Even at his most innocuous, Matt Kindt is sequential art’s shiftiest magician, with Mind MGMT standing as his most cunning and duplicitous trick. In its 18th issue, this all-but-peerless Dark Horse series continues to monthly render me agape with the nuance and range of its slight-of-hand storytelling. Just when you think there couldn’t be a new dark corner for this book to scuttle off into, it changes things up and lurks in the light. Issue 18 follows the story of a girl named Ella, recruited in her youth by Mind Management for her rudimentary ability to empathically communicate with animals. We watch through Ella’s point of view as her powers evolve and she is quite literally “snapped-up” for agent training. In ways you’ll have to see unfold for yourself, this does not go according to plan, mostly because the motivations of Mind Management, at least as regards its treatment of animals as Kamikaze agents, are antithetical to her own. In the end, this leads to an inevitable split and her reemergence at the behest of Meru, who wishes to recruit Ella to her faction of currently-warring Mind Management agents.
Many of these familiar characters show up in the background of Ella’s story, sometimes more directly (as is the case with the significantly-featured Henry Lyme), and sometimes only mentioned in a textual cameo capacity in the writing that once again grows like a shiver up the book’s spine. In so doing, Kindt once again burdens his world with breadth, while simultaneously making it more intricately-woven at its core, tugging at new threads, in this case personified in Ella.
Mind MGMT #18 reminds me in a way of internet videos I’ve recently seen and been existentially disturbed by ... and I mean that in a good way! Most notable amongst these are “Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared 2” and “Teddy Has an Operation,” both of which you should watch on YouTube when you get a chance and/or develop the need to feel deeply disconcerted. This issue may not be as visually severe as those videos, but the childlike dissection of each one’s core concept puts them at very least in the same abattoir.
That feeling, of course, is in no small part to Kindt’s art, which continues to be itself childlike yet menacing in context, like hearing a baby’s laugh in a dark, empty room. Kindt is up to his old tricks again here, playing the measure of otherwise placid panels (like one where Ella feels the soul escaping an animal as it quietly dies) against those with perhaps more overt sound and fury (the stampede), at once showcasing his own range and that of the emotions inherent within his lead’s misadventure.
Another page of note is Ella’s presumed view of Shangri-La (Mind Management’s hidden training facility), which in her memory is populated by anthropomorphic animal representations of its agents. It’s a great way to undermine a story that is made all the more grave by its disingenuous implication of ethical chastity.
Of course, this is Mind MGMT we’re talking about here, and as I mentioned above, there is more at play than just the evident. The principal narrative is once again set surrounded by those that skulk and circle like a pack of wolves at its boundaries, furthering the story’s holistic devour. While the case files on either side expand the universe ever further, the marginal text within the story this time supports the children’s storybook style of the entire issue, insidiously eliciting insinuations from its audience in much the same way Dora the Explorer or that guy from Blue’s Clues might. And its effect is ... unsettling.
Finally, we get a massively interesting quasi-crossover advertorial aside between Dark Horse’s Mind MGMT and Valiant’s current event book, Unity, which of course is also penned by Kindt. Here presented as a Mind Management case file wherein an agent develops weapons based on characters like X-O Manowar and Ninjak (who are explicitly named), it’s a great bit of cross-marketing, and I’m glad both sides went along with it.
I think this approach further highlights the community feel of the independent comic book market, particularly in contrast to the catty bickering and petulant navel-gazing of the Big Two. Along with most things going on in the independent world, both creatively and structurally, Marvel and DC would do well to learn something from this kind of comic camaraderie.
In any event, Kindt’s subversive approach to story in his most famed independent book continues to be exceptional in this, the official halfway point in the series (its 36th issue is reported to be its last), and shows how what would otherwise be classified as “filler” material can be re-conceived as something integral to the story.
Writer/Artist/Creator: Matt Kindt Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 1/22/14