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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Comic Spotlight Review: The Wrenchies

The Wrenchies
by Farel Dalrymple
As much as my comics education has been knee deep in superhero lore, a great stand-alone graphic novel is always welcome. I've found many of my most treasured graphic tales by just picking something that looks interesting out of the used bin at the comic shop or the half-off long boxes at a small con. Farel Dalrymple's new graphic novel The Wrenchies epitomizes this kind of cherished and exceptionally unique book that is sure to become a cult classic.

If you are familiar with the Image Comics Prophet which often features Dalrymple, you know he's a weird guy. Prophet is one of the most convoluted, bizarre, confusing, and unequivocally awesome comics to come out in recent years, and The Wrenchies falls into that rare category as well.

It's difficult to sum up the story, but here goes: two young boys, Sherwood and Orson, wander into a strange cave, slay an evil creature and find a magical amulet. In the distant future lies a post-apocalypic world where upon reaching maturity, all children are taken by shadowsmen, the same demonic creature that the boys found in the cave, and turned into zombie like creatures full of despair. The titular Wrenchies gang lives in this world, fighting off evil and adulthood. At some point in between these two timelines, there is a strange boy named Hollis who always wears his home-made superhero costume and struggles with the conflict between the violent worlds of his comics and his religious upbringing. Also involved are the fictional characters in comic called The Wrenchies who are brought into reality by a robot scientist.

Got it?
The individual stories and characters are interesting and fun to discover–there's some good variety in the storytelling between the different chapters in the book. But most impressive are the ways in which these wildly imaginative worlds interconnect and collide in utterly unpredictable ways. As the reader, you are slowly given clues as to what is going on and how things fit together, and the timeline–although it's never 100% certain–is explained in bits and pieces that really enrich the story as a whole. It's an incredibly complex time-travelling, metafictional adventure that keeps you working out the details and never knowing what will happen next.

 Of course, I haven't touched on the art, which no doubt is what gravitated me and others to the book, having seen Dalrymple's fantastic work in Prophet and elsewhere. Although there is little in the way of giant space corpses and aliens, The Wrenchies is about as wildly imaginative as can be. He is able to take these bizarre ideas and characters and illustrate them with wonderful cartooning style that fills Hollis, The Wrenchies, Sherwood, and all the others with humor and depth. The world that is crafted here is one of childlike wonder and creativity, colorful and dark, and full of great stylistic detail. Particularly fun are the little notes that occasionally annotate the surroundings with little arrows, very reminiscent of Prophet's early issues.

While the main focus seems to be on creating a vast world full of time-travel, big sci-fi ideas, and weird characters simply for the sake of creating it, there are some deeper ideas running just underneath. Central to the story is the transition from childhood to adulthood. Sherwood's life changes from one of never-ending adventure to one of a depressing office job, not knowing whether the demons he continues to fight are figments of his drug-fueled paranoia or reality. Running parallel are the creatures in the future which suck all the life out of children upon maturity, filling them with despair and disease. At it's core, The Wrenchies is about the imagination and creativity of childhood fighting against the crushing banalities of adult life, interesting and brutally honest in its execution.

The Wrenchies is not for everybody. It's weird. Like, really weird. But if you can throw yourself into it and let the inconsistencies slide for a little while, you'll be fully rewarded with an extremely rich story unlike any other. It's about finding purpose; it's about savoring the good things; it's about growing up. The art alone is worth flipping through–literally in the case of one chapter which features an animated character in one corner that requires flipping through the pages to fully appreciate–and is certain to become a classic in independent cartooning. If you've got an itch that isn't being scratched by the weekly superhero grind, I can't recommend The Wrenchies highly enough!

Rating: A+

You can buy The Wrenchies on Amazon right now!
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