Twisted Dark is a haunting collection of 12 stories, all with a spin on darker subjects. No super powers. No aliens. No trans-dimensional beings. Neil Gibson and the artists (each story has a different artist) craft stories that make you question your own humanity. The question seems to be, how has misery changed you? These stories illustrate the current state of our human condition: misery. It’s not a far flung idea that we all know too many people suffering. What Gibson shows is how misery can twist us (no pun intended) to commit unthinkable actions. This changes the person into someone friends and family do not recognize. There are points in the story where characters will look at each other as if alien. Despite the characters having spent a lifetime together in some cases. It is a feat that Gibson pulls off with skill and aplomb. And that is something not done lightly.
Now, while you may never heard of Twisted Dark or Neil Gibson, you should. Gibson is a master craftsman that can pull you in with 2 pages. He opens the book with a 2 page story called Suicide – the same story pulls double duty setting the tone for the rest of the book. Gibson chose to work with several artists across this book. And because of that each story has it’s own distinct style/design. Gibson must have chosen each artist to pair with the stories. If not, it just worked out really, really well. Changes in artist/style story to story can be jarring in some books, but never in Twisted Dark. The story and art display an almost symbiotic relationship, each part clicking together. A relationship which produces some gorgeous pages. Even the cover resonates, making you wonder what is happening and who this person is all bloody, as a lone tooth juts out, ready to fall.
Gibson believes comics are art. He doesn’t want to just make any old comic book. Gibson strives to create art, to recreate our world through a honest lens. We can be monsters. And while the stories are dark, they are far better than most mainstream books out. Gibbons wants to make good comics like his foreword says. It’s not just a cash grab property or a an attempt to get Hollywood to court him – though they should! There is a vision here, one that helps link the stories together beyond that they are dark. It’s so easy to create a dark story and stick to the usual tropes: violence, rape, abusive parents, etc. But Twisted Dark via Gibson, challenges that. His stories focus on characters and story above tropes/sensationalism. These stories guarantee a satisfying reading experience whether it’s the first read or the tenth.
Even though there is 5 volumes out, all books stand alone. And as you read on, you can see Gibson and crew are building a world that grows each volume. At first read these stories can seem like stand alone only. Comparisons to shows like Twilight Zone or American Horror Story seem correct. These stories, while not all connected, some do have linkage with the others, even into later books. In many ways it has that feel to it The Dark Tower series. You can feel a mythology built through the stories, and it’s tendrils had quite the long reach over all Stephen King’s works. What Gibson and crew have set up seems to be a long term pay off. Then again, this is also an example of the symmetry at work in Twisted Dark.
Only one of the stories A Lighter Note… has a continuation later on in the book. But, this is not because the others are fluff. A Lighter Note… is a story that goes the gamut of showing how people can become the corrupt, twisted version of themselves. Corruption isn’t a new trope by any means, but Gibbons isn’t the typical writer. Instead, he strives show the undersides of his characters, both good and bad. But never does Gibbons pass judgement on his flawed creations. Instead the reader begins to empathize with the characters. Gibson likes to leave a silent question in these stories of “Would you be any different?” And it’s a question we should ask ourselves when coming to such a work. But it’s a question that can only come to light with a strong book. A book willing to question both how good we are, and if we are all that different than the characters in the book. But the only way Gibbons can do this is by showcasing in a few stories how these characters got to their end points by going to their starts.
In the note before A Lighter note… recounts how the UAE abolished slavery in that area – granted the UAE was the last to abolish it Gibson also points out before the story. What’s significant about this story is that for me it carried the book. While all the stories have their own special touch or note, it’s this storyline that supersedes the others. It’s the story of Rajeev as he goes though many changes. From new husband to Dubai construction worker to political upstart back to faceless automaton. Rajeev is never cynical – at least early on. He seems full of wonder and hope, that the world is a good and joyous place. Life and events demolish this idea over the course of his story. Even after he begins to help others revolt for better working conditions.
Unfortunately this does not make Rajeev into the working class hero he should have been. After new recruits show up, Rajeev finds himself at the bottom of the barrel again. A person can only take so much of this, as we all know. The story takes off from there and shows how a terrorist becomes one.
It is obvious the stories do have a dark tone. But, that is not the end and reach of them. In fact the stories in book 1 take place all over the world. The multi cultural angle shows that darkness in humanity isn’t just American. It’s human darkness. Gibson is pointing out the worst possible of our shared world, but not in a demonizing way. While some characters are terrible people, they all are not. There is some true heroism on display in how characters interact and face themselves. Gibson is a storyteller. The stories never suffer from moralizing or soapbox politicking. The book isn’t dark because of the content, the book is dark because we read it and understand all to easy. We see how life and events take unexpected turns. Those turns can have staggering consequences for the rest of our lives; however long that may be.
But this care Gibson and crew put into the book comes out in the cover as well. Not just a token cover to pull the reader in, the cover* is a page lifted from one of the stories. I don’t want to reveal which story or how; I would hate to spoil it. But, once again, this is the sort of symmetry and skill Gibson excels at. For a book about the deeper, darker, aspects of our humanity, it’s not a book that takes that lightly. Twisted Dark is a book that at the end gives hope perhaps because we are able to take such a stark, long look at ourselves in a work like this. And that can make all the difference.
*Cover by the amazing Caspar Wijngaard – who also handles art direction for the books. My apologies for not pointing that out.