Sherwood Breadcoat and his younger brother, Orson, are playing in the woods when they stumble across a cave filled with strange treasures. Before they can explore further, a demon in a suit and a fedora snatches Sherwood. Orson’s quick thinking with a sword saves Sherwood’s life, but their lives are never the same after the incident. By using a strange amulet he finds in the cave, Sherwood learns that the demon was one of many creatures called Shadowsmen, and that they’re bad news for the future of his world. The only chance in defeating them are a gang of teenagers called The Wrenchies.
The Wrenchies live in a post-apocalyptic wasteland overtaken by Shadowsmen, who are marked by the flies that surround them, crawling into their ears, and escaping from their mouths. When they come for children, their touch can fill them with despair and corruption, which drains the color from their skin, transforming them into zombie-like creatures. The only defense is to think happy thoughts, behead the Shadowsmen, and crush every last bug that flew in with them. But the demons will keep coming until The Wrenchies can figure out how to defeat them for good, and they’ll need Sherwood Breadcoat’s help in order to do so.
Patrons stumbling across this book for the first time will be drawn to Dalrymple’s rich and deeply expressive watercolors, which are somehow the perfect choice to convey the mood of the wasteland. Readers will have no trouble falling into The Wrenchies’ world with his wonderfully detailed scenery, from a crumbling city block to the gang’s underground hideout, complete with a prison cell and a jungle gym made from pipes. Dalrymple wonderfully weaves his sound effects into his art, guiding sound along with action. Just as the characters try to decipher hidden messages in their own comic books, repeated imagery and small details will begin to feel like sacred secrets on the tip of your tongue. Nature plays a large role in this. Though the landscapes are riddled with flies, constantly seeking to reproduce and infect, crows are an ever-present symbol of hope, working diligently to clean up carrion in the wastes.
There’s a T.S. Eliot reference in the second chapter, written in the gutter, a riff on one of the few repeating lines from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: “in this doom only children come and go listening to illegal radios.” This reference to Prufrock and all that it evokes—feeling old and weary despite being so young—frames the story perfectly, a story in which group after group of children believes they must abandon their childhood to save the world, although their youth is what keeps them marginally safer from their villains. They willingly enter their new lives as heroes, with only the slightest of hesitations, picking up hobbies that center around drugs, drinking, and fighting, for entertainment as well as survival. But when they think of what they’ve left behind, they’ll still shed tears for their mothers.
Despite the striking art and the fantastic worlds, the plot is very involved, which requires a bit too much written explanation at times in order get the reader up to speed and convey the depth of the novel. The way the story is portrayed, the reader must be aware of several elements at once—multiple plot lines, futures, and presents, as reality is tenuous. Dalrymple’s story conveys time travel and floating through memories as remarkably similar acts. While The Wrenchies is the kind of book that needs to be read through a few times in order to be thoroughly digested, it is nonetheless an artistic treat.
by Farel Dalrymple
First Second, 2014
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