The Molting by Terrance Zdunich (creator of Repo! The Genetic Opera) is a new graphic serial that presents the story of a dysfunctional family living in Anaheim, California. It is a powerful and sorrowful tale that further demonstrates Zdunich’s remarkable sense of tragedy and his ability to convey that sense clearly in both the most fantastical and the most mundane of settings.
The first chapter, “Guilty Susie”, explores the tragic youth of a girl named Susanna Deveraux who, in the summer of 1961, loses her mother and is sent along with her brother, Anthony, to live with their aunt and uncle. It is quickly revealed that their new guardians have no interest in their well-being but rather have a financial stake in their guardianship. This abusive situation is terrible enough, but Susie is soon faced with a chance at freedom that ends in another devastating tragedy. The chapter closes several years later with Susie, now a young woman, meeting a young man named Abe and traveling off toward a new start.
The hope embodied in the closing of Chapter One is promptly and magnificently broken in Chapter Two, “The Happiest Place on Earth.” This chapter brings us 1992. Susie is an adult, mother of two, and still haunted by her past. Abe, now her husband, is a scrounger with no apparent job. It seems evident that the majority of their interaction is in the form of heated arguments. They have two children: the elder, Trevor, is an unashamed thief who uses his younger brother, Joseph, to help him. This chapter follows Joseph through what appears to be an average day from the small hours of the morning to the late night, and displays a life that is desperate and resigned.
The story of The Molting is told with the remarkable richness one expects from Zdunich, and the art naturally carries his characteristic style. The portrait of dysfunction and bleak reality told in The Molting is filled with subtle, unspoken tension (indeed, the periods of peace are often more disturbing than the incidents of violence). The entire story is infused with an aura that is extremely unsettling, and I say that as a compliment. The sense of sorrow and of emotional decay in the story is gripping and cathartic, using the heavy and unrelenting curtain of angst binding the characters to pull the reader beyond the zone of comfort and into a place of deep sympathy and reflection.
With attractive art, a complex and interwoven story, and the ability to elicit a strong emotional reaction to the plight of its characters, The Molting is well worth the read, and I look forward to the story’s continued development in future issues.