Monday, January 20, 2014

Best Comics of 2013, No. 4: Mind Mgmt.

The National Lampoon once ran an article purporting to discuss the nature of pornography. One of the examples given was a single panel gag depicting dogs humping while a policeman watched and recited political slogans. The article said, "this is not pornography. Anyway, we're not sure what's going on here."
That's the way I felt when I began reading Matt Kindt's Mind Mgmt. (the not sure what's going on aspect, not the porn question) - a bit nonplussed, but in a great way. I've been an admirer of well-crafted solipsistic paranoia since The Prisoner first ran on American TV.
A plane lands with everyone aboard, save one girl, afflicted with amnesia.
The girl in question becomes a reluctant celebrity as a result of the incident. She authored a bestseller based on her experiences, but her career since then has been precarious at best.
Her daily life as an investigative journalist is hampered by her insistence on delving into The Event, as it comes to be known, at the expense of her current assignments.
As you might surmise, there's more going on here than even those cryptic events imply.
Our heroine, Meru, is propelled into an international journey of discovery, searching for the mysterious figure known only as The Manager.
The obvious comparisons apply. The work evokes Kafka, Phillip K. Dick, the aforementioned The Prisoner, and in some senses, more mainstream paranoia like The X-Files and its predecessor Kolchak, the Night Stalker, though the paranormal plays a diminished role in Mind Mgmt. 
Note the border elements/story!
As the narrative unfolds, we are drawn deeper into it in almost Machiavellian ways. The pages are bordered with text that unfolds a related story and offers excerpts from the Mind Mgmt. manual. These become inside messages to the reader, clues to what may really be going on. And in an aspect that's frustrating to those of us who sometimes prefer to read these stories as collections, there's a third (or fourth) story unfolding on the inside front covers of the individual issues. This sub-story is not included in the first collection (I've yet to read the second). So there's a piece of the story that you can only get by buying the back issues, at least as of this writing. Grr.
 I've had sporadic and passing acquaintance with Kindt's other work. I enjoyed his work on the New 52 Justice League series, but an earlier solo work, 2 Sisters, left me cold.  Very well crafted, but just too melancholy and too detached for my tastes. In contrast, though it also has its morose aspects, his work on Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. is an over-the-top romp through the best chaos that escapist fiction has to offer. He also contributed some material to Jeff Lemire's wonderful Sweet Tooth. Kindt's 3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man is on my short list for catching up on my reading, and has been optioned for filming.
Meanwhile, back at the story:
Kindt's design and color sense
are also vital parts of the story.
Even here, Meru is more a cipher than a fully fleshed-out character at times. While she does drive events, she is more driven than she is the driver, if you get my drift. There's an undertone that even within the story, her life has been scripted for her, and she's struggling to care about it. But there's enough of her here that we do care what happens to her (which I did not experience reading 2 Sisters), and I will revisit the narrative when Vol. 2 makes its way to the library. The regular series is ongoing from Dark Horse, with issue no. 18 due out this Wednesday. Again, kudos to Dark Horse. Their business model is a comic line that maintains an effective balance of licensed and more mainstream titles and ambitious experiments. Mind Mgmt. is a challenging and worthwhile example of the latter.
Next: Best Comics of 2013, No. 3: a tie!

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