What I’m Reading: The Wrenchies

My friend who’s into really weird comics loaned me the graphic novel The Wrenchies, by Farel Dalrymple. This one is pretty bizarre, but pretty great as well, and is probably one of the best loans I’ve gotten from my buddy. It’s tough to describe succinctly what’s going on in this one, but I’ll give it a shot.

The Wrenchies are a youth gang (they seem to be between eight and twelve years old) on a future Earth where some combination of demons and radiation has turned cities to uninhabitable wreckage and depraved monsters roam the landscape. The five members of the Wrenchies are close-knit, and have a friendly rivalry with other gangs as well, with whom they sometimes team up for drug-fueled parties or to fight monster invasions. At some point when a kid enters his teenage years, unstoppable demons known as Shadowsmen turn up to carry him off, no one knows where to, so there’s no reason for the gangs not to live it up all the time and treat life cheaply.

But the Wrenchies are also a comic book read by Hollis, a nine-year old boy in the real world who dresses up like superheroes and is ostracized by his schoolmates. He dreams of being tough and resourceful like the characters in his favorite comic.

The comic book is the creation of Sherwood, an alcoholic comic artist whose friends and co-workers all seem awfully like adult versions of the characters in the comic. His psychiatrist is convinced that the story he tells of entering a cave with his brother when he was a kid and encountering a demon that attacked them and released demonic spores into the air is perhaps a metaphor his subconscious has produced for something else terrible that happened when he was young. As for his tales of fighting demons after work and working undercover as a spy, these must surely be delusions that can be treated with medication, right?

There are a lot of cool characters and fun plot elements here, and Dalrymple layers them together thickly, with frequent cuts among the places and time-periods, as well as shifts in tone. The overall effect is of a world where the decaying present-day and the dystopian future bleed together, where time boundaries dissolve and people can encounter their future selves or re-arrange their pasts. One character, a robotic giant known as the Scientist, spews philosophical nuggets as he travels with the Wrenchies, lending a sort of profound atmosphere to parts of the book and providing possible explanations for some of the stranger goings-on.

I would recommend this to people who like dark and weird and don’t mind a fair amount of ambiguity in plot structure. I guess that narrows the list of potential readers down quite a bit. Well, it won’t be everybody’s style, but for those who dare it, The Wrenchies will prove a fascinating read with meaning on several levels.

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