Thursday, May 17, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #137: Twilight by Howard Chaykin and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

In the late 1980s, DC Comics thought it could reimagine everything. Frank Miller's Dark Knight did it for Batman, Alan Moore handled Swamp Thing, and John Byrne changed Superman. Moore again took on the core idea of a superhero universe in Watchmen. And, to set the tone for all of that, Marv Wolfman (and George Perez) upended the DC Universe entirely a few years earlier with Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Even secondary reimaginings, like Mike Grell's take on Green Arrow and Grant Morrison's on Animal Man and the Doom Patrol, were strong successes. But DC had a very deep bench, full of characters who hadn't seen the light of day in years.

So someone had the crazy idea -- maybe writer Howard Chaykin, maybe some DC functionary -- to radically reimagine DC's minor space-adventure characters, mostly left fallow since the end of the Silver Age, into a major "serious" story and bring them into the then-present day. The idea was approved, and a three-issue miniseries rolled out in 1990, written by Chaykin and drawn by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.

It was called Twilight. You've probably never heard of it.

It's not very good. That may be why you've never heard of it.

In common with a lot of Chaykin's work, there is a fascistic blonde using unsubtle Nazi imagery, sexual sadism, and boundless narcissism to conquer everything nearby. Somewhat unusually, this is a man, and it's Tommy Tomorrow, who was originally a hero. My guess is that all of the actual villains of the old DC space comics were so infinitely boring that none of them would be suitable.

Other folks that show up, in more-or-less recognizable form, include Star Hawkins, Space Cabbie, and Manhunter 2070. In the best 1980s fashion, they are all tormented, twisted people -- alcoholics, robot-lovers, robot-haters, fanatics, self-aggrandizing creeps, and general assholes -- as opposed to the sparkling cardboard cutouts they were in the 1950s. This may not be entirely an improvement, but it's definitely a change.

At the core of the story is two-thirds of the cast of the "Star Rovers" stories: Homer Gint is our narrator and fills the usual wisecracking Chaykin hero role. Karel Sorensen breaks from Chaykin tradition by being a blonde who is not evil, and who is transformed into a supposed goddess at the end of the first issue. The third Star Rover, Rick Purvis, appears a little at the beginning to be smarmy and obnoxious, then disappears entirely. The other characters circle the central narrative -- Karel becomes a goddess; Tommy wants to steal her power because he's the usual Chaykin wanna-be dictator -- at what is usually a great distance and to no clear purpose, until the end, when everyone does get to play a role.

Oh, since this is a Chaykin story, there must be a good brunette girl -- it's Brenda Tomorrow, Tommy's estranged wife, who I think was invented entirely for this series. She wanders around the outskirts of the plot as well, but, to be fair, there's a lot of going-nowhere plot to wander around.

Twilight is very talky, and dull in it's talkiness -- these are mostly highly unpleasant people yelling at each other for pages on end or spouting silly technobabble for equally long times. They are also deeply concerned with the ethics and ennui of immortality, which is no more interesting here than it usually is. So Twilight is a slow read. The only upside to that is that it gives the reader more time to savor Garcia-Lopez's very good late-80s art.

I suppose these characters were slightly better known at the time, almost thirty years ago, but they'd still been missing from DC Comics for at least twenty years at that point, and most of them for thirty. So there would not have been much of an audience clamoring for more Star Hawkins stories in the first place -- which I suppose is good, since any such large group would have been appalled by the changes Chaykin rang on the characters.

Frankly, it boggles my mind that anyone thought this was a good idea, on any level. Twilight might be the quintessential '80s comic: a badly fumbled re-imagining that makes a whole bunch of characters that no one cared about darker for no good reason and was published in a fancy format with ludicrously Lynd Ward-esque covers.

(My other possibility for quintessential '80s comic would be Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters, which jumped equally hard on an entirely different bandwagon.)

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