racing against time for some kind of discovery.
In service to the story, Hetland's techniques are becoming more and more clever. The dissolve at the beginning of the book to what appeared to be another one of Ivy's dreams into revealing that it was her mom trying to force her way in was jarring, especially in the almost nauseating use of color at the end. Throughout the story, the characterizations are all in the eyes--Ivy's mix of bright-eyed and side-eyed, Uncle's Little Orphan Annie-eye dots that nonetheless twitch and pulse with passion, Ivy's mom's mix of intensity and weariness, and her dad's somewhat manic and somewhat dopey wide-eyed expressiveness. Throw in techniques like using a soft pencil effect for Uncle's dreams, Ivy touching him and color exploding off of her fingers and an effective use of both tight-in and wide shots, and Hetland aids the story by allowing O'Connell to be restrained in terms of what is explained. In this, O'Connell and Hetland avoid the typical writer-artist team snare of a writer overwriting on the page and an artist being crowded out as a result.