Written by O'Brian Gunn
While some of us may have more than a few not-so-bad memories of high school, we can all agree that none of us knew quite what the hell we were doing other than trying to figure ourselves out - just like we had to figure out the right way to use the Pythagorean theorem and how to untangle the mysteries of Middle English. In Too Cool To Be Forgotten, Alex Robinson gives main character (Andy Wicks) an unexpected opportunity to get high school right (if that’s at all possible to do) when he’s hypnotized in an attempt to undo his smoking habit.
Too Cool is a quick read with a tight, satisfying plot. Andy Wicks has tried anything and everything to quit smoking, but smoking seems to have made him a habit just as much as he’s made smoking a habit. Desperate, Andy goes to a hypnotist, an opening scene that brilliantly gives us most of his history and character profile with a single page displaying his new patient form at the hypnotist’s office. Rather than ending up as the next Manchurian Candidate or being pulled into The Sunken Place, Andy is instead swayed back into his high school body with his adult mind intact. What else does he change besides his answer the first time he was offered a cigarette?
Something that immediately struck me upon cracking open Robinson’s short but sweet selection was his use of light and shadow. While the utility isn’t original or isolated (Sin City immediately jumps to my noir-infused mind), what I liked most was how Robinson uses the composition juxtaposition to paint the picture of a man trapped in the shadow of his past while attempting to spark a light for his future. Robinson also paints a literal picture with words that was a nice alternative to the typical thought bubble.
Moving past the artwork and digging into the story, I enjoyed how Too Cool touched on how everyone has contemplated returning to high school with the knowledge and wisdom they have now in an effort to do better. But if you had done things “better,” would you still have the same insight that allowed you to change things in your favor? Would you still be the same person? Because Andy is a geek and relatively happy with his present-day life, he’s careful not to make too many ripples in the time stream; although, he is certainly tempted to shuffle the cards more than a few times.
While Andy re-lives his way toward “that moment,” he thinks about how he lost touch with some of his high school friends/classmates and how some of them eventually ended up as adults. Even with social media, we can still easily lose contact with people from high school that we still consider friends. Friends who may have turned out completely different from what we expected when we knew them in high school. Popular kids can have their popularity snatched away from them as soon as they walk across the graduation stage; the quiet kids can later find their voices in surprising and bold career choices; and the geeks and nerds can prove to be the only ones who truly know, understand, and accept who they are from the jump.
At one point in his journey, Alex almost gives in to his raging teenage hormones when he’s at a party, the very one where he lit up his first cigarette. But because he has the mind of a 40-year-old, Andy feels he is taking advantage of the high school girl - one who’s young enough to be his daughter. While the two are biologically the same age, Andy still feels as if he almost committed statutory rape, a detail I’m glad Robinson explored. It’s this knowledge of the present and the past that brings our main character equal measures of grief and comfort.
And I cannot end this review without talking about “the conversation” at the end of the story. I would be utterly ruining the experience by revealing the details, but I will say that it was every bit as emotional as promised and fit the narrative perfectly. When it comes to bad habits, it’s not enough to quit, you have to have a bone-deep reason to stay off the wagon day after day no matter how tired you may be of walking.
I enjoyed the hell outta Too Cool, as you can easily see. It’s a rapid read that hits all the right notes. Rather than wishing we’d done things differently in high school (or any other time in life), maybe it’s better that we focus on manifesting a present that’s free of regrets. As long as you can say that you do the best you can with what you have, you’re sure to have memories of a life that’s too cool to be forgotten.
Page Length: 125 pgs
Recommend Buy New, Buy Used/On Sale, or Skip: Absolutely buy new
Next Up: The black comedy/drama Super is directed by James Gunn, who tells the story of a short-order cook (played by Rainn Wilson) who takes on an alternate superpower-less alter ego called the Crimson Bolt to save his ex-wife from the wiles of a drug dealer. Should be interesting to see how well (if at all) this movie holds up after it was first released in 2010, especially since Gunn went on to direct Guardians of the Galaxy.