When a great series concludes and it provides the perfect opportunity to assess what made it so good...
James R: When we went to the Melksham Comic-Con a few weeks ago, I had only one regret. The weekend away from our regular reviews meant I missed the chance to assess the final issue of my favourite series of the last two years, Matt Kindt’s singular Mind MGMT. Following on from the feeling of bereavement I always feel when a beloved book or TV series comes to its conclusion, I decided that Mind MGMT deserved more than a short review from me. It was deserving of a reread and a re-evaluation. I devoured the entire run again over the weekend, and it was a fantastic experience in a number of ways. Firstly, it was great to be reminded of the vast number of genius moments that Kindt wove into his narrative. Secondly, taken as a whole, it was impressive to watch patterns and themes emerge across the arcs, and it’s my thoughts on those that will make up the bulk of this retrospective. Finally, it was just a joy to read this series again – it’s a story of such ambition and scale, it’s hard to recall anything as extraordinary as Mind MGMT. Or perhaps that’s what I’ve been coerced into thinking by one of the agency’s operatives…
There’s something remarkable about conspiracy theories - I’ve always been fascinated by them. I don’t believe in them at all, but I’m amazed at how their proponents weave a narrative together from the chaos of history and how the allure of a ‘secret history’ remains strong in the 21st century. It seems that Matt Kindt is fascinated by them too. Mind MGMT is the story of a secret society, first formed at the start of the 20th century. Harnessing the talents of individuals who can access some of the human mind’s vast untapped potential, Mind Management have been the clandestine group who, for large parts of the last one hundred years, have shaped global events. That was until they became too powerful and the actions of Henry Lyme (one of the book’s enigmatic protagonists) brought about the agency’s collapse. The story centres on Meru, an investigative reporter who tracks down Lyme and joins forces with him as they attempt to stop the Eraser, a former Mind Management agent intent on reviving the organisation.
It started with one of the most bewitching first issues I’ve ever read. We initially only had Meru’s perspective as we were treated to mystery on top of mystery: the passenger plane where everyone on board lost their memories, the mass-hypnotised Mexican village full of people crafting the same image onto pottery, the seemingly unkillable assassins on Meru's trail - I was sold from the word go. What's incredible on a second read is how Kindt keeps up the mystery and the wild invention issue after issue. A huge amount of the 'extra' content that made up 'The Second Floor' stories and the 'Mind Memos' were often ingenious enough to be worthy of series in their own right, and it's a testament to Kindt's creativity that even in the final arc of the thirty-six issue series there were still new ideas being thrown at the reader.
From that first issue, I knew I was hooked, and I stayed utterly invested. Amazingly, in the final issue, Kindt revealed that the book could have only lasted for six issues, pointing out that a close examination of issue #6 shows some of the marks of a possible curtailed ending. Fortunately that wasn’t the case, and Kindt was rightfully given licence to delve even further into the mysterious world he'd created.
Speaking of close examination, one of the pleasures of the book was how Kindt pushed the medium’s limits by playing around with the format of comics, hiding messages, and in some cases, whole other texts within the pages. The content spilled out on to the inside covers of the pages through the aforementioned 'Second Floor' tales, with the reader being given character vignettes and stories which all served to flesh out the book’s narrative.
At it’s heart, this is a story that straddles some classic genres and tropes. Kindt clearly loves all these these tales too. From espionage and spy capers, there are nods to The Third Man and it's elusive character Harry Lime, echoed here in Henry Lyme. There are also references to noir and classic detective fiction - The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity both get a name-check (and both play strange roles in the byzantine world of Mind MGMT). You can also see that genre's influence in my favourite character in the book: Duncan, the ex-agent with the ability to predict the immediate future due to his telepathy towards every living creature within a five-mile radius, is in the classic hardboiled detective mould. Science Fiction obviously gets approximated too, most remarkably in the issue where we discover the sad history of the Eraser, learning of her marriage to a writer who is very similar to the great Philip K. Dick, with Kindt illustrating her past as fragments from a pulp SF tale. It all adds up to a rich and beautifully well-informed reading experience.
The main thing that struck me as I reread the series was that I was reminded of the French philosopher, Michel Foucault. In 1975 he wrote a book called Discipline And Punish in which he outlined the history of prisons. Foucault stressed that knowledge and power were the same thing, and that prisons weren't really about the walls or the bars - they were more about stressing the nature of control and conformity by the ruling powers. In Mind MGMT one of the things that becomes apparent is that in many of the places where the organisation worked the base of operations was largely an illusion, often created by the talents of the other agents. As I made my way through the issues again, I could see the parallels between Foucault's ideas and Meru's journey. As the Eraser says in the penultimate issue, "The Management has always been about controlling power."
It was also incredible to read a story where the antagonist, Julianne Verve (The Eraser) was so incredibly sympathetic - after keeping her origins secret for a fair chunk of the run, Kindt reveals that she's a woman who has been utterly corrupted by Mind Management. She's certainly the darker mirror to Lyme - both are characters who were used by the organisation and then twisted by them. What I really loved is that there is no hidden arch-villain behind Mind Management - there are merely the human failings of ambition and poor judgement, and both Lyme and Verve are victims of this.
The difference between these two is the ability to let go and move forward - Lyme spends the whole run attempting to come to terms with his horrifying past, and trying to move on, whereas Verve simply cannot; even though it destroyed her life, Mind Management is all she has left. Throughout the series there are great injections of Eastern thought (for example, the Tibetan Monks employed to look after the vast libraries of history, and the buried Buddha in Missouri) and I think this is echoed in the book's conclusion - compassion plays a vital part, and we see that living in the now must always take precedence over being tethered to the past.
I also have to salute Kindt's art. His style is instantly recognisable and unique, and along with pushing the envelope of what a comic can do, he conjured up some truly magical moments - the penultimate issue was a masterclass in visual storytelling, and played with the notion of reality in a way that would make Grant Morrison's head spin. I could go on here - as I reread, I started making notes of great things that I wanted to mention in this article, but after I'd noted fifty things in the first fifteen issues I realised it would be better for me to simply say that Mind MGMT is truly and utterly a must-read. The secret history of the 20th century, the masterful approximation of a slew of genres, philosophy, endless innovation and a genius ending - the series was remarkable in every way. Thanks to Dark Horse for letting Matt Kindt realise the potential in this magnificent tale, and of course, thanks to Mr. Kindt too. On the promotional Mind MGMT pencils, it says 'ALWAYS WATCHING YOU'. I think it's safe to say that this is a tale that won't ever be far from my gaze too.