Tuesday, September 06, 2016

The Twilight Children by Gilbert Hernandez and Darwyn Cooke

Gilbert Hernandez more and more often this century has been making comics stories that make imagistic sense or emotional sense rather than logical sense and story sense. He was always the more experimental Hernandez brother, making stories driven by imagery or jarring juxtapositions, like fine art translated into panels, but those impulses are more often translated into full-size projects these days, and not just left as quirky back-ups in Love & Rockets. The Twilight Children continues in that vein -- it's the story of a series of unexplainable things that happen, and the people they happen to.

What makes it distinctive in that company -- along with the violent fantasia Fatima: The Blood Spinners and the wild-hair nuttiness of Girl Crazy and the closed timelike loops of Bumperhead, among others -- is that this is a Gilbert Hernandez story seen through the eyes of a different artist -- Darwyn Cooke, an equally accomplished writer-artist. (So either of them could have told this story without the other one's help, technically speaking -- but it wouldn't have been Twilight Children if so.)

Even more intriguingly, the book collection of Twilight Children includes character sketches and layouts by Hernandez in the back. So, if you're familiar with Hernandez's work, it's easy to picture how this book could have looked -- panels and pages with the Hernandez-drawn versions of these characters. (Those are a little more worn-down and lumpy and sad, of course -- Cooke's people are certainly not perfect, but they have his traditional mid-century glow about them, and a sense that they're capable of doing anything.)

I'm writing about that because the story is more difficult to grapple with: it's set in a small Mexican town, as so often with Hernandez. Glowing spheres appear, mysteriously. A group of children encounter the spheres, and emerge blind -- but possibly with psychic powers. A strange, alluring white-haired young woman appears suddenly from nowhere. People die and come back. Authorities are called, and clash, and investigate, and are confused. A lot of characters have a lot of agendas, which clash, not all that conclusively. And then it all ends.

As I implied above, I don't have a logical way to describe what happens. I don't think Hernandez does either; I don't think that's how he constructs stories like this. The numinous impinged on this one small town briefly, and then withdrew. Expecting that to make human sense is futile.

So Twilight Children is a lovely, thoughtful, well-characterized enigma -- or, more accurately, an ink-blot, in which we can all see ourselves. Cooke's art makes it something different from a pure Hernandez story -- maybe pulling it a bit in the direction of the comics "mainstream," if you want to think of it that way. It's a good introduction to that side of Hernandez, and I hope Cooke's name will help that happen; Hernandez is brilliant, but I have a sense his fans are relatively few and clustered, leaving him ignored by a lot of supposed comics-lovers.

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