Translucid #1 & #2
Written and Created by Claudio Sanchez and Chondra Echert
Illustrated by Daniel Bayliss
Colored by Adam Metcalfe
Lettered by Ed Dukeshire
It’s well traveled ground to say that the superhero genre has grown a bit tiresome. Superhero movies are now cash cows more about special effects and costumes that metaphor and storytelling. But a censorious stance like this commits the fallacy of believing there was some mythical golden age, all too easy in a genre that has literally ascribe to itself a ‘golden age.’ What makes a superhero vital isn’t its powers, but how the powers reveal the condition of the surrounding world. Every superhero is crafted to redress some aspect of the world around it. This then makes knowing the world and knowing the person that is the superhero vital.
Hollywood has made the superhero genre tedious through staggering success, but before this happened comics had butted up against the same dilemma. That medium’s answer was to diffuse the genre into a never-ending gyre of alternate histories, parallel worlds, and non-centralized authorship. Every Marvel or DC hero now have multiple identities over countless storylines taking place concurrently in manifold universes. The effect is as maddening as it is invigorating. Superheroes are no longer legends, they are legion.
A recent article at The Stake provided some guidelines to re-invigorate the superhero movie genre. Two of these guidelines can do the same for the superhero comic genre. The first suggests paring back the scope to “orient audiences with low-stake, high-payoff stories,” while the second reminds us that superhero stories are ultimately “about people in extreme circumstances trying to acclimate to complex identities.” These precepts gesture back toward a narrative that is deeply based in metaphor because no matter what else a superhero story is, its success is the success of a quality allegory. The new series Translucid by Claudio Sanches and Chondra Echert is striving to be exactly that.
It is too easy to say that the hero/villain pairing for Translucid (The Navigator and The Horse) is a Batman/Joker mirroring. Such a shorthand doesn’t give us what we need to access just what is going on in Sanches and Echert’s story. However, it is the most dominate and iconic good vs. evil pairing in the genre and one that the writers give a clear nod towards. Sanches has asserted that he has “always wanted to tell a Batman and Joker story and I’ve always wanted to have the Joker utilize Batman’s origin as a weapon” and Echert augments this “What if this symbiotic relationship wasn’t so symbiotic? What if one of them wanted it to end, and thinks a good way to end it is to utilize the beginning?” While not exactly deconstructing the Batman/Joker, Translucid is digging deep into the psychology of that relationship without having to deal with the baggage of a genre idol.
Building a world that is at once realist, hallucinatory, and fabulist, Sanches and Echert present over these first two issues four dependent characters—The Navigator, The Horse, a boy (Cornelius Kinderland) and his brother (Drake Kinderland). There is no simple framing device for this series. While it opens with Cornelius drawing in his notebook sketching a helmet design, we are given no indications that this is a flashback, flash forward, or the real-world of the story to come. The brilliance of this move is that it initiates the dominate emotion or psychological state of the series—disorientation.
The superhero-ing begins immediately after this one page scene, and we are presented with the villain, The Horse, just paroled and immediately donning his eponymous helmet. It is revealed that while The Horse was imprisoned, New York City’s guardian, The Navigator, has been shirking his responsibility leaving the ordinary police to manage the costumed aggression arising to fill the vacuum left by The Horse. The return of The Horse signals a revival of The Navigator, who stands on the rooftops gazing out of the city he must now again defend. The cliché is grounding providing another foray into Cornelius’s story.
We see Cornelius in his room again this time creating out of common junk drawer bits a utility belt. Cut back to The Navigator using his suit’s technology to select his items for the day as he leaps into the cityscape. We return to Cornelius in bed reading as he hears a car pull up. Going to the window, we see through his eyes a bedraggled man coming home; we see Cornelius’s face clearly troubled.
Only ever a single page, the interludes with Cornelius don’t so much frame as foreshadow the hero/villain action. What follows is the first issue’s grand confrontation—The Horse has lured The Navigator into a trap, a trap which The Navigator is well aware of. But then, the twist.
The script is clear—The Navigator perseveres, saves the day. Even if we allow for a more contemporary spin, one where the villain’s traps costs the hero mightily, we still know the story. What happens here, however, is that the hero saves the villain, “the closest thing to a friend I’ve ever had.” Calling the bluff of the villain who had dared the hero to simply walk away from their protagonist/antagonist dynamic. The consequence? The Horse makes The Navigator pay for his selfishness by injecting The Navigator with a powerful hallucinogen as they escape a soon-to-be destroyed Empire State Building. The Horse has used this moment of ordinary human weakness to finally get the upper hand.
But as The Horse taunts The Navigator, we read an overlapping narration making clear just what type of endgame we are witnessing, “This story is not just another parable of good and evil. It’s the tale of a rare kind of villain, who chose a life of chaos for no other reason than to enliven a hero. And it begins decades after their first meeting, after years of weights being quietly stacked upon tem, until their co-dependency had reached a tipping point.” Shocked and hallucinating, The Navigator watches The Horse blow up the Empire State Building. It is a wonderfully surreal scene that illustrator Daniel Bayliss creates, but it is not the climax of the first issue. Rather, the page after the explosion sees a bottle shatter against a wall and Cornelius rising up in the darkness from bed terrified.
What are we seeing? A child escaping into telling a superhero story to deal with the violent home he is enduring? The origin story of The Navigator? Of The Horse? All we know for certain is that as the hero and villain play out their story, we are also going to be seeing another storyline take shape. Yet it is one that demands us to speculate, to try as hard as we can to ascribe meaning to actions and to imbue symbols. We as readers aren’t just passively letting this superhero story wash over us, we are actively forming the narrative through the suggestive pieces the authors are giving us. This quality is what makes for an engaging allegory because we are presented with not with vague suggestion but with exacting ambiguity. How then do Sanches and Echert avoid the onerous?
In this second issue, the story’s focus is on the ‘ifs’ and ‘might-bes’ that arise from providing the family story of the Kinderland brothers. When we do get cutaways to The Navigator and The Horse, we are seeing events that occurred between the two before the action of the first issue, before The Horse was imprisoned. This solidifies each story line (The Navigator/The Horse and Cornelius) showing that each could stand alone, but that when entwined each is at once enhanced and diminished. The motif for Translucid is co-dependency, which the dual narrative strand reinforces. Clearly, in order to understand either of these storylines we are going to have use the other.
Where does this leave us? One story could merely be a metanarrative, the story Cornelius is telling. The Navigator and The Horse may very well be the same person in an adult Cornelius, who has used his hyper-realistic holograms to counter his ever increasing hallucinations. Drake and Cornelius could be The Navigator and The Horse acting out some kind of sibling rivalry scenario. With only two of six issues released, readers are lured into speculation. Translucid is more than a superhero story, it is a psychological allegory that escapes the fantastic and embraces a chilling realism.
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