Mind MGMT is one of the best comic books on the stands right now. It’s a complex, densely plotted sci-fi mystery that takes us inside the world of the titular government agency, a secret organization comprised of psychics with the ability to shape major events. Writer/artist Matt Kindt makes allusions to fellow pop culture puzzles Lost (an event onboard a mysterious flight 815 kicks things off) and The Third Man (a pivotal figure is named Henry Lyme) while concocting a story that seems wholly original. With each issue, Kindt invites you further and further down the rabbit hole, an invitation that’s hard to resist. If that were all it had going for it, Mind MGMT would still be worth talking about.
But the series, published by Dark Horse, is also making a strong case for monthly reading at a time when many readers have become “trade-waiters,” waiting for the inevitable trade paperback collections of certain story arcs. Kindt, known for graphic novels like Super Spy and Revolver, says that he doesn’t read monthly comics anymore. In the letter column at the end of the first issue of Mind MGMT, he writes, “I want the reading of this monthly book to be unique. I want it to be something that can’t be replicated in a trade. Something that hasn’t been done before.”
To that end, each issue features exclusive material that won’t be reprinted in the trade. Unlike half-hearted efforts by other titles, there’s more here than just sketches or pin-ups. There’s a second story in each issue; quite literally, as these stories go under the heading “The Second Story.” The inside front cover has the first page of the story, and then after you’ve read everything else the issue has to offer, the inside back cover finishes it. These stories aren’t mere decoration, either, building a history for their fictional world by covering everything from Mind MGMT’s creation during World War I to its experiments with “magic” in the ‘70s.
Other incentives include “mind memos” or “case files,” introducing what appear to be ancillary characters that will eventually play important roles; or, for the first six-issue arc, ads on the back covers for fake products like Clearhed face cream and juice drink BE iT containing codes that could be used to unlock further information on the book’s website. (If you go to the website now, it asks for a password; as far as I can tell, you can enter anything and it takes you to a set of extras, including a fascinating breakdown of Kindt’s scripting and art process.)
In interviews, Kindt reveals more of his desire to foster the kind of communal experience the comics industry seems to be leaving behind. There’s the aforementioned letter column, which itself is becoming a rarity. DC hasn’t featured one in their books since 2002, while Marvel’s are sporadic, leaving indie books like Kindt’s to rescue this once important aspect of the ritual. With Facebook, Twitter, and a variety of other social media, it’s not that discussion isn’t happening. It’s that it doesn’t occupy the special place it used to. Talking with Biff Bam Pop! at Mind MGMT’s launch last summer, Kindt said that he misses “the anticipation of waiting 30 days for the next issue – and talking about what’s happening with friends and trying to guess what’s going to happen – it’s so much more interactive that way. It creates a dialogue – between readers and other readers, and readers and me – and I love that.”
Another quote from that interview jumped out at me: “…I’m trying to avoid the addition of big blocks of text that does serve to slow you down and is content but isn’t comics – I want it to be all comics!” The distinction between “content” and “comics” is what stands out. It’s hard to read “big blocks of text” without calling to mind a writer like Brian Michael Bendis, someone whose work I’ve greatly enjoyed but who could be accused of an over-reliance on telling instead of showing. Kindt’s point may be a little purist, but it’s one I understand. Many comics are weighted down with exposition and dialogue, while very few seem to explore the medium’s unique storytelling potential.
That’s something Mind MGMT would never be accused of. Even more than the extra content, what makes it such a thrilling and involving read is that there’s so much to absorb on each page. There’s certainly plenty of detail to pick up on in Kindt’s rough, stylized artwork, but each page is also formatted as a report from the files of Mind MGMT. At first, it’s easy to dismiss the blue type running up the left margins, but take a closer look and you’ll find that they’re actually excerpts from a Mind MGMT field guide. The text seems fairly standard but grows increasingly weirder, eventually transforming into something of an oblique commentary on whatever’s happening on the rest of the page.
The most recent issue, #7, introduces two new devices to go along with the new story arc. Replacing the field guide excerpts are selections from the main character’s true crime novel, along with a comic strip that runs along the bottom of the page and plays into the main story. It’s a lot to take in, and while I imagine it could border on sensory overload for new readers, it absolutely ensures that you get the most bang for your buck. These days, plunking down $3 or $4 for a single comic book isn’t a decision made lightly, and for good reason. Your average comic, whether it consists of superhero derring-do or headier independent stuff, only takes five to ten minutes to read and doesn’t usually demand a second read-through.
I read Mind MGMT #7 four times. Once for the main story, once for the true crime excerpts, once for the bottom strip, and one final time to see how all the pieces informed one another. That’s four completely different experiences within a mere 24 pages, an offer that no other book right now can rival. Mind MGMT experiments, innovates, and excites in a way that’s almost frighteningly casual. In other words, it’s all comics.
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