Patrick: We’re conducting a little bit of an experiment today — neither Mike or I have read Matt Kindt’s well-regarded Mind MGMT series before. This is a series I’ve been meaning to check out for a while, and the solicit sold it as a one-off, so where better to hop on than here? This issue explores ideas of artificially constructed memories and the recursive nature in which we experience memories — falsified or otherwise. It’s dizzying and disorienting, and without a handle on what’s established and what’s normal in this series, I’m left in the occupy the shoes of our protagonist. As such, it’s a remarkable expression of identity, memory and fantasy and the inevitable intersection of all three.
Our story follows the spotty memories of… well, that’s our first question mark, isn’t it? At one point her husband calls her Julianne, so let’s just roll with that for now. Julianne’s having a hard time recalling her past, but there are a few things that stand out in her mind. Many of her younger memories revolve around discovering science fiction books, specifically those written by Philip K. Verve. (Either a Philip K. Dick or Jules Verne reference — take your pick!) She falls in love with the genre and eventually with the writer himself. They get married, have a son together — and that’s when shit gets weird. Julianne reads her husband’s stories, one of which is about outerspace fighter pilots. It seems the pilots and crew need to be able to meld mentally in order to operate their ships at maximum efficiency, so they are raised with compatible backgrounds — which themselves are totally fabricated simulations. The pages of Verve’s book take up more and more real estate on the page until the actions of Sam (the disgruntled lone survivor of some space battle) echo those of Julianne. It ends with Julianne waking in the middle of the night to defend her son against an intruder, and accidentally murdering her husband in the process.
At least… I think that’s what happened in this issue. Smartly, Kindt doesn’t do us any favors — there’s no easy reference for what “reality” looks like. There are basically two different ways to look at what we’re reading: a) it’s the story of one of those pilots, and the peaceful nature of her artificial memories are at odds with her violent history; or b) Julianne has a compulsive need to escape into fantasy, and it causes her to lose touch with reality. I trust that regular Mind MGMT readers will be cocking their heads right now, ready to yell at me that it’s obviously one way or the other, but, dude, let me just try to express how trippy of an experience this was for me.
After the one-page prologue (which I still don’t know how to put into anything remotely resembling “context”), Julianne’s first line of voice over clues us in to what’s going on here. She says “I don’t remember much. White spots, I call them. Gaps in memory.” And then it’s off to the races with those spotty memories. Kindt plays with that idea of white spaces throughout the issue — I already mentioned the increasing space those book pages take up, but they even insert themselves directly into the action. I started to notice them right as Verve is obviously lying to her about his relationship to the fiction of her memory.
He’s smoking a pipe, and Kindt’s water colors frequently omit details, so there’s both an in-narrative and meta reason that Verve’s smoke appears as white splotches. From this point on, the fidelity of Verve’s face also deteriorates until it’s reduced to a crude pencil sketch, akin to the picture on the dust jacket of the novel Julianne was reading that made her fall in love with him in the first place.
I was also struck by the way we’re made to read the same couple passages about Sam over and over again. One of them — about the fabricated memories — is presented three times, and a second — about killing a doctor with a scalpel — is printed twice. Do you ever have a hard time falling asleep because you can’t turn off your brain? It happens to me all the time, but it’s the worst when the thing I can’t stop thinking about is a fictional story. Especially leading up to the finale, I couldn’t make my brain take a break from processing Breaking Bad. And as you drift off to sleep with something so firmly on your mind, your memories, your reality and your fiction all blend together in this weird pre-dream state. For me, the same basic pieces of information present themselves over and over, and try as I might to logic my way out of it, my brain presents the fiction of Breaking Bad as my own reality. That’s the vibe I got every time one of those pages slipped in — try as we might to make sense of the world Julianne is in, you can’t shake the suspicion that she’s actually this Sam person. But then, which is the fiction and which is the reality? Further — does it matter: because it’s all fiction?
Mik, did you have a better handle on what the reality was here? Or were you as lost as I was? And can we talk about what happened in the end? Did she murder her own son? Did she ever have a son? Maybe slashing-to-death is just such a big part of her actual experience, there was no way to mask it, and everyone’s got to get cut. Mikyzptlk: Patrick, I believe I was just as lost as you were while reading this story. It’s not too often I feel this way, but I definitely enjoyed not knowing what the hell was really going on. While reading this, I assumed that this was a story about Julianne, but that began to change as Sam’s story began to take up more and more of the pages. Actually, let’s take a second to take a closer look at one of these pages.
Feel free to click on the image to see it in full detail, but what I’d like to point out is typed in light blue ink on the top of the page. It reads, “WHEN FILING REPORT ALL ESSENTIAL DETAILS MUST FALL WITHIN THIS SOLD “LIVE BOX” AREA. THIS IS THE BORDER FOR A STANDARD, NON-BLEED FIELD REPORT.”
Now, if you take a look at the left side of the page, you’ll notice that Sam’s story begins to unfold outside of the “Live Box” area or, if the light blue ink were to be believed, the nonessential area. I didn’t even notice this text at first, as I made it a few pages in before I realized I was missing out on something. Realizing this, and then having to go back to read it was a bit disorienting. Normally, this would be a criticism, but given the context of the story, it was a welcome sensation.
As I was saying before, I initially felt that this was Julianne’s story. However, Sam’s story quickly begins to expand outside of the margins and into the “Live Box” or essential space of the story. I began to convince myself that Sam was the character we were following, and that Julianne and her family were only a fiction that Sam was being fed. I was fairly comfortable in my assertions until I came across this page.
While I can’t be sure, what I feel we are left with is a character defeated in the realizations of a horrible thing that she has done. Of course, even this could be a part of her delusion. In the end, Sam could very well be the “real” character, and I’m left scratching my head as to the “truth” of this story. It’s cool though, because I think that’s the point.
Kindt plays with the concept of memory all over this thing. Even Verve’s creations are nothing more than a series of misrememberances, as his creative inspirations are derived from a long forgotten book series that even Verve only half-recalls.
Perhaps our answers lay in the “warping” of Sam and Julianne’s stories. I’ll have to keep on pondering that, but, either way, I’m left with a curiously satisfying and unsettling tale. Kindt gives us a story showcasing the idea that while memories can be fragile, they also have a strong hold over our sense of self and reality.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?