Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, August 16, 2008
      ( 8/16/2008 11:18:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"THIS ISN'T TEACHING, IT'S CHILD ABUSE!" When we first see Andy Wicks, the middle-aged middle-management protagonist of Alex Robinson's Too Cool to Be Forgotten (Top Shelf), he's standing in the dark, smoking what he hopes will be his last cigarette. Accompanied by his wife Lynn, Andy has come to a holistic medical center to be hypnotized out of his nicotine addiction. But once put under by a kindly medicine lady, he finds himself back in 1985 - a sophomore in high school. Balding Andy has seemingly physically regressed into his longhaired 15-year-old self even as he retains his unreliable memories of everything that's to come. Our hero first thinks that the reason behind his trip to the past is to revisit the moment he had his first cigarette and Just Say No this time. But, actually, there's deeper unfinished business for young Andy to resolve - and not just with the girl he had an unfulfilled teen crush on either.

Aficionados of '80s cinema will immediately recognize the sources for Mr. Wicks' time trek back to the hallowed hall of high school: Back to the Future and Peggy Sue Got Married. Robinson knows this and even includes a variation on Peggy Sue's algebra joke - plus a ref to the "new Michael J. Fox movie" that's showing in town. But the writer/artist is after deeper comedy than either of these two gimmicky popcorn flicks. For Andy, his time-traveling experience proves more bittersweet than broadly comic. He half recalls his friends' and family's futures, but there are no simple sitcom solutions that will change the course of their lives. Even his big play for the girl he let get away in high school turns messy as our adult-minded hero suddenly freaks out in a moment of adolescent passion.

Andy's efforts at pushing his friends out of their wholly age-appropriate shortsightedness prove ultimately futile but amusing. Robinson possesses a knowing eye and ear for the lives of eighties teens. ("TV and movies can make you forget how awkward and . . . unformed they are," our hero thinks of his peers. "Maybe a realistic portrayal would be too boring . . . or too painful.") He catches his believable characters with a clean cartoon work reminiscent in places of a kinder R. Crumb or a less self-loathing Joe Matt. There are some genuinely affecting character moments in this short little graphic novel, not just between Andy and his teen buds but also - in the book's big finale - between a boy and his dying parent. That last proves to be the real emotional impetus behind Andy's hypno time traveling, and if Robinson's foreshadowing of it is more than a little obvious, the book's climax is so convincingly rendered that we're willing to forgive a few broad missteps. While we leave Too Cool not entirely sure if our man has successfully given up smoking, we know that his brief visit to the past has yielded some potent life changes.
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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