Review: The Twilight Children

Magical realism is a tough genre for me to wrap my head around. I'd like to claim an understanding of the artistic goals and ultimate importance of stories in which the characters accept the inexplicable and ask for no explanations (because none will be given), I can't. To me, stories where otherworldly events simply happen and are accepted without comment, still feel strange and mostly pointless. I tend to think though, that if you are going to fill a story with legitimately strange, unexplained events, you have to at least have a strong backbone of human emotion to keep things from dipping into the absurd or incomprehensible. For example, novelist and comic writer Joe Hill wrote a delightful short story about a boy who befriends a classmate made of inflatable balloons by depicting a very real story of friendship and discrimination. So I can recognize good storytelling within the framework of magical realism even if I don't quite understand the function being served. I say all this so as not to seem unreflective when I say that Twilight Children didn't quite work for me. I recognize some masterful storytelling in placed (specifically through the wonderful art) and grant a certain atmospheric charm, but I was disappointed by the constantly shifting series of unexplained supernatural occurrences. The four issue Vertigo book is far too carefully crafted for me to suggest that the lack of coherence is anything but purposeful--this is not Lost in miniature where a too liberal sprinkling of intrigue backed the writers into a corner. No, Twilight Children, with each strange twist and ethereal image, knows exactly what it's doing, even if I find it a little hard to appreciate.

The-Twilight-Children-TPBThe plot, such as it is, starts very simply. The denizens of a small village in South America including a beautiful flirt, her husband, her lover, the local sheriff, the local drunk, and three children are going about their lives as usual when strange supernatural events begin to change the fabric of their town. Giant glowing orbs appear and disappear, a strange white haired woman wanders the town, memories shift at random, and children are struck blind. This is only a small portion of the oddness that afflicts the town, but it all begins to run together after a little while. As close as we come to a point of view character is an American scientist named Felix who arrives to investigate the orb and is sucked into the strange world of the town.

From the first issue onward, I was well aware this would not be a book where anything was explained. This isn't necessarily a problem and the book never pretends to have explanations in the offing, but the various emotional arcs, which begin engrossingly, slowly get lost in the unspooling of the craziness which takes up most of the page count. By the end, when something akin to a climax is reached, I'm not entirely sure I understand where any of the characters end up (or how they have changed). In other words, there's not much of a story.

On the other hand, the late Darwyn Cooke puts in some of the best work of his career which makes many images and sequences seem more important and resonant than they have any business being. Cooke's charming, animation-esque character designs are widely known to be phenomenal, but until reading Twilight Children, I had never noticed just what a master he was at rendering atmospheric and powerful scenes with a hugely efficient number of lines. A scene of the town drunk reminiscing sadly about his long-departed family, is drawn simply, with close-ups of his face against a black night sky, but becomes powerful and emotional through a mixture of body language and lighting. Similarly, the strange, faintly ridiculous magical orbs seems creepy and otherworldly when Cooke renders them like fallen magical planets.

In the final count, I have a huge amount of respect for Twilight Children with it's often sharp, sparse writing and beautiful art, but it didn't in the end add up to much of anything. Perhaps some will find satisfying emotional closure in the final, strange sequence, but I ended up being left wanting something more.

[su_box title="Score: 3/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]

The Twilight Children TPB
Writer: Gilbert Hernandez
Artist:  Darwyn Cooke
Publisher:  Vertigo Comics
Price: $14.99
Format: TPB; Print/Digital