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Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Pull List: Mind MGMT

Posted by on Thu, Feb 6, 2014 at 1:56 PM

Mind MGMT #18
click to enlarge mind-mgmt-18-cover.jpg

by Matt Kindt
Dark Horse Comics


Imagine if every paranoid fantasy of remote surveillance, dangerous psyops and government mind-control was real—it doesn’t feel like much of a stretch from our current vantage, does it?—and embodied in a CIA-like organization, all wrapped in a deft literary puzzle-box.

You have just imagined Mind MGMT. In the latest issue of comics auteur Matt Kindt’s brain-bending postmodern thriller, a young girl named Ella discovers that she can intuit and influence the feelings of animals. She's soon recruited into the secret espionage organization after which the book is named.

The issue climaxes when Ella meets the ongoing series’ protagonist, a true-crime writer named Meru whose research into a mass-amnesia incident on a commercial airplane plunges her down a rabbit hole of psychic spies, manipulated memories and sleeper agents. As she begins trying to report on this shadow cell, she finds an ally—or is he?—in Henry Lyme, a rogue Mind MGMT agent who is trying to dismantle the organization, and who seems to have a connection to Meru’s foggy past. It's quickly made apparent to the reader that Meru has somehow done all of this before, and is drawing nearer to the true heart of the conspiracy with every pass.

This summary gives short shrift to the immense complexity of the story’s moving parts, but I can’t give too much away because figuring it all out is a big part of the fun. Kindt always stays one step ahead of the reader, expertly parceling out satisfying resolutions to mysteries while simultaneously sowing new ones to keep us on the hook. The writer and artist’s inventive, suspenseful plotting is a major source of Mind MGMT’s brilliance, but it’s only part of what the book has to offer.

Kindt ingeniously blurs medium and message, with supplementary stories framing the ongoing narrative and extra text—which might seem to be excerpted from Mind MGMT dossiers or from a book that is referenced in the main story—running down the gutters between panels, creating a palimpsest of perspectives and contexts. The result is a book that seems to be reading itself, its narrative frames layered and unstable. The reader becomes actively complicit in Meru’s attempt to work out the plot, experiencing instead of simply hearing about her disorientation. The implication is that we are not just readers of a comic book, but field agents in Mind MGMT’s fantastic but realistic world. 

The book is also simply a beautiful artifact to hold in your hands and pore over, with grainy paper stock that smells of the library, and secret codes and allusions to exhume crammed into every nook and cranny. (There are already websites entirely devoted to figuring them out.) The rough, assured elegance of Kindt’s calligraphic brush strokes and hazy ink washes eloquently convey both dynamic action and subtle emotion, and he writes with a dreamlike exactitude that perfectly suits the baroque clockwork of the plot.

The story in this issue is self-contained and makes for a great jumping-on point, but if you want to start at the beginning—and you should, as the story Kindt began in May of 2012 is still unfolding 18 issues later—the first six-issue arc is available in a handsome hardcover collection. (It's introduced by Damon Lindelof, whose show Lost was filled with Kindt-caliber intrigues but ruined them with sub-Kindt resolutions.) You’ll read through it once with rapt bafflement, until everything snaps into place with a The Usual Suspects-like click in issue six, sending you back to the start to re-read and comprehend through the lens of a climactic revelation that changes everything. It’s a thrilling enactment of the same process of discovery the book deals with, a tense cat-and-mouse game with the elusive nature of truth in a world of turbo-charged deception.

The first six-issue collection opens with a gripping sequence whose visual pacing is a master class for aspiring comic book storytellers. “Ever have a dream that was like a story…?” Meru asks in voiceover captions. “And at the end of the dream there’s a twist ending? How can your mind do that to you? You’re creating the dream.” Kindt shows us exactly how over the course of this incredibly cunning and original series. It’s the perfect monthly book to augment (or start) your pull list, the term for the subscription service most comic shops provide, from which this column takes its name. If you wonder why adults read comics, Mind MGMT is your answer, and #18 is on the stands right now.

Where to buy Mind MGMT:

Raleigh: Foundation’s Edge / Capitol Comics II

Durham: Ultimate Comics

Chapel Hill: Chapel Hill Comics

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