(NOTE: This is a repost. My initial attempt to post the review resulted in it being cut off about two paragraphs in. This is the complete review)
We often talk about the cinematic quality of comics. Usually when we talk like that, we are referring to large explosions, over the top action, and cinematic page layouts. However, for this review I am referring to Nick Spencer’s attempt to pull a Quentin Tarantino job with his graphic novel, Forgetless.
Forgetless is the biggest party in New York, but now it’s ending. On the final guest list: Sara and Sonia, struggling models turned professional killers; Derrick, a failed t-shirt maker and hypnotist’s assistant turned YouTube porn impresario; and a sex-addicted koala (don’t ask). Once their twisted paths cross, it’ll be a miracle if any of them live to see last call!
Yeah. It is that messed up.
Forgetless feels like a Tarantino film. Spencer plays with both non-linear storytelling as well as the trademark rapid-fire pop-culture banter of characters which populate Tarantino flicks. The sex and violence are over the top, the scenes cut and move at a dizzying pace, and you know that there is a killer soundtrack playing in the background.
Spencer’s characters are all shallow. They live in the present-tense, with no concern for what has happened or what the consequences of their actions will be. They move, act, and speak in bursts designed to be immediately quotable, tweetable, and assigned a Facebook status. Normally I would find this pretty annoying in a comic, but for the characters Spencer has created, it works. I will care about these characters for as long as I am reading the book just as these characters will care about what is happening only as long as they are in the scene.
Like a Tarantino movie, your enjoyment will vary depending on your tolerance of the narrative quirks. For some this will be an exciting graphic novel that demonstrates a different type of cinematic storytelling for comics. For others it will be a tedious exercise in spotting all the narrative techniques Spencer crams in the book.
Take the non-linear storytelling. Spencer uses this technique repeatedly through the book. In some cases it is incredibly effective (such as the opening pages). It ratchets up the tension and leaves the reader on the edge of their seat. In other cases it is annoying and does nothing but interrupt the flow of a scene for no discernable purpose (the other dozen or more times he uses the technique). Effective use of flashbacks and flash-forwards can be used to enrich a character or add nuance to a scene, simply messing with the flow of a story just to play around with it is a form of literary masturbation. It doesn’t make anyone but the author happy.
Spencer does not need to rely on all of his tricks. He has an interesting set-up. The characters, while shallow, serve their purpose and bring the reader along. They are another burst of light or beat in the music that makes up the atmosphere of the club. Their stories and motivations are interesting on their own. They don’t need to be stretched out or interwoven in an artificial manner. The characters should have been able to live and breathe on their own and arrive at their natural conclusion at the club. Having the one piece of non-linear storytelling at the beginning of the book would have been enough to ratchet up the tension for the reader.
The backup story is both more and less enjoyable than the main story. It is more enjoyable because it is told in a straightforward manner. Unfortunately, the story just is not as interesting as the complex story that preceded it.
It’s not bad. Far more has been made from far less. Had this story been given room to stretch (it clocks in at around 30 pages) it could have been a great piece. Had the characters been able to grow, develop, and overcome some real obstacles, then the piece really could have been something special.
Unfortunately, things happen too easily. Problems are resolved quickly and cleanly. There is no time for character growth (All three characters have more potential than any of the characters in the main story), so the characters move from “problem” to “problem” blissfully dealing with it. The end result seems like a Disney movie instead of a big adventure.
And that is the problem with the main story as well. Instead of working out a clever solution to the predicament Spencer wrote, he instead produces a Deus ex machina and everyone escapes unscathed, nothing learned, nothing gained. To return to the Tarantino idea, it would be like Mr. Pink returning with the diamonds and everyone walking away from the warehouse. It robs the movie and the characters of any poignancy or lasting impact.
In the end, Forgetless is a book that a person can pick up, enjoy, then cast aside and forget…much like a one night stand at a night club. It is interesting for as long as you are there, but I doubt it will stay with you for any length of time.