Plot: THE MOLTING tells the tale of a dysfunctional family living on the precipice of self-destruction. Across the street from Disneyland...
How many dysfunctional family dramas reach back 45,000 years to show us a primitive tribe attacking another? Or, for that matter, take place under the watchful eyes of a swarm of cockroaches? Probably not many, but Terrance Zdunich's THE MOLTING does.
The independently produced series, written and illustrated by Zdunich (who is perhaps best known as the creator of REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA), brings a kind of gothic nihilism to the tale of a family on the edge - just as REPO did. Even the color scheme, a muted neon with dreamy blues and purples, is similar. And while THE MOLTING doesn't take place in a dystopian future the way REPO does (it actually takes place in 1992 Anaheim, right around the corner from Disneyland), its palpable feeling of fear and abandonment puts it on just as perilous a landscape.
The first issue (of 12, although I've only read 4) introduces us to Susie and Anthony Deveraux, orphaned children suddenly put in the custody of their sleazy aunt and uncle, who are only after the kids' estate, natch. Not long after, violence claims all those but Susie, who runs out on her own, a damaged individual forever.
Cut to 30 years later (and issue 2) - Susie now lives in a semi-conscious state, still traumatized by the events of the past. But the focus isn't on her, it's on her youngest son, Joseph, a burgeoning artist trying not to suffocate underneath the weight of his depressing home life: his mother is a ghost, his father an aged, passive hippie; his prospects are obviously bleak. His only support system is his brother, Trevor, a petty thief with a good heart but prone to bad acts, including pulling his brother along on some of his illegal activities.
The question will be whether or not Joseph will find his way and reach his potential before his grim situation ruins him for good. The title comes to play, I believe, when you consider "molting" is a process an animal goes through to shed itself of dead skin, casting off an unnecessary piece of itself.
While it may sound somewhat rote, Zdunich's dark creativity and unusual touches keep THE MOLTING from being just another drama about a f*cked up family. The roaches are one of those touches - they seem to be lurking in the corner of each frame, silently judging and perhaps even mocking the pathetic travails of the insignificant humans.
Ultimately, the story is quite simple thus far - but I've got 8 more issues to go and I'm sure there's some more tragedy on the way (these are quick reads too). It's clear that Zdunich has something on his mind, and I'm eager to find out what it is, although I'm sure it isn't very pretty. The man doesn't do pretty...
GRADE: 3 1/2 out of 4