Black-and-Grey Morality: Twisted Dark Vol. 1 / by Erik Sugay

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Crafting a compelling and original story is a difficult task. And in this technologically advanced world where dissemination of information is immediate, similarities to other works are inevitable. With such bounding familiarity, a cursory look through Neil Gibson’s Twisted Dark Volume 1 reads as a hurricane of clichés. Gibson’s vignettes lay a familiar trail for your imagination to trod, so you’re likely to find yourself reading to see if the stories will develop how you expect them to more than anything else. This would normally detract from the experience, but Gibson seems to use that prescience to his advantage.

Twisted Dark begins as a series of brief, disconnected segments with the only apparent tie being a foreboding atmosphere. Several artists were used proficiently to illustrate the different segments, giving each a unique feel even when a particular artist was asked to illustrate multiple stories. Styles vary as some tales are easier to follow visually than others, but there are enough similarities – sketchy linework, generous uses of black, bluntly depicted emotions – to keep the collection whole. No matter the artist, the visuals matched the sinister stories appropriately.

The correlation between anonymity and dissolute behavior, regret and delusion, corruption through power, misplaced revenge – each segment is founded upon an ominous premise.

Different quotes precede each chapter, hinting at that particular story’s theme. Plenty of exposition gets you up to speed on the characters and settings; it’s both impressive and jarring how quickly stories progress in the limited space they’re allotted (eg. a young son becomes a man and succeeds his father’s occupation in the span of a page). Understandably, the quick pace is used to show you how the characters got to where they are, allowing you to easily join their story.

The familiarity of it all will likely have you formulating multiple ways for each section to end. (There were plenty of instances in which I correctly predicted how an individual chapter would generally progress.) A few of the standalone snippets are on the verge of being compelling, but end much too abruptly for their own good. With hindsight, however, this may be intentional. As the compilation progresses, a few of the stories begin to intertwine, hinting at an overarching tale of much grander scale.

Twisted Dark is a collection of seemingly unrelated short stories. The author eventually outright tells you that that’s not the case, and knowing that every tale will somehow be connected to another means that the ones that felt out of place will deserve a second look whenever the appropriate bonds are established. Some of the shorter stories that have yet to be woven into the overall mythology are intriguing as independent narratives (like the brief first chapter with its wonderful ambiguity), but others (like the rushed and difficult-to-follow fifth) are begging to be included.

And that’s where the real intrigue lies. One chapter never explained why the character wanted to achieve his evil objectives. However, toward the end of the book, another superficially unconnected set of characters is introduced and their story ends up serving as the previous character’s background. Suddenly, you’re given a small taste of why he is the way he is. There’s little justification for the disturbed characters’ behaviors, but it is absorbing to see how the characters themselves find justification.

Under the pretense of believing that these tales were unrelated, several initially fall flat. The revelation that one character’s unsettling actions are likely the result of another character, once presume unrelated, makes Twisted Dark an engaging mystery. You might calculate how an individual story will progress, but a narrative is only truly cliché if it never diverges from the expected path. There’s no predicting how this complex web will be woven, and that’s a thrilling prospect.

TL;DR  Brief glimpses of how those with questionable moralities behave. The consequences are rarely clear, but that ignored introspection is a strong point.

Twisted Dark Volume 1 is the first in a series of short story compilations. It is written and self-published by Neil Gibson with art by Caspar Wijngaard, Atula Siriwardane, Heru Prasetyo Djalal, Jan Wijngaard, Ant Mercer, and Dan West. You can purchase it here.

A review copy of Twisted Dark Vol 1 was graciously provided to Spandexless by the author.