Comic Book Review – Twilight

Twilight (1990)
Reprints Twilight #1-3
Written by Howard Chaykin
Illustrated Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

The late 1980s/early 1990s were a period of experimentation for DC Comics. In the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, creators had a chance to dramatically reimagine classic characters. You have probably heard of books like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns or John Byrne’s Man of Steel. Throughout this period, “more serious” takes were published that made the books, for better or worse, more adult. One of the losses of the post-Crisis period was the non-superhero comics. Before 1985, DC still published comics that fell into the horror, war, western, and science fiction genres. The popularity of these titles had severely diminished from their peak decades earlier, but they still had a few devoted fans. One of those fans was comics creator Howard Chaykin. 

Chaykin is a controversial figure in comics, and I feel conflicted about him for many reasons. The details will be covered next month when I write up a review of Chaykin’s American Flagg book. For now, I’ll focus mainly on Twilight and the contents therein. It is crucial, though, that you understand a few things about the writer. Chaykin is a classic working-class leftist with all the positives and, sadly, some expected negatives. He is vicious in his work regarding large, monolithic corporations and fascists making them objects of mockery & vitriol, rightfully so. However, his work is typically inspired by pulpy material, which typically doesn’t portray women much more than sex objects. Chaykin’s work is not as terrible as some pulp stuff, but it stands out against contemporary sensibilities. He also doesn’t handhold the reader, so you may be presented with something offensive without understanding the context it’s being framed within. Once again, the inclusion of bad things in fiction is not an endorsement of those things.

Twilight was written to take the now unused science fiction characters from those old books and repurpose them. Chaykin took an expectedly mature bent, including profanity, sex & nudity, and some graphic violence. These were not the bright, cheery heroes of the Silver Age but their dark reflections. Chaykin would say that he viewed writing Twilight in the way there is the imagined Old West that idealizes things (the Silver Age books) versus the reality of cruelty & suffering (Twilight). The end result is a relatively dense, complicated story, not something that will lure new readers to comics but also something likely to upset longtime fans of these characters. As someone unfamiliar with many of the preexisting characters, I felt lost just a few pages in. Chaykin chooses not to formally introduce his characters in the way you might expect. We begin in media res into a world where many of these people already know each other, and the exposition you might expect is absent.

The pace of Twilight is wild, jumping across centuries between books but using a plot device that keeps the most important characters immortal. In the opening, three factions vie for power: humans, human-animal hybrids, and robots. Unfortunately, our main characters are all human, which was an oversight. Having some more prominent non-humans in key roles could have been interesting. It’s pretty clear that Chaykin and artistic collaborator & DC legend Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez are inspired by Dune and Alejandro Jodorowsky/Moebius’ collaborations. The sci-fi future of Twilight is a space operatic one, where technology has become more organic & mystical in some respects. Even Garcia-Lopez’s spaceship designs feel more inventive & weird than your typical designs. 

The area where the art is challenging is how you need a pretty advanced understanding of comics literacy to fully comprehend it. The standard indicators & design elements that make sequential storytelling simple are not here. As a result, this is quite a challenge to read. I missed a massive chunk of what was going on and intricate character relationship dynamics. Not having much familiarity with the characters’ previous incarnations probably didn’t help either, but most people who read Twilight will be in the same boat as me. I knew of Space Cabbie and the animal-human hybrids from Kamandi, but beyond that, this was new territory for me. 

Among the cast are The Star Rovers (a trio of independent adventurers), who are the book’s protagonists. All of these events are recounted by Homer Glint, a member of the Rovers who was a writer. Their nemesis is Tommy Tomorrow. Tommy leads the Planeteers, his fascistic army of space warriors dedicated to human supremacy. Tommy is searching for an alien species which are said to have the secret of immortality. The Rovers accidentally come upon this alien race first, and that first contact wraps up the first chapter, setting in place the millennia-long epic saga that takes up the last two pieces. 

Then there’s John Starker, aka Manhunter 2070. In this reinvention, he goes from pirate hunter to merc for hire, who also has a soft spot for robots. He’s retconned into being the older brother of Star Hawkins. Hawkins is another gun for hire who doesn’t care for the robots at first. Their story runs alongside the larger arc about The Star Rovers & Tommy Tomorrow, coming together in grand space-operatic fashion in the final chapter. 

The narrative’s core here is an examination of Manifest Destiny applied on a galactic scale. Humanity devolves into a war between fascists and religious maniacs, which is Chaykin’s not-so-subtle way of sharing his view that the species is trapped in a cycle of self-destruction. Because it spans such extensive periods, so much happens off-screen that you can easily be disoriented. The gap between Tommy’s acquisition of immortality and his status as a living god happens between chapters, so you play catch up, trying to piece together everything that occurred during the interim. 

You must pay close attention, more than you expect with a comic book, to get at the core theme Chaykin explores here. Homer Glint comments at the end of the first chapter about the collapse of civilization being seen as the ending when, in reality, that was the middle of humanity’s story. The summation is that humanity’s story has been an endless parade of violence, with atrocities serving as flags. The ascension of some humans into being gods, capable of providing people with whatever they need & desire, would be up-ended by humans’ primal, animal nature. Essentially, we are not as enlightened as we would like to believe. There are many more details and commentary on all aspects of civilization, of course. I wouldn’t recommend Twilight to everyone, but if any of this sounds like something you’d enjoy, it’s not a terribly long read, clocking in at a little over 150 pages. There is so much on those pages, though.


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