Maybe it’s an extension of my own neurosis, but I’m mighty particular about my writing heroes. They need to provide me with something that feels profound and otherworldly yet nonetheless familiar and approachable. (Like a father’s warm hug after a lesson about oil changes.) The absurdity of Kurt Vonnegut; the earnestness of Paul Auster; the blazing wit of Matt Fraction; the nuanced intellect of Lydia Davis — these are the pillars I’ve used to assemble my own craft and tastes.
In the case of Matt Kindt, he offers all of the above. But more importantly, a sense of grit and curiosity, the bravado to strike at weird ideas and stories without emphasizing his own edginess. It’s a dynamic found across his entire bibliography, from the heady nostalgia of X-O Manowar to the extremely thoughtful (and amazing) Grass Kings. Kindt is a creator who seemingly has no fixed address, constantly in motion for fresh perspectives.
More recently, I landed at last upon the apex of Kindt’s canon, MIND MGMT. A newly released omnibus — featuring volume one “The Manager” and volume two “The Futurist” — provided an excellent opportunity to delve into a a singular work, one that perpetuates Kindt’s artistic merit through an evocative exploration of identity, memory, and objectivity.
A lot’s already been said about the depth and complexity of the MIND MGMT plot. A young writer named Meru begins investigating a flight after every passenger mysteriously experiences amnesia. The resulting journey brings to light this secret world of psychic espionage, all centered around Henry Lyme, an elite agent of the titular MIND MGMT. There are assassins that never miss, indestructible hitmen, a guy who can see the future, and magic advertising, all wrapped up as a combination spy novel and globe-trotting conspiracy thriller.
There are so many big ideas and events going on through the series, especially in these early volumes as Kindt builds the universe with lethal efficiency. But something that isn’t always discussed is the closeness or proximity. The way that even though we’re jumping through time and layers of stratified story, Kindt never pulls the focus back from the characters.
We’re continually within direct eye contact of Lyme and Meru, watching as these characters move through the story and the resulting emotional and intellectual fallout. That lack of distance is crucial for this story — without it, there’d be no sense of resonance and the reader may get lost in the sci-fi wackiness. Forcing us to move through a huge story while connected innately with these characters does wonders to provide balance, facilitate real stakes, and make the world feel truly alive.
It dawned on me while reading that this series feels a lot like the 2009’s Push. The same basic ideas in play, like the crazy, mind-based superpowers, the international feel, the prevailing air of mystery, a protagonist who is special without truly knowing it, and even some of the basic abilities. And while it may seem unfair or arbitrary to compare franchises, it does provide some insight and greater context. For instance, whereas Push clearly lost the plot right away, Kindt’s efforts to tell this kind of story are far superior. It’s not that he’s such a better writer (he is), or that MIND MGMT is expertly structured and designed (it is).
Rather, Push could never really decide what it was, and it got lost in the maze of kinetic gun fights and universe-building that only ends up cornering itself. MIND MGMT not only excels in those areas, but there’s a clear sense of identity. Even if the final story isn’t clear in these two volumes, there’s a sense that things are headed in a specific direction. That Kindt is creating a universe with a clear mission in mind, and while we’re sometimes lost amid this massive, sprawling story, there’s a promised land down the line.
This place where we’ll understand things like Henry’s motivations, or celebrate Meru’s growth into this wild, wacky world. That the journey isn’t more fun than the destination, but rather experiencing this process in its entirety has an effect. A story as catalyst to stir up all sorts ideas about reality and self-actualization and whether we’re all victims or the ones writing the story.
A huge part of that is Meru herself. At times in these two volumes, she bounds between hapless pawn and grasping her growing importance and power. She’s equal parts dynamo, leading the charge through the world, and a limp noodle subjected to the whims of Lyme and the like. Even her occupation finds her torn between distance and objectivity and engaging head-on with her subjects. That level of dichotomy fits the book and its larger scope and approach. Which is to say, this persistent idea of uncertainty, and how much power we contain within ourselves to change the world (or let it change us).
Meru becomes keenly aware of her own place in the grand puzzle of the MIND MGMT group, and understands the implications of the binary choice she faces at the end of volume two. Her decision not only furthers the book’s plot, but meditates further on ideas about personal choice and fate/destiny and the importance of action.
You can’t talk about the series without touching on Kindt’s art. In terms of his overall canon, I think the best combo is his script paired with the art of Tyler Jenkins for Grass Kings, if only because there’s a certain gritty quality that plays well with that story. That’s not to say the art in MIND MGMT is bad — if anything, it’s effective in perpetuating a mood, and its European inspirations sets it apart from works exploring similar ideas (espionage, psychokinesis, etc.). Instead, his art, with its simple lines and understated warmth, is as much a part of the story as the dialogue or any fight scene. This thread that helps build the world and stir up all sorts of emotions and meditations.
That sense of cohesiveness is one indicator of why this series works. Ultimately, it’s Kindt telling you a story, and no matter where that tale winds up, MIND MGMT enters your brain pan with a golden residency visa. It’s the sign of not only a great creator, but a creation that lives with you, coloring your experiences and inspiring new ideas and feelings.
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