Written by Chondra Echert and Claudio Sanchez
Illustrated by Daniel Bayliss
Published by Boom! Studios
Translucid is the first issue in a new miniseries from the husband and wife creative team of Claudio Sanchez and Chondra Echert with art from Daniel Bayliss. Sanchez is best known as the lead singer and guitarist for the rock group Coheed and Cambria, and he and Echert have previously co-written the comics Key of Z and Kill Audio. This first issue is a beautifully illustrated work that explores and begins to deconstruct some familiar themes (mostly the strange, symbiotic relationship between heroes and their arch-villains) but does so in an interesting enough way to leave a reader wanting to know more.
The story begins with a scene of a young man in his room designing what appears to be a super hero costume, and then turns to the present day, where super villain The Horse (a well-dressed man wearing a horse's head helmet) has recently been released from prison. The Horse meets with lesser villains The Apocalypse 3; he wants their help in his plan to go after the city's greatest hero, The Navigator. The story goes back and forth between scenes of the young man (who turns out to be the Navigator) in the past, and the present day (and we nicely get to see his imaginative dreams come to fruition).
The Apocalypse 3 have taken the Horse hostage in the Empire Building and have rigged the building with explosives. The Navigator finds the Horse tied up in the building, and the Horse presents him with a choice. If he frees the Horse, the building will explode. He just has to be willing to leave the Horse to be captured or killed. The Navigator makes the typical comic book choice, and the Horse turns things around, essentially punishing the Navigator for being unwilling to make the hard choices. The story ends with a scene of the past, with the young man waking from a nightmare because of a sound of a crashing bottle, and hints of a very difficult childhood.
The story is expressly meant to be a deconstruction of superhero tropes; more specifically, it's meant to be a close examination of the strange, symbiotic relationships between superheroes and their arch-nemeses. This story most clearly brings to mind Batman and the Joker. Like Batman and the Joker, we have a high-tech crime fighter battling against an eccentric criminal mastermind who creates ridiculous elaborate schemes not simply to hurt and destroy, but to test and challenge his heroic nemesis. Much like many people have asked the question over the years "Why doesn't Batman just kill the Joker and be done with it?" here the creators present us with the question of "Why doesn't the Navigator just leave the Horse in the building, rather than allow the Empire State Building, and anyone inside it, to get blown up?" The story answers this question by telling us that this crazy horse head man is apparently the closest thing the Navigator has to a friend.
The art really helps sell the story here. Daniel Bayliss is a serious talent. He brings to mind some combination of Paul Pope, Frank Quitely and Nick Pitarra (some pretty great territory to be in). His depictions of the young Navigator, from the detail of a very modest home to the muted tones, convey a "real world" setting. By contrast, when we see the Navigator and the Horse, the colors are more expressive (though the backgrounds and design still feel very real). There are some scenes at the end of the story, when the Horse has drugged the Navigator, that are in the realm of mind-blowing psychedelic visions (easy enough to imagine when your adversary is dressed up like an anthropomorphic horse). Also, given Bayliss' skill as a visual storyteller, the writers here smartly don't overwrite this issue (other than in a panel or two where they tell rather than show).
This series is very much in the Watchmen-esque, "superheroes are psychologically messed up" territory, which is well-trod ground. However, given skillful, effective art, and the weird, interesting and self-aware twists and turns the first issue has already provided, it feels like the creators here have something to say.