Conspiracy theories are a perennial favorite with writers. There's something clever and intensely satisfying about finding hidden connections between random and unrelated events. And people like to feel being initiated into some great secret. Matt Kindt's series MIND MGMT provides a geeky twist to the concept with its titular equivalent of the Bavarian Illuminati as a government-run organization made up of superhumans who possess vast psychic abilities, which they use to secretly manipulate everyone. In the first six issues, true crime writer Meru investigated the mystery of an airline flight were everyone onboard suddenly came down with a case of amnesia. Her research leads to her uncovering the clandestine activities of MIND MGMT. Following a trail of clues that takes her from Mexico to China while being pursued by a pair of immortal assassins, she finally confronts Henry Lyme, formerly MIND MGMT's greatest agent. But even as she learns of the organization's secrets and her own shocking connection to it, Henry wipes her memories - perhaps not for the first time. Meru wakes up in her apartment a few days later, with no recollection other than the nagging sense of having forgotten something of great consequence.
Having brought Meru back to square one, Matt could have started over with a new cast in order to explore the series' premise from a different angle. However the next arc begins right were the last one left off. As Meru's wracking her brains trying to remember what happened to her, someone drops of a letter into her mailbox. Because it happens on a Sunday, she's immediately suspicious. She tracks the letter to its source. Unlike before, Meru finds the culprit relatively quickly. She runs into Henry, who's been keeping tabs on her. And we're introduced to a new agent called Brinks, who specializes as an "Ad Man". Brinks has the ability to psychically endow images and symbols with powerful thoughts and emotions, making him the perfect tool to hide subliminal messages within print ads, illustrations, etc. Meru's interactions with the two bring her up to speed. And with that, she and Henry go off to uncover more former agents. Lending urgency to the new quest is a dangerous rival faction who has the same idea, but is trying to accomplish a different agenda.
Adding to the main plot are the various devices used to layer the story. Placed at the comic pages' bottom margin is a detailed explanation about how the Ad Men invented "assassination letters" to eliminate their targets. The left-hand margins are occupied by text that may have come from one of Meru's books, which conveys the backstory of a woman who murdered her husband and two children. There's the usual "Mind Memo" section highlighting the careers of individual MIND MGMT agents. And then there's the back cover which reproduces a MIND MGMT questionnaire answered by Brinks. Some of the material obviously references the events in the issue, while others are more obscure. But it also creates the impression that one is viewing a secret dossier combined with a comic book, and this devotion to obsessiveness invites even more speculation about the significance of every last detail.
Then there's Matt Kindt's impressionistic artwork. At first glance it seems a strange fit for a conspiracy-laden thriller. But his flat cartoon characters inked with thick brushstrokes and painted over with watercolor washes imbues the whole narrative with an odd hallucinatory quality. It's almost as if one we're peering into a child's nightmare. Reality and fantasy meld into one another, making it harder to spot MIND MGMT's handiwork. People's blank expressions become vaguely threatening within the context of the story. And seemingly innocuous details acquire an element of hidden danger. This is because you can never be sure if you're being manipulated by the Ad Men. When Meru approaches Brinks' secret headquarters, she suddenly runs into several massive street signs in Times Square, illustrated within one of the comic's larger panels. They seem like typical ad copy, but they look unsettling nonetheless. And Brinks confirms later that they're meant to function as impenetrable psychic defenses. Brinks also confesses his role in destabilizing several foreign governments, and name drops the EDSA Revolution. Given that this particular event was well-documented by the press as a largely peaceful, populist movement (I should know), it's remarkable when the true events hidden from the media are portrayed in another large panel as a violent mob subconsciously driven mad by Brinks' own iconography. Now that's just paranoid!
And there's the rub. Meru is on an adventure with the very person who may have been responsible for repeatedly fucking with her fragile psyche. Henry promises that her life will become better if he follows him. And for all we know, he might be truly sincere. But given what he's done in the past, that's a little hard to blindly accept. What's the popular expression again? Oh yeah… Trust no one.