Graphic novel review – The Wrenchies by Farel Dalrymple
– by Ryan Ingram
Some things featured in Farel Dalrymple’s ambitious, haunting, excellent 300-plus page graphic novel The Wrenchies:
Kid gangs roaming the apocalypse, a mad scientist in space, ghosts, a cave filled with dark elf-magic, superheroes, soul-sucking monsters, and even the occasional talking duck.
There’s a kitchen-sink element to The Wrenchies, but it never feels like it was thrown together. In his largest collected work, Dalrymple infuses superheroes tropes, apocalypse backdrops, and epic quests into a haunting, melancholic story about creating and reading comic books, built with moments that feel powerfully personal.
Dalrymple previously worked with writer Jonathan Lethem on the 2007 Marvel reboot of Omega the Unknown – based on an alienated teenage extraterrestrial character created by Howard the Duck creator Steve Gerber and Mary Skrene. Currently, he is also exploring similar dystopic terrain in his Study Group apocalypse-set webcomic It Will All Hurt. And while explaining the plot of The Wrenchies is no easy feat, the comic is an effortless one to get immediately sucked into.
Starting in the present, we meet two kids messing with dark magic in a cave, before being thrown to a far-future apocalyptic wasteland with kick-ass kid gangs and haunting monsters. Then it’s back to the present day for a tale about an earnest fat kid, who is haunted by both bullies and spirits, and who dresses up like a superhero.
Then, things take a turn for the severely meta. In the final chapters, the kid gang named The Wrenchies team up with a team of superheroes also named The Wrenchies, and later, a character floats outside the panels, watching his own tragic story unfold. A fuzzy dream logic informs this part of the book, as characters jump from world to world until it all converges, in a brutal nightmare.
The Wrenchies is a bit of a puzzle, but one totally worth diving into. It helps if you’re familiar with Dalrymple’s other work – some of the characters have appeared elsewhere – but it’s a singular piece that will fire up anyone interested in seeing the potential in the comics medium, where no-holds imagination meets inventive storytelling.
In one panel, a character is agonizing over creating his own comic book (also titled The Wrenchies) when he speaks a phrase that could apply to Dalrymple’s own comics-magic, and possibly reveal the key to this book: “Sincerity and subtlety infused with sorcery.”
You can order The Wrenchies through publisher First Second.