Advance Review: ‘Wretches: Volume 1’ Digs Into Dirty Sci-Fi

by James Ferguson

Space may be the final frontier for us now, but for the characters in Wretches, it’s just another place to hang out, get drunk, or start some trouble. Twin siblings Shea and Sean have a gig taking down rogue robots for parts and cash. When that puts them in the crosshairs of a robot gang, they risk it all to save each other.

Wretches lives in one of my favorite aspects of science-fiction. I’m not sure what it’s called, but I’ve dubbed it “dirty sci-fi.” It’s this idea that we reached for the stars, but didn’t quite make it. It’s the opposite of the clean, sterile environments you see in Star Trek. It’s more like beat up, barely working, but still out in space. Think more like Cowboy Bebop or the Rebellion areas of Star Wars. This allows for both a futuristic tale, but a bit of dystopia too.

This really shines through in Salo Farias’s artwork. You get the sense that this is a universe that has seen some stuff in its life. Sure, there are spaceships, but they’re beat up and it’s a miracle they’re running in the first place. Colorist Chunlin Zhao gives the environment a gritty, dingy feel. In some cases, dwellings are carved out of rock and you can practically feel the dirty surfaces that have never and will never be clean.

Writer James E. Roche hints at a vast universe in Wretches. We don’t go into detail about the history of these planets and outposts, nor do we get a big textbook of exposition about how we got to these far off places. We’re plopped into the story and pick up these details as we go or put some pieces together based on implied commentary. A great example of this is the plague that’s slowly killing off the robots. We don’t know where this came from or why it’s happening, but we learn enough to understand it. I’m a sucker for this kind of world-building.

To showcase the robot plague, Faria gives these beings a diseased look. They may be machines, but they still appear mostly human. Parts of their flesh have been torn away, revealing the metal parts beneath. They look more like cyborg zombies which is a pretty creepy thought.

Letterer Chas! Pangburn adds some further depth to this universe with some varied fonts and word balloons for some of the characters. These are used sparingly, but to great effect, particularly for the more alien races.

Where Wretches comes up a little short is in the story of the main characters. It jumps around a bit and important details are revealed at odd times. For example, Sean and Shea have a personal interest in the death and destruction of robots which would greatly influence our understanding of their actions, but this major plot point isn’t introduced until chapter #3. It’s done so in a big flashback, killing the momentum built up until that point. I have to wonder how this would have flowed if the order of some of these elements were shuffled around.

Similarly, some other characters, like Dr. Burr are shoehorned into the story, stealing the spotlight from Sean and Shea and further killing momentum. Burr takes up most of chapter #2 and it was a confusing jump as I didn’t know who this guy was or why I should care about him. As more people are introduced and take up prominent roles in the story, it can get a little crowded.

Wretches introduces a fascinating world that we only scrap the surface of in this first volume. There’s so much to explore. It’s teeming with possibility. The characters’ narrative is a little clunky, but there’s a good story in here. It’s just that it has an odd flow to it.

Wretches: Volume 1 from Scout Comics is set for release on June 24th, 2020.

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