Mind MGMT’s complex, Lost-influenced structure shows the full potential of graphic storytelling

Mind MGMT’s complex, Lost-influenced structure shows the full potential of graphic storytelling

Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic-book issue of significance. This week, it’s Mind MGMT #10. Written and drawn by Matt Kindt (Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Super Spy), this issue showcases the complex storytelling and innovative visuals that have made Mind MGMT one of the most satisfying monthly comics available. Warning: spoilers ahead.

Except for his few issues of Frankenstein: Agent Of S.H.A.D.E, I’ve always read Matt Kindt’s work in graphic-novel format. I bought the first issue of his Dark Horse ongoing series Mind MGMT, but was overwhelmed by the simultaneous overflow of information and lack of exposition, which generally made me uneasy while reading. The non-linear story was challenging enough, but the addition of the Mind Management field guide along the side of the page made for a confusing experience; It felt like being handed a box of puzzle pieces without any visual context, and the pieces didn’t quite fit together on their own. Kindt’s work tends to be difficult to dive into, but yields impressive rewards for readers who stick with it, so I decided that I would wait for the trade to see how the entire story reads in one chunk rather than six monthly installments. Upon finishing the Mind MGMT hardcover released earlier this month (at the great price of $19.99), what was initially intimidating had become something beautiful and captivating, and after this week’s #10, a month seems like far too long to wait for the next chapter. 

Mind MGMT is about a stagnant writer, named Meru, trying to create her next big novel. It’s also about a man trying to atone for past mistakes, a government agency employing immensely powerful psychics, and the ways a family can grow out of circumstance as much as blood. The series begins with the writer angle, as Meru decides to investigate the mystery of Amnesia Flight #815, an event two years previous in which nearly all the passengers on an airplane had their memories erased. That journey leads her to Henry Lyme and Mind Management, the aforementioned government agency that disbanded after Lyme’s psychic abilities forced all the citizens of Zanzibar City to murder each other, leaving only one survivor: Meru. 

There’s a clear Lost influence on Kindt’s storytelling in this book, from the opening airplane tragedy to the back-up stories spotlighting specific characters, and, most importantly, J.J. Abrams’ concept of the “mystery box.” As Kindt hands readers extra information, each new layer of the story brings new questions, keeping the suspense at a consistently high level. Accordingly, the back-up in this week’s issue has a big bombshell: CIA agent Bill Falls, the man who sacrificed himself to help Meru track down Henry Lyme in the last arc, is actually a Mind Management agent whose specialty is in finding the precise point of weakness in any structure. What was Bill’s motive for finding Meru? Considering his abilities, is Meru just a tool to tear down a structure? And what is Bill trying to break? Then there’s the ongoing mystery of Meru’s true nature, which #10’s cliffhanger promises to resolve next issue. But once that information is revealed, how many more questions are going to rise up? 

The first arc ended with Meru having her memory wiped and waking up right where she started, and Kindt makes fantastic use of dramatic irony in this second arc as Meru begins to remember snippets of events that readers still recall. After receiving an assassination letter in the mail (that somehow doesn’t kill her), Meru finds herself once again chasing the mystery of Mind Management, this time joining Lyme as he recruits former agents to stop “The Eraser” from rebuilding the dissolved agency. After establishing the backstory in the first six issues, Kindt gives the characters something to fight for in this second storyline while expanding the cast to create a makeshift family for Meru. Having lost her kin in the Zanzibar City massacre, Meru was put into a perfect foster family that kept her far from the madness of Lyme’s world. Now that she’s begun to learn more about her true origins, Meru is meeting people with a closer personal connection to her, building a new family with Lyme as her father, Perrier as her mom, Dusty as her kid brother, and Duncan as the curmudgeonly uncle who wants nothing to do with his relatives. 

A mystery isn’t intriguing without personal stakes, and Kindt’s structure for this book allows him to tell smaller, character-based stories within a larger framework. These more introspective segments tend to focus on how former agents of Mind Management have had their lives ruined by their abilities, and the first half of this week’s issue checks in with Duncan, “The Futurist,” introduced way back in #1. Duncan is able to read the minds of everything in a 15-mile radius at the same time, effectively allowing him to predict the future, but also making his life incredibly boring. The main appeal of reading Mind MGMT is seeing how Kindt is going to use the comic-book medium to reflect the story through visual structure and design, and his approach to Duncan’s powers in this issue is another successful experiment. 

For the past three issues, the left side of the page has been used to show excerpts from Meru’s first novel, but the beginning of #10 instead uses that space to show how Duncan perceives the surrounding environment. When Duncan, now a private investigator, meets a new client, the side of the page shows what the bird outside, man downstairs, and woman sitting across from him are all thinking. The thoughts of those around Duncan continue to be broadcast in light blue type as he gets in a bar fight, is threatened by the new client’s husband, starts a romance with the new client, gets bored with her, and actively sabotages their relationship. It’s a depressing short story that sets the stage for Duncan’s icy reception of Lyme, Meru, and company, while at the same time creating a unique reading experience, mimicking the flow of thoughts in Duncan’s mind through visuals on the page. When the rest of the cast makes its appearance, Meru’s book returns to the left-hand side, pushing Duncan’s mental input onto the page, where the light blue lettering signifies psychic information in the environment. (The blue lettering is printed on white strips of paper that are laid on top of original artwork, adding even more layers to the visual.)

While Duncan’s blue text is explicitly connected to the main story, Meru’s book has had a more subliminal relationship with the events happening on each page. Her true-crime book has a Mind Management connection that she’s unaware of, and Kindt cleverly creates that bond by having snippets from the book subtly reflect the adjoining visual. On one of the pages, a quote from the book talks about a woman discovering her husband having a mysterious phone conversation in front of a bulletin board with pictures pinned to it; in the present-day story, there’s a depiction of Duncan’s ability as a series of images pinned down and attached to his head with string. When the woman in the book writes about “rolling the dice” by putting what she’s seen on paper, Meru rolls a pair of dice in the present as a way of visualizing the group’s attempts to randomize the future and surprise Duncan. The extra content on the side of the page rewards rereading, and going back to see how Meru’s book intersects with the main storyline shows just how complex Kindt’s structure is for this title. 

Each of the covers for Mind MGMT’s second storyline have been smaller pieces of a larger image that’s revealed on the next cover, perfectly reflecting the way Kindt unfolds his expansive narrative with each issue. There aren’t too many monthly comics written and drawn by one creator (at least monthly comics that actually come out on time), and the fact that Kindt is delivering writing and artwork of this caliber on a regular basis while constantly finding new ways to use the medium is astounding. Kindt has recently been given some opportunities to play with DC’s superheroes, and while those have been solid issues, Mind MGMT proves that Kindt excels when he has complete creative control. It may not be the easiest read, but once it gets its hooks in, it will pull readers into a story that’s unlike anything else on the stands. 

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