Monday, April 27, 2015

Currently Reading 4.27.15

Trying To Talk About The Wrenchies

Well, it's been a while since we talked about comic books. Let's rectify that shall we?

I recently read Farel Dalrymple's The Wrenchies after picking it up out of a literal pile of unorganized comics. Which is kind of a good analogy for the story itself. In fact, it kind of happens at multiple points in the story? Wait. Now I'm kind of creeped out.

Anywho, I'm going to try to summarize the plot now. I say "try" because the plot is a tangled mass of plotlines that leaves you more confused than when you began. A group of children in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic future go on a quest to kill a tortured comic book artist who was used millenia ago by demons to take over the world. It is in turns violent and creepy and incredibly sad. It may sound relatively straightforward, but the narration jumps between times and parallel universes, and rarely explains anything in a satisfactory way. In fact, the Scientist, a sort of archetypal "I-will-now-explain-everything-to-you" character, begins realizing midway through that all of his plans were faulty. In fact, there are just some things that he never can really explain even to himself.

Among the characters are Sherwood, a comic book artist from our own time who was attacked by a demon as a child, the Wrenchies, fictional comic book characters he creates to save the world, the other Wrenches, a band of warrior children who take their name from a comic book they find (Sherwood's), and Hollis, a boy from Sherwood's time who dresses as a superhero and is transported through time and dimensions to fight with the combined Wrenchies.

Part of what makes the narrative so fun is its irreverence to any sort of conventional storytelling. Apparently mind/soul reading machines will appear without any explanation. Things are constantly alluded to but never explained or shown. Characters appear and disappear, often in blatant disregard for any sort of narrative expectations. For example, several of the heroic Wrenchies, built up as essentially mythic heroes, become aware that they are comic book characters and die off almost immediately. Or just wander off inexplicably. Or their heads turn into giant insect heads. Or, at one point, characters disappear and then reappear a few pages later, thirty years older and with their tongues cut out. And then they wander off again. Characters have their hands cut off only to have them back on the next page. Miniplots that you think might go somewhere never really do. Or are actually the whole point of the story. Basically, there is no real attempt at continuity. The end of the story is largely anticlimactic, and is then followed by multiple strange epilogues and then even more flashbacks.

But at the same time, it seems more accurate somehow in doing this. People just fade out of your life sometimes. Or all the time. Life doesn't ever operate as a story, though we try to adhere narrative structures to ourselves. It also sort of operates in the way a child would tell a story (it could, in fact, all be a fantasy of Hollis's); it loses focus, loses interest, bounces around, makes wild claims and doesn't really concern itself with the how or the why.

I've spent most of this time trying to explain what the story is about and that seems to be part of what the story itself is concerned with. The whole story seems to act as some sort of exorcism for Sherwood as he tries to come to terms with his own inability to deal with past trauma in the face of his eventual imminent failure. Sherwood's writing of his own Wrenchies is a creative act rather than a destructive one, seemingly his only creative act. (Which saves him and also destroys him, therefore saving the world? I dunno man.) In The Wrenchies, the act of crafting a story has more power than the story itself. It serves as an escape (literally for Hollis) and also an attempt to rewrite himself, but he can't control it and it is constantly spiraling and teetering on the edge of nonsense. The book becomes about trying to come to terms with the very concept of a quest and its inherent implausibility.

In summary:

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