Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Disciples, from Screenwriters David Birke & Nicholas McCarthy

Gyms and the Book-of-the-Month Club have to envy cults’ member-retention rates. Obviously, its really simple for them. Whenever one leaves, they catch them and bring them back. For the so-called “California Cult,” Clara Holmwood was the one who got away, but she is still haunted by her ordeal decades later in screenwriters David Birke & Nicholas McCarthy’s Disciples, illustrated by Benjamin Marra, which is now on-sale wherever graphic novels are sold.

In 1978 Marin County, Holmwood’s high school bestie Wendy fell under the spell of the Charles Manson-like Billy Joe. He even used his self-produced folk-rock music to seduce new female members. Five months after meeting Wendy’s new friends, Holmwood crawled to safety somewhere in the Mojave Desert. Since then, she changed her name to Lucy and tried to keep a low profile.

Her daughter Wren knows at least the broad strokes of her mother’s history. Even though she is a teenager, she understands how heavy it is. Perhaps surprisingly, they have a reasonably functional relationship, even though they have the added family drama that comes from living with Wren’s unmarried cousin Phoebe and her infant son Silas. Unfortunately, they will all be in jeopardy when the California Cult comes to reclaim Clara/Lucy.

Screenwriters Birke (
13 Sins) and McCarthy (The Pact and At the Devil’s Door) do a nice job evoking all the creepy Manson-esque hippy-cult vibes of the 1970s and give it a fan-pleasing twist you might not immediately expect. Marra’s black-and-white noirish art stylishly reflects the sinister nature of the narrative. However, readers should understand there is an unsettling sexual component that is so very provocative on the page that it might need to be toned down for any possible screen adaptation.

Regardless, it is a satisfying reading experience for mature horror fans, especially since it avoids some of the genre’s most disappointing cliches. Birke, McCarthy, and Marra all really understand what it is about cults that unnerves us. The self-actualizing double-speak Billy Joe’s feeds his followers sound spot on for the era. You also have to wonder if the words to one of the cult’s leader’s “greatest hits,” “come wander with me” were intended as a subtle homage to the
Twilight Zone’s similarly like-titled episodes. If it is, it shows taste, because that is one of the series’ best and less-heralded installments.

combines cool art and effective storytelling, but it bears repeating it is not for younger fans. Frankly, it is better than some of the writers’ films. Highly recommended for modern horror readers (in any form), Disciples is now on-sale in hardcover and e formats.