Strangeness Hits Shore in ‘Twilight Children #1’

Gilbert Hernandez continues his streak of magical realist tales.

In the world of alternative comics, few creators have had as much success or influence as the the Hernandez Brothers. Most famous for their ongoing anthology series Love and Rockets, the three brothers, Jamie, Gilbert, and Mario, have helped define the alternative comics scene with their acclaimed stories influenced by Latin-American culture. Usually writing stories independent of one another, the brothers have developed their own ongoing narratives with their own characters, settings, and styles. Gilbert Hernandez, in his Palomar stories, has become known for magical realist stories detailing the lives of the residents of the fictional Mexican village of Palomar, often using the magical elements to reveal the secret, sordid lives of his characters. Hernandez continues this traditional in The Twilight Children, one of the new series in the revitalized Vertigo imprint. With Darwyn Cooke’s famous art at his side, Hernandez has written another deep, stirring tale of small-town secrets and suspicion.

The story takes place in a small seaside town in South America. Typical of Hernandez’s work, the story is split between the narratives of a number of residents. Anton and Tito are a man and woman having an affair behind Tito’s husband’s back. Bundo is a boorish, drunken man who lives on the beach, having lost his family in a fire some time back. And then there’s the eponymous Twilight Children, two preteen boys and a girl who enjoy exploring the beach and discussing the rumors of the town’s residents (including Bundo). One day at the beach, the children see a large, glowing ball emerging from the sea. They proceed to tell Bundo, who orders them to alert the authorities. Apparently, these large balls have appeared on the beach a number of times, but no one’s ever seen them disappear or tried to move one. Upon trying to move it with a net, the ball simply burns it. Bundo says he will stay with the ball and watch it until a scientist can arrive the next day to examine it.

As with any expert practitioner of magical realism, Hernandez then uses the glowing ball as a vehicle for instigating conflict in the residents’ personal lives. As Bundo watches it on the beach, he reflects on his role in his family’s death: accidentally alighting their home with a lit cigarette after passing out drunk on the couch. Bundo’s refusal to take his eyes off the ball stems from his guilt of never seeing his family as they disappeared into the flames, instead only hearing their screams.

“You can’t go without me seeing you do it,” he says. A panel of the fire pit in front of him, a glowing, burning circle, creates a perfect visual comparison.

Later, the ball interrupts one of Tito and Anton’s meetings, emerging from the floor of Anton’s apartment. The incident causes Tito to run out of the apartment and into the hall. Tito chases after her, exclaiming that she can’t be seen there with him. They’re only seen by an older woman who doesn’t know either of them, but Tito is nevertheless rattled by their near-exposure.

The exposure of secrets has been a recurring theme in Hernandez’s work, helping earn it a comparison to soap operas. As with other famous users of magical realism, such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the fantastic is used as a means of human revelation and illumination in settings where it otherwise might not happen. In his recent book, Loverboys, Hernandez used the myth of small gnomes who sneak around and keep everybody’s secrets, to unravel the underlying tensions of a small town.

This plot is reflected in the Twilight Children themselves, who after discovering the ball in a cave are somehow infected with it, appearing to the town’s people blind with their glowing eyes. The magical, supernatural creatures or forces embody an omnipotence needed to see the true secrets behind the facade of the town and its residents, which evidently cannot be seen or comprehended by the townspeople or even those keeping the secrets. The narrative is a gripping analysis of the deceptive depths of even the most intimate of living situations. Capturing the townsfolk in their most vulnerable moments of solitude and guilt, the magical element reveals the residents in a light that’s seemingly needing of the impossible to reveal itself. It calls to mind the quote from David Tennant’s Alec Hardy in Broadchurch: “People are unknowable. And you can never really know what goes on in someone else’s heart.”

Hernandez’s collaboration with Darwyn Cooke is a definite plus for the book, as Cooke’s art possess a beautifully expressive quality. Whether it be Anton’s regular gloom while in the presence of Tito’s husband, or Bundo’s panicked, tired eyes as he tries to keep the ball in sight, Cooke’s artwork has a unique ability to bring emotional resonance to Hernandez’s story and words. With an writer like Hernandez, whose expertise has been in minimalism, Cooke’s artwork simply but effectively illustrates the anguish of hidden feelings.

Twilight Children #1 is another expertly crafted example of Gilbert Hernandez’s unique vision and talents, and a delightful reminder of why Pulitzer-Winning author Junot Diaz once said he should be deemed “one of the greatest American storytellers.”

RATING 9 / 10