The book opens with the brief tale of two brothers, Sherwood and Orson, who go into a mysterious cave they shouldn’t and encounter a creature that attacks them and infects Sherwood, before Orson comes to his aid.
But, the damage is done, and we’re transported into an obliquely related tale, the story of the Wrenchies, a post-apocalyptic street gang of kids living out their days as best they can, in a world where a comic book can cause a clan war, and the Shadowmen are always looming over them.
But then, just as suddenly, we’re taken to a modern-day world, where a grown-up Sherwood works on a comic book called The Wrenchies, much to the delight and curiosity of his young neighbor, Hollis. Raised by overbearing religious parents, Hollis is as much a victim of his environment as the Wrenchies themselves and is haunted by his own ghosts.
But, after we learn Hollis’ tale, we’re wrenched back (Yeah, I went there!) into Dalrymple’s near-future blasted world again, where we meet the original Wrenchies.
Confused yet? You should be. Creator Farel Dalyrmple doesn’t make it easy to access his story, with his sudden and overlapping time shifts and his blending of what may be fact and what may be fiction. It’ll take a nimble reading or two to grasp the entirety of his tale, but Dalrymple blasts forward with a cunning certainty in his story.
Part idiosyncratic quasi-memoir, part Lord of the Flies meets Mad Max, he embellishes his tale with the art of the grotesque, cultivating an almost European flavor to his pages, recalling the surrealism of films such as Fantastic Planet (1973) and the early editions of Heavy Metal. Some people may be turned off by it. It’s grim and dirty and rough-hewn . . . and still oddly beautiful, with Dalyrmple’s delicate watercolors jarringly marred and obscured by his harsh and terribly lovely inks. This is the artwork of the sublimely disturbing carnival and freak show, given life by a furious imagination. Lovely to look at, disturbing to know, and likely to linger with you a long time afterwards.
Verdict: FOUR-AND-A-HALF Surrealistic Slithering Shadow Nightmares out of FIVE