Review: Twisted Dark Volume 3 / by Erik Sugay

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There was a point in Lost where it became apparent that many of these strangers who crash-landed on the island had connections to each other, both deep and superficial, long before they were stranded.  That revelation indicated a multi-layered narrative and displayed substantial scale to what were at once mysteriously captivating, but detached storylines. Volume 3 feels like that analogous point for Twisted Dark. Three books in, and author Neil Gibson’s series of collected short stories continue to provide a wealth of disturbing tales. Perhaps most impressive is how, after dozens of stories and the fact that many of these intertwine with past ones, Gibson has yet to repeat himself. Certainly, each story is infused with expected wicked undertones, but they have all proven to be quite fresh in relation to each other.

Despite that uniqueness, not all of the stories here are winners, though. I want to keep strict criticism to a minimum, since I’m not yet sure how all of these stories intersect. In the end, everything might be brilliantly related, but if chapters like “Abandoned” never link to any other stories, then they’re nothing more than clichéd filler that detract from the relevant, more substantial stories.

There’s a bit less encouraged introspection here than in either of the previous two collections, but this volume moves at a much brisker pace and its focus is all the better for it. Where the second chapter offers a bittersweet story about love, the fourth turns it on its head. We’re given the other side of the story and, as it’s one of successful revenge, I look forward to seeing if the affected party ever learns the truth and takes some revenge of his own. This chapter is exceptional as it not only adds new perspective, but also connects to at least two other stories (one in a previous book) and opens up the potential for more related narratives.

Although I appreciate the cringe-worthy nature of viewing detailed, illustrated violence in all its prominence (i.e. you’d have to look to the next panel to get past it, but it’s otherwise always there), I prefer when the illustrations don’t opt for outright displaying the gore. The far more effective tales involve the idea of cruelty; leaving to the imagination what will befall a character, rather than actually seeing it, offers a much darker atmosphere more fitting of psychological horror (e.g. what will happen to the victim of the first chapter).

In terms of style, there’s not much I can say that has not yet been covered in reviews of the first two books. This volume’s overall feel is much cleaner and, even though the stories remain dark in tone, the illustrations are noticeably brighter.

Gratefully, at least one illustrator was tasked with depicting stories that are obviously connected (see: volume one’s “Cocaína” and volume three’s “Growth”). It isn’t exactly necessary, but when it does happen, it offers some nice continuity and should certainly help keep track of storylines within future books when the sheer volume of the series’ concise vignettes grows. It’s certain that Gibson is creating a huge universe here and it’s looking like it’ll be a long running series, so some thoughtful stability in art style is appreciated.

Where some might find the anachronistic storytelling jarring, I feel that the challenge of finding how each story relates, or guessing how they will relate, to be quite the engaging hook. My reception to the first two books has been fairly tepid, but with things picking up here and an idea of how expansive a universe Gibson is creating, I’m starting to see the potential for brilliance.

TL;DR – Faster paced storytelling and a more focused narrative make volume three the best of the bunch. Simultaneously visually and psychologically unsettling, this collection capably intermingles with past volumes to offer a greater sense of storytelling scale.

Published by T Publications, the Twisted Dark series is written by Neil Gibson and illustrated by various artists including Atula Siriwardane, Seb Antoniou, Caspar Wijngaard and Jan Wijngaard. You can purchase it here.