Talent Show Troubles Review

By | Thursday, May 18, 2023 Leave a Comment
Talent Show Troubles is the latest in a growing collection of comics that allow the reader to follow different paths within the same story, leading to a variety of different outcomes. It's the comic equivalent of the old "Choose Your Own Adventure" series. The first attempt I'd seen at something like that was Jason Shiga's Meanwhile... from 2010; the story, by design, was fairly chaotic and right from the earliest choices, the reader was shown that casual choices (e.g. chocolate or vanilla) led to different, seemingly random, conclusions. The books I've seen since then seem to have followed more logical storytelling and try to provide a more cohesive narrative.

Two of the more recent books I've seen, Shiga's Leviathan and Rianne van Duin's Your Adventure, are actually so directed as to be more of a game with puzzles and tasks that need to be completed before the reader can reach the ultimate conclusion. George Wylesol's 2120 seems to be in that same vein, but it's executed poorly enough that a wrong turn can send the reader into an inescapable loop. (I tried going through it multiple times and got stuck at several different points that didn't allow you to continue or move backwards, and solving puzzles incorrectly just sent you to an unrelated part of the story, so I never got further than maybe a third of the way through.)

Which leads me to Jess Smart Smiley's Talent Show Troubles, which came out back in April. The basic premise is that the protagonist Megan is in charge of putting on the Sunbright Middle School talent show; however, a number of issues crop up which force the reader to decide how Megan should handle things. Does she own up to forgetting her notes at home or does she just try to wing it from memory? Does she force the sick student onto the stage to introduce all the acts or does she take up the mic herself? There are, according to the back cover, 29 possible endings with some being more successful than others. (I got to one that ended with a mostly good talent show and Megan getting out of trouble by tricking the Vice-Principal to sleep, and I came to another that ended with Megan being arrested and taken to jail!) The various paths are generally entertaining, and Smiley's illustration style lends itself well to the comedic portions.

However, I didn't find the decision trees to be very consistent in their outcomes. That is, trying to make choices that regularly had Megan owning up to her mistakes and trying to take responsibility for her actions sometimes led to a positive results and sometimes led to negative ones. Likewise, trying to choose a path that relied on running away or hiding from her problems sometimes worked out very well for Megan and sometimes didn't. There didn't seem to be a real sense of cause and effect; outcomes almost came across as random and you couldn't predict a good ending by choosing the "right" option. It felt a little like Meanwhile... in that regard, but within the context of that book, Shiga set up very early on that the choices were effectively meaningless in trying to get to the "right" ending. Talent Show Troubles is aimed squarely at kids, so maybe I'm putting too much emphasis on logic and critical thinking, and they'd be happy with any sort of surprise that pops up throughout the story.

I did quite like the Easter Egg side-story with Megan's hamster/gerbil/fuzzy-pet-thing Vincent. It's completely inconsequential to Megan's story and doesn't even really do much for Vincent, but that Smiley included it as a branch that you can only find if you're paying careful attention to the art was a nice surprise.

The original "Choose Your Own Adventure" series was popular enough to spawn several imitation lines but, for whatever reason, I haven't seen much of that within comics just yet. That said, Talent Show Troubles does appear to have a "What Happens Next?" line branding, and Smiley has another book called Science Fair Frenzy due out in June that appears to be a follow-up to this one. Perhaps getting several successful books in a line will encourage other publishers to view previous attempts as less of a handful of one-off attempts, and something that can be imitated. I know I certainly enjoyed those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books as a kid, and I'd definitely like to see more current creators attempt similar stories in comics.
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