There is such a close relationship today between comics and movies, it nearly feels redundant to call a comic “cinematic.” And while there are many obvious differences between film and printed sequential art (three vs. two dimensions, time-based rather than stationary, auditory vs. read), the best comics can do what the best movies can do: transport the audience into a world so vivid and kinetic that it seems to be real. Talent comes close at times to that, but it is also filmic in another way: it has the genre conventions of an ass kicking action movie. In this sense, Talent seems to be like a film because it is more influenced by film than it does by other comics. This connection may eventually come full-circle, too, as Talent was the subject of major bidding war by five movie studios, and will likely eventually become a film of its own.
Talent would seem to have many elements to make a great film, as well. The premise is great. A plane explodes approaching New York and goes down into the ocean. There is a survivor named Nicholas Dane, who has no right to be alive. Hunted by the powerful sect that downed the plane, Dane has to literally run for his life. He is able to survive because he has absorbed the memories and skills of the other passengers on the plane. The fact that a heavyweight boxer was a passenger proves highly useful when the goons come for Dane in his hospital. Yet Dane also feels compelled to pass messages and settle unfinished business for the deceased passengers. Done well, the movie version could play like a supernatural version of the Bourne series.
The other obvious touchstone is the television series Lost. While Talent doesn’t employ the same focus on the other passengers as on Lost, the aura of mystery, shady nefarious forces at work, and a perceived belief that we are not really in control of our own lives would seem to link the two works. However, while Lost focuses closely on the characters, such that viewers feel they know them, it is one of the weaknesses of Talent that the characters in the series do not seem fully realized.
Over the course of the four issues included in the collected trade paperback, we learn about what is happening to Dane but little about Dane himself. We know that he is a college professor in his thirties. Other than meeting a few of his friends, we don’t know very much about Dane. Perhaps that is intentional, and maybe the creators of Talent felt he worked better as tabula rasa on which to project the memories of the other passengers. However, with a few exceptions, we don’t really get much about those characters, either. There is something sympathetic about a man who is thrust into situations beyond his control without his consent. Readers are likely to sympathize with him.
Yet the evil forces in Talent don’t foster any sort of genuine evil weight. There’s the quasi-religious cult known as the Cardinals, their henchman Federal Investigator David Krause, and the for-hire assassin couple Abel and Payne. Though they are effective at carrying the story forward, none truly holds our interest. The Cardinals are so mysterious as to be ciphers. Krause is played like your typical crooked and ruthless agent (he has his thugs murdered when they fail him) but without an ounce of charisma. Abel and Payne are offered as more likeable as they are in it solely for the money, yet Payne takes such delight in his torture of victims that it’s hard to really root for them, either.
The problems with believable antagonist characters might not be so crucial if the plot of Talent was airtight, but it’s not. It’s inventive, interesting and complex but also doesn’t really hold together with thought. The motives behind why the plane was bombed are so dubious that it seems like a set-up to a better background story that never comes. Likewise, the explanation behind Dane’s mysterious powers is so unsatisfyingly incomplete that it would have probably been better to leave it a mystery. However, Talent, as written by horror/fantasy novelists Golden and Sniegowski, is not the type of story meant for character investment and logical plots, it is meant as a story with a relentless pace of suspense and snappy dialog. Talent does score high on both of those marks. It is easy to get immersed in this book.
While the series was called limited, there may be plans to extend the story as many (actually, most) of the story threads are left unresolved. If this is so, the plan may be to have a slow reveal of the conspiracies at work and the people who were originally involved, a la Lost. While many have accused J.J. Abrams’s show of seeming smarter than it actually is, there is an expertise at storytelling that covers many of the holes in logic. Talent gets a lot of mileage of its great premise, as well as its dynamic and expressive art by Paul Azaceta. It doesn’t quite deliver on the goods it promises, though. No doubt Talent will wind up as a movie, likely a successful one. It does ultimately, though, feel closer to a summer popcorn flick with its thrills and kills than a well-crafted, intelligent and riveting character study like the classic suspense films.