For a series that advertises itself as a surreal mystery, getting Damon Lindelof (co-creator and co-showrunner of “Lost”) to write the introduction to this first volume of “Mind MGMT” does not exactly inspire confidence. While I certainly don’t regret investing my time in the six seasons of that show, the fact that he and the rest of the writing staff constantly set up little mysteries and at least one major plot thread (Walt!) that they either had no intention of answering or were ultimately not able to follow up on sours my memories of it. The good news is that this first volume of “Mind MGMT” doesn’t have that problem. Its problem is that we’re told too much... and that the story here hinges upon an awful trope.
Meru is a journalist who had some real success a few years back with a bestselling true crime book. Since then, she hasn’t been able to follow up on it and is now reaching the end of her rope professionally and financially. It’s when she’s watching a special on a plane where all of the passengers and crew developed amnesia that Meru gets the idea for what her next book will be about. Following this idea leads her down a rabbit hole filled with immortal assassins, writers whose ideas spread like viruses, a man who can see the future with perfect clarity, and another who can make anyone do whatever he wants and have them like him for it. The fact that the CIA is also involved is really more quaint than anything else here.
That there’s a secret organization controlling society and making it conform to their plans is nothing new in fiction, but writer/artist Matt Kindt does have a few novel twists to distinguish his take on this concept. The operatives of Mind MGMT are all trained in specific abilities which affect them in disturbing ways. You’ve got the Immortals who are able to shrug off any damage no matter how severe and maintain a placid, emotionless detachment as they pursue their objective throughout the book with singleminded determination. Another individual’s gifts drives them to suicide, while another takes no pleasure in life at all as he knows how it’s going to turn out.
Then you’ve got the guy who can make anyone do anything, whose story winds up being the most interesting thing about the book. It sounds like it’d be a gift that’s ripe for exploitation, but the character is not that kind of man. Kindt takes a more interesting tact with exploring those abilities and shows how they can be corrosive to one’s sense of self. After all, if you can make anyone do anything and have them love you while you do, how do you know what’s real and what’s not? How do you know your wife and daughter really love you? What happens when you start questioning yourself so much that you can’t take it anymore? A good portion of the book is devoted to this man’s story and it’s certainly time well spent.
Kindt also gets points for playing with the structure and form of the book as well. The narrative word panels seem fairly innocuous and not out of place here at all. Then the tense and perspective start changing and you realize that the narrator is quite present after all. Looking at these boxes again with the full knowledge of who’s speaking in them puts an interesting new slant on things. There’s also a trick with the book’s form as Kindt puts a new twist on a trick he tried out in one of his previous graphic novels, “Revolver.” In that story, there was text at the bottom of every page that read like a news feed for the events of whatever alternate reality was on the page at the time. The page numbers were also worked into this text as well for added cleverness. Here, to the left of nearly every page is a rule from the Mind MGMT handbook which makes for interesting flavor text at first. Then the text starts talking at you and things get strange.
So while this collection had some things I really liked about it, I ultimately found it to be less than satisfying. While I do appreciate that we’re told about what happened to Mind MGMT and what was behind the strange massacre in the opening pages later in this volume, it feels like there is literally zero mystery to be had here. Though the creators of “Lost” ultimately showed what happens when you have too much of it, a little mystery can be a compelling tool to keep the reader or viewer’s interest in the narrative at hand.
To be honest, that’s an easy issue to forgive. What REALLY bothered me about this volume was that Meru’s journey ultimately turns out to be a zero-sum-game that climaxes in an unforgivably obvious fashion. I didn’t feel any sense of tragedy or impending doom as the realization started to dawn on me as to what Kindt was going to do to his protagonist. It was more like, “I can’t believe he’s going to do THAT!” After getting to the end of the story only to be confronted with such an obvious cop-out, I was left wondering what the point of all this was. Revealing that the whole thing was masterminded by a polar bear would’ve been more satisfying.
Kindt’s art doesn’t really make things go down easier. Though I can appreciate the level of craft on display in his drawings and the overall form of the book, his characters all have a downcast, vaguely depressive look to them most of the time. Not only does this make it hard to empathize with them, but that feeling permeates a lot of the book. Granted, this is a downbeat, vaguely depressing kind of story so that was probably Kindt’s intent. Still, the end result is that his art feels more workmanlike than anything else and doesn’t elevate the material.
Even though I was very disappointed by the ending of the main story here, I still find myself morbidly curious as to where things will go from here. I noted that there’s no mystery to be solved. The only hint of an ongoing story comes from the Immortals pursuit of Meru and even that’s somewhat derailed by the end of the narrative. So against my better judgment, I think I’ll be picking up the second volume just see what Kindt does with the world and creators that he has created here. If nothing else, I can at least appreciate that he and Dark Horse have made doing so an affordable proposition. This volume is 200 (thick) pages for $20, a standard for pricing that Marvel hasn’t shown an inclination to match in years.