I didn’t have the best impression of the first volume of Matt Kindt’s previous creator-owned series at Dark Horse, “Mind MGMT,” but I eventually grew to appreciate what it was offering in subsequent volumes. The creator’s latest series at the publisher may have a punny title, but everything about it is played straight in this murder mystery set seven miles below the surface of the ocean. It involves Mia, the daughter of the brilliant scientist who ran Dept. H and who was also found dead under mysterious circumstances recently. She’s asked by the head of the government organization who runs Dept. H to investigate it as foul play was suspected in her father’s death. Mia’s relationship to her late father could best be described as “strained,” a description which could also be applied to the mix of family members, and former friends and colleagues she encounters at the deep-sea research station. Seeing as how one of them is likely the murderer here there’s probably not going to be any love lost between parties when the truth comes out.
“Mind MGMT’s” real appeal was with how Kindt relentlessly experimented with the comics form throughout the series. There were hidden messages on the side of each page, innovative layouts were used to capture the emotion of a scene, along with interesting mixes of text and comics panels. While this experimentation made for a consistently engaging reading experience, it also camouflaged the fact that the story Kindt was telling was far more straightforward than it appeared to be. That’s the case from the start in “Dept. H” as things play out in a fairly predictable manner with a cast that feels underdeveloped so far, the research lab being sabotaged, and a host of creepy undersea creatures.
Reading this series also made me realize that Kindt needs to work on his dialogue skills. This wasn’t a problem in “Mind MGMT” because the straightforward and occasionally on-the-nose dialogue of its characters complemented the strange tone he was going for in that series. Here, in a more grounded series, the words coming out of the characters’ mouths feel functional and frequently bland. I realize that I’m comparing “Dept. H” to Kindt’s previous series a lot here, which is probably a little unfair since it’s a very different kind of work. Still, I kind of feel obligated to come back and check out vol. 2 when it’s released to see if history repeats and a more favorable impression is made. Something which is against my better judgement at this point.