Together with his wife and colorist Sharlene Kindt, “MIND MGMT” creator Matt Kindt launches a new murder mystery comic with “Dept. H” #1, which takes place miles beneath the surface of the ocean. The cleverly named Dept. H is a scientific research base where protagonist Mia’s father worked — and also where he was murdered. Mia sets out to investigate and faces not only the pressures of the ocean depths, but also those of friends and family with whom she has some history. Kindt’s script and artwork evoke both the physical and emotional pressure Mia feels and establish a tense atmosphere on the ocean floor as well as its surface. Though this debut issue only sets up the mystery, it’s a successful start for the series.
Kindt’s script gives indications of an outside world that’s plagued with trouble, and the quarantined environment of the story’s setting further plays into Kindt’s pervasive feeling of confinement and pressure. Kindt clearly conveys a general sense of the weight pressing down on Mia without overstating it, and it gives his story a sense of uneasiness and urgency, as though the strain and tension need only a nudge to break through the thin barriers holding them at bay. This is before adding the gravity of Mia’s quest to solve her father’s murder, which places her amongst the group that contains his as-yet-undiscovered killer.
Kindt’s art has a kind of loose, gritty and sometimes ugly quality that’s not the most welcoming style, but it’s aptly suited to the tense and downright unpleasant environment of the comic: a murder investigation in a remote but fragile oasis that’s isolated from a world with even bigger problems. It’s not a pretty picture, so Kindt doesn’t try to turn it into one, although Sharlene Kindt’s colors add an attractive, moody lushness in certain scenes. Her colors also clearly move Kindt’s story from past to present and back again; she uses monotone shades in flashback sequences but adds more colors to represent the present day, albeit with a limited palette that further exemplifies that cold, unpleasant environment and situation.
The Kindts’ collaboration goes even further with some unique artistic tricks that enhance the story, such as the usage of basic images in the panel margins, which communicate a nested flashback without creating the least bit of confusion. The cold, hard feel of Kindt’s art also implies a distance between Mia and those she interacts with; in fact, Mia herself seems rather emotionally detached, not only regarding her father’s death but her mission to get to the bottom of it. Kindt subtly establishes some degree of emotion in her character later on, though, in a well-timed move that give readers something with which they can connect.
“Dept. H” #1 connects not because it’s pretty, but because it’s uneasy; the ongoing sense of pressure and the implication that at least some barriers are ready to burst set up an atmosphere that is compelling in its discomfort. Knowing there’s a mystery yet to solve is the tipping point which will convince readers to pick up the next issue.