By Matt Kindt & Sharlene Kindt
“This is what you’ll never find in space.”
Speculative fiction is powered by a sense of imagination. This is true across mediums and comic books are no exception. Readers wish to be wowed, caught-up in whatever world the creators have crafted. Yet for their work to truly make an impression requires more than surface ornament. There needs to be a heart beating strongly at the center of the narrative. This blending of style and substance is no easy task. In his previous Dark Horse series, Mind MGMT, Matt Kindt conjured a story that was innovative in form, beautiful in visuals and resonant in emotions. For the length of its run, Mind MGMT was one of the most consistently striking books on the racks. Month in, month out, it wowed. Since then, Kindt has not lost his ability to invest his material with a sense of wonder, which is clearly demonstrated in this week’s installment of Dept. H.
Last month’s debut issue laid the groundwork for the series. Mia has been tasked with investigating a suspicious death. There are, however, a couple quirks with this new assignment. First of all, the victim was a scientist conducting research at an underwater facility on the ocean’s floor. Hari’s demise has the appearance of an accident only authorities at Underwater Science Exploration and Research (or USEAR) think otherwise. Thus, Mia travels deep beneath the sea. The other potentially troublesome angle? The victim was her father and her brother, like every other resident of the base, is one of the suspects.
Issue #2 focuses on the frayed relationship between Mia and her sibling, Raj. Flashbacks to the father’s previous mission in space, reveal a history of resentment between Mia and Raj. Hari had spent years patrolling space for evidence of life. Resigned to failure, Hari announces that he is abandoning the mission. Mia and Raj argue over whether he is making the right choice, a debate that ends when Raj pulls rank on his sister. The scene concludes with a silent panel in which the siblings exchange heated expressions. The intensity of their glares speaks volumes. This disagreement continues to taint their relationship, especially now that Mia is forced to read into Raj’s every gesture for hints of his possible betrayal. Raj is often curt with his sister yet also offers her an opening as well. After inspecting some external damage to the base, Raj guides Mia into an underwater cove, wishing to show her what their father loved so much about this environment.
This sequence presents some of the most stunning art of the week. Kindt’s imaginative powers are on full display as all types of fantastic ocean dwellers swim by the siblings. The sketchy element of his artistic style is perfect for conveying the ambiance of underwater life. The faceless jellyfish are as expressive a presence, if not more so, than many of the humans. This quality is strengthen by Sharlene Kindt’s stunning coloring. Her bright, almost florescent, hues for the animals create a striking contrast, popping against the surrounding dark waters. This same attention to detail extends to the rest of the issue. The scenes within the sea base are full of the warm glow of monitors and artificial light. A flashback to the space station involves the perspective steadily tilting until pulling back to reveal the craft drifting through its barren surroundings.
Matt Kindt returns later in the issue to this contrast between space and sea, as Mia relates the psychological difference between the two. Kindt evocatively conjures these emotional environments. Space, as its name suggests, is about the void stretching out infinitely. On the other hand, “The ocean is claustrophobic. Always . . . Making you aware of its presence.” Expanse versus confines. Only nothing is always one thing. The further Mia dives the more the sea opens up, so that she can experience its beauty in its own distinctive manner. She discovers that she too can feel its wonder.
In such a way, Matt Kindt knits together various creative elements of story, design and feeling. From the opening page diagram of a Colossal Squid to the final cliffhanger, Dept. H leaves the reader with a sense of awe. For that reason, it is This Week’s Finest.
Disclosure: Publisher Dark Horse provided a review copy of this comic to Nothing But Comics without any payment between the site and publisher or agreement on the review’s content.