Review: Dept. H #1

Matt Kindt is not a divisive figure in the world of comics. His graphic novels, most notably Super Spy, Red-handed, and 3story, have received universal acclaim while his first ongoing, Mind MGMT which came to an end last year was universally hailed for its creativity and consistency. But while Matt Kindt is well liked to the comics community, he is a divisive creator to me personally. While I recognize the genius of his works, especially Mind MGMT, I am often left cold by Kindt's sketchy, impressionistic artwork. I admire that Kind twrites and illustrates his work, allowing him a level of control over his work unavailable to others, but to me his work often looks crude and rushed. This is specifically notable with his characters who have only a handful of facial expressions and tend to be hard to differentiate.  As such, going into Kindt's new ongoing, Dept. H, I was curious if it might finally be the title that sold me on Matt Kindt. Much like Mind MGMT, Dept. H, written by Kindt and his wife Sharlene, begins from the perspective of a young woman investigating a shadowy organization with ties to her family, only instead of a sleeper cell of psychics, this time it's a mood undersea lab. Mia is introduced descending, with the help of the gigantic tattooed Q, to the base of Dept H (get it? Depth--I felt so clever when I figured that out). As we find out via flashback, her father , the founder of the Dept. H, has recently died in an accident that appears to have been sabotage. USEAR, the government organization who oversees (or overseas, heh) the lab has sent her to investigate knowing that if there is a mole, it must be one of the seven remaining crew members.

Dept H #1 CoverIn other words, it's a murder mystery, and, despite some of Kindt's signature playful formatting (the comic pages appear to be ripped out of a science notebook), it's a very by-the-numbers one. We are given a grieving family member, a group of quirky suspects each with ties to Mia, and a crime scene replete with possible evidence. It actually is almost identical to the board game Clue, leading me to hope that when the mystery is solved it will be in the form of a sentence like "Dr. Jerome in the biolab with a squid." While the murder mystery is a solid format, Kindt doesn't do enough here to differentiate it from the basic pattern of such stories. The last page is a literal and awkward list of the suspects giving us on-the-nose statements like "Lily, my childhood friend, we've had a falling out.". I trust that Kindt, or in this case, the Kindts, have some sort of grand subversion of the cliches planned, but for the moment, the issue felt a bit bland.

On the bright side, I was impressed by the artwork which shows a good deal of growth from the simple, often incomprehensibly scribbled lowpoints of his past work. The undersea setting makes better use of Kindt's sparse background and highlights his watercoloring abilities, always his greatest artistic strength. I still find his character work more than a little ugly, but there's a new specificity to the designs, allowing me for the first time in any Kindt book to easily tell each character apart. Time will tell whether it will be easier to emotionally invest in the characters this time around, but I came away feeling much more positive about Kindt's abilities.

So to put things simply, Dept. H, was the opposite of what I expected with strong art and a fairly forgettable story.  It would definitely be a mistake to read too much into a single issue of the book as Mind MGMT showed just how slowly and carefully Kindt can build his story into something special. As it is, I am unconvinced Dept H will be a masterpiece, but I will be happy to be proved wrong.

[button btn_url="" btn_color="pink" btn_size="large" btn_style="default" btn_outlined="no" link_target="blank" link_rel="" icon_left="" icon_right=""]Score: 3/5[/button]

Dept. H #1 Writers: Matt Kindt and Sharlene Kindt Artist: Matt Kindt Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 4/27/16 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital