Writer(s) Christopher Golden, Tom Sniegoski; Artist Paul Azaceta Publisher Boom! Studios
Talent is about Nick Dane – college professor, age thirty four – acquiring the skills of his dead co-passengers on an ill fated flight to New York. He shouldn’t be alive but he is, and he shouldn’t have other peoples’ memories in his head but that comes with the job. I liked the concept (the blurb didn’t mention “other peoples’ memories” so that’s a freebie for you) and I wasn’t disappointed…too much.
One hundred and forty seven people are killed when an airplane headed for JFK crashes into the ocean instead. Mr. Dane is the lone survivor who’s alive after spending fourteen hours underwater…and he can’t remember anything between the stewardess telling him that he’s going to be fine and waking up in the hospital. If you believe in miracles, that’s exactly what it is, and to the cynics (I liked this part) the only reason he’s alive is because he had something to do with the crash. There are people in high places who want him dead and most of the plot revolves around how he deals with them and their minions. He discovers that he’s picked up new skills from his dead co-passengers, so when an orderly comes to kill him in the first chapter he fights him off with his newly acquired knowledge of origami.
Just kidding. The first page of the book features a conversation between the stewardess and the boxer who’s going to take on the champ at Madison Square Garden so that’s where our hero gets his combat skills. The origami is our first indicator about the skills acquisition and works as a plot element later on in the story. Side missions include getting closure to the voices in his head and making sense of the information given to him by an apparition. The writers promoted it as a superhero story without the tights. I really don’t have a problem with superheroes in tights but I think one hundred and forty seven skill sets gets you close to Batman sidekick level if at least one of them was a cop or a private detective.
All in all you have a plane crash survivor, federal agencies convinced he’s a terrorist, a secret organization that wants him dead, a bad guy to do the job and a couple of freelancers so the foundations are set for a good comic that may move on to become a Hollywood blockbuster or a hit TV show.
So what’s wrong with Talent?
At the beginning of the third chapter we’re shown kids playing street hockey. Usually this is the part where other writers put in their own views about life, the universe, and everything or crack a joke using stock characters. We like the banter because it’s funny or witty or works as a plot or character explanation. Unfortunately, all we got here were some forgettable Flintstones references and the realization that they really didn’t need a sequence involving a Mercedes driving through a street hockey game to send out the message that Mr. Krauss was in a hurry. Since I’m not a resident of the US I’m not even going to wonder if kids playing street hockey in New York would discuss the Flintstones, but given the four issue limit, that’s more than one page wasted on the kids playing hockey that could instead have been spent on (among other things) character development for Nick and the voices in his head . That’s what’s wrong with this book – it underperforms.
The writers had a great idea and they really could have come up with an excellent piece of work if they had just been patient and fleshed it out a little more. We like chase stories. We like chase stories for the near misses. We like chase stories to see the mild mannered smart guy give the slip to the big bad psychos. Talent is at its core, a chase story so the lack of near misses / escapades is surprising…especially when you have both the Feds and the bad guys gunning for a protagonist with potentially one hundred and forty seven talents at his disposal. Maybe a five or six chapter arc instead of the hurried four chapter arc would’ve worked much better. Get more into the plot, make things a little tougher for the good guy, give the bad guys more to work with, put in some explanations/back story and then you’ve got something. To be fair the writers might have had a longer series planned so I can understand not going all out in the first arc and leaving the loose ends for the second volume or the rest of the series. Unfortunately when that doesn’t pan out you’re left with a book without enough of a story to iron out its flaws.
Speaking of flaws, I’d like to see a “thirty five year old never been in a fight” English professor who looks the part. This guy looks a lot younger and I’m not sure if swimming and cardio is an adequate explanation. Again, I like to have a protagonist I can relate to and be on a first name basis with but I’m making a conscious effort referring to him as Nick instead of “this guy”. I know it’s too much to expect the likes of Peter Parker or Yorrick Brown to show up in every book containing a single white New Yorker, but the least you could do is give us some details. Was he a resident or was he just visiting? Why was he on the plane? So he had absolutely no family he could turn to…nobody showing up to claim him at the hospital…not even his students? Most importantly, why him…and not some Wall Street hot shot who could give every dead passenger’s relatives a trust fund?
I liked the bad guy – Krauss. I don’t think the writers planned on giving him superpowers but I’m putting him up there with the Batman as far as the science of deduction is concerned. His boss didn’t seem too menacing and the assassin couple Mr. Payne and Ms.Abel end up doing too many side jobs and don’t do enough here.
About the art – maybe I was skipping pages too quickly, but there were subtle plot elements that I noticed only after glancing through the script at the end of the story (bonus feature). I’m not sure if it was the smaller trade size format, the reflective paper, the moving vehicle or a combination of all three but I’m not sure they got the sketch/ink ratio right on this one. I get the part about wanting to make it look dark (and it does) but I couldn’t recognize Nick in a wedding photograph that his ex-wife was holding and I also couldn’t spot the tear drop on it so it took me a while till I figured out she was his ex-wife. The art would’ve worked better if we were dealing with known characters but over here where we are supposed to empathize with a new character based on what we see, the art needed to do more. I think Talent is more suited for a digital version, with smart panels on a large screen. Boom studios may want to take a leaf out of Marvel’s book there.
One panel had mixed up speech balloons which fortunately wasn’t too hard to overlook.
Wikipedia tells me that Talent was picked up by Universal Studios after its first issue sold out. If we get a movie I’ll go watch it if they can get an actor who makes the life of Nick Dane worth watching. The TV series option looks more interesting – especially if they get this story over with in the pilot and then flesh out the characters in the rest of the season.
Coming back to the book, it’s good for a long taxi ride or a short flight. It’s a fun read if that’s what you’re looking for and the negatives kick in only towards the end of the fourth. I’ll recommend a purchase at marked down prices (Sale/Exhibition at Ashish Book Stores was where I picked it up along with other Boom Studios titles) to readers who really like to see what the alternatives to Vertigo/DC/Marvel are up to. Well worth a download if you’re the downloading type (the larger screen may suit the art). If they do come up with a solid second story arc this may be a good series to follow. Till then, it’s somebody’s unfinished business.Publisher Boom! Studios Schedule Monthly Format Mini-series Publication date May-October 2006 Number of issues 4 Letterer(s) Marshall Dillon Colorist(s) Ron Riley, Editor(s) Marshall Dillon Author writing credits: Collectively – B.P.R.D :Hollow Earth and Other Stories, Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Individually –Tom Sniegoski – Stupid, Stupid Rat Tails