Writers: Chondra Echert, Claudio Sanchez
Artist: Daniel Bayliss
Published by Boom! Studios
Translucid #1 is like one of those captivating dreams whose import is obvious to you but you struggle to explain to other people. It’s beautiful in parts, strange in others, and disturbing in brief stretches. Claudio Sanchez and Chondra Echert At its core, the book is about a basic idea: the relationship between a superhero and a supervillain. Yet it’s also about codependency, our childhood dreams, and what gives a hero motivation to do what he does. Is heroism healthy? And how do you maintain your moral compass over time?
The book takes place across two different timelines. In the earlier timeline, we see a young child imagining the trappings of a superhero. He doodles the design for a superhero and reads a book on holograms before seeing a man walk in the front door of his home. He’s obviously afraid of this man, and at the end of the comic, the young boy is awoken by the sound of a bottle breaking and a fight going on. It’s clear that something terrible is going on in this house and he is in the center of it, but we have only vague ideas who he is.
An indeterminate time in the future, a man gets into a limousine and asks to be taken to State Line Lookout. He has the head of a horse, specifically a chess playing piece, and he is a supervillain known as Horse. Horse has been on trial and has recently been found innocent of his crimes. His heroic nemesis is known as the Navigator, and in the time that Horse has been imprisoned, the Navigator has withdrawn from the public eye. Horse engineers a confrontation in which he rigs himself to a bomb in the Empire State Building, with the bomb set to detonate when Horse is removed. He expects the Navigator will do the right thing and leave him to die, but as Navigator puts it, “You’re the closest thing I have to a friend.” Horse detonates the bomb, hoping to show Navigator that he has lost his way by allowing him to survive.
The artwork of this book is simply gorgeous, especially the color shading. This is where the comic acquires its dreamlike character. So many things are strangely tinted and shaded that it gives the scenes of the future a truly fantastic appearance. The design of the two main characters also gives the book that “strange” feeling. Horse’s design seems so silly, as it’s just a horse head, except that the longer you stare at it, the more sinister it seems, in the way that childish things become sinister in dreams. Navigator, on the other hand, is seemingly inspired by children’s cartoons from the 1980s of what a hero should look like. He’s imagination come to life, which is driven home by the fact that his tools and gadgets are holographic constructs.
It’s obvious that this book is intellectually indebted to The Killing Joke, a book which really explored the unhealthy relationship between hero and villain. Translucid reverses the dynamic, though, by examining the unhealthy effect on the hero rather than the villain. Why can’t Navigator just let Horse die? He’s been withdrawn ever since he went to jail. Why does he depend on a villain to give him purpose? There’s an abusive relationship at work here, with the Navigator as a codependent and Horse as an abusive partner.
The comic’s dreamlike feel makes a twist seem inevitable, and it’ll be interesting to see whether the creators play it straight or subvert our expectations. It’s nice to see a deconstruction of a superhero comic that isn’t about violence or edgier themes, but is more cerebral. Translucid was a comic I couldn’t stop thinking about once I finished it. Read it and let it wash over you.