"The Molting" Review

Cover from the third comic in the series.

The world of comic books has been a part of my life since I can remember. Some of my favorite memories are sitting in my family room, getting lost in the misadventures of Archie and friends or the epic battles between Batman and whatever villain had escaped prison in the current issue. At the time, there was something appealing in getting lost in the fantasy of it all with the knowledge that these outlandish adventures would never truly affect every day living. Perhaps that is why some grow out of the “comic book reading” stage for they can no longer enjoy the distant adventures of people and situations too outlandish to relate to.

And perhaps this fact is also why I find myself completely enthralled in the comic book series “The Molting” by Terrance Zdunich, a tale that remains grittily human while shedding an eerie light on the institutions of law and authority, questioning the often stereotyped characters of “hero” and “villain”, a question most do not want raised.

The central characters are the members of the Pryzkind family, a small yet highly dysfunctional group of people living in Anaheim, California in the 1990s. In this core group is the character of Susie, a woman who has suffered numerous losses throughout her life, including the untimely and violent murder of her brother. Scarred mentally and emotionally, Susie makes an attempt to escape her past and start afresh with a man named Abe, but this “new family” too ends in heartbreak as Susie’s eldest son, Trevor, is a wanted thief whom often employs his younger brother, Joe, as an accomplice.

One of the aspects of this series that is incredibly appealing is the idea that the main characters do not fit the stereotype of hero, yet they are the characters the reader roots for. And this is because these characters have a sense of reality about them. Those who would be deemed “good guys” by societal norms turn out to be the ones who truly have no understanding of the real world: the judge who puts Susie and her brother in the care of her abusive aunt and uncle, the principal blackmailing a teacher and exploiting a student to catch a felon; or the psychiatrist deemed responsible for counseling the little family whom Trevor understands to be a woman with her own dysfunctional family (she’s a single mother) and finds her in no place to judge his family, a brilliant and hauntingly accurate description of a woman other members of society would describe as authoritative. “The Molting” paints a picture of society that is so accurate, it becomes eerie to read; the people that society understands to be in control are really no different than the criminals they prosecute, and in turn neither of these groups are different from any one society would dare to label as “good” or “normal”. The series gritty portrayal of life and struggle is what holds your attention, not the glitz and the glamour of an untouchable hero flying above the rest of society.

The Pryzkind family may be dysfunctional but they are not untouchable. Their strange bond to each other is oddly a familiar one and throughout their discussions one cannot help but to wonder if they too have ever had a conversation like that with someone close to them. The writing is done just so that you can sense the personal connection behind every word. At one point, the two parents are fighting and screaming at each other, but the words are typed in symbols with the occasional letter and word thrown in. The sons react to this fight all too casually and try to go about their day inside the home. This style of depicting the fight in meaningless symbols gives the reader an empathetic connection to the boys; it doesn’t matter what’s being said, it matters that they are fighting. This personal touch is woven throughout the series and allows the reader into these people’s lives and allows them to understand what these people live with every day without whining or craving our sympathy. And the reader can connect with the dysfunction so much that it becomes eerie when the characters act out socially accepted roles. When the usually frightening and blunt Susie chipperly asserts that she is Joe’s mother and she will happily drive him to school, the reader is stuck by how “freaky” the response is, drawing yet another connection between the reader and dysfunction.

Even in the artwork and writing, there is power in the simplicity and natural portrayal of these humans and of the pain they endure. In one scene, a teenage boy is shot point blank in the skull. On the page, there is nothing but the man pulling the trigger and the falling body of the boy. There is no overly dramatic representation of the gunshot or the emotional responses of those witnessing the murder. And the reader is not stricken by the glamorous and excessive murder scene, they are stricken with a sudden pang of fear and pity for the fallen boy. The simplicity of this horrific scene is what will haunt readers, as will the humanity spilled throughout the novel.

What makes “The Molting” something definitely worth reading is the fact that the story is simply, yet evokes a series of emotions from the reader other comics (and novels and movies, for that matter) seriously lack. There’s something relatable in the dysfunction, portrayed excellently through brilliant writing and illustrations. Simultaneously, there is something haunting about the issues addressed and how people perceive the world around them. The series will leave a mark that you soon won’t get rid of, nor should you. It brings to light the familiarity of chaos and questions where we stand as a society. Terrance Zdunich is nothing short of a brilliant storyteller and a genius and his work is a true representation of both of these qualities. A must read for anyone looking for a well written, gripping story that is beautifully illustrated and paints a highly accurate and frightening picture of all of humanity.

I for one am beyond thrilled to see what lies in store.

 

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