After two issues, I’m really loving the sci-fi techno-thriller Mindset from Vault Comics.
The series starts with a simple question: “What if there was an app that could literally control minds?” Then, it uses this concept to explore deeper questions of control, free will and how the use of modern technology influences our decisions.
Issue #2 picks up right where the excellent debut issue left off and gives us more of what made the first issue great. Writer Zack Kaplan, artist John J. Pearson and letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou show us what can happen when three talents collaborate at a high level.
I could write so much about this comic, but I also don’t want to write too much, because I don’t want to spoil anything. I’ll do my best to avoid major spoilers and say that you should pick up Mindset #2 (and issue #1, if you don’t have it) on August 10th.
The art by John J. Pearson – Eisner winner in 2021 – once again adds layers of intrigue, depth and symbolism to the story that otherwise wouldn’t be there. Multiple readings and a thorough analysis would be necessary to cover everything, but I’ll try and highlight two things that I immediately noticed.
The diverse depictions of different people or groups seem to symbolize the way we as the readers are supposed to see them. Or maybe these depictions show us how the protagonist, Ben Sharp, sees these people. For example, the guests of a ritzy party are initially illustrated as streaks of flame, something bright and otherworldly.
Moreover, how a person is textured or if they are left uncolored apparently symbolizes their role or status: who’s important; who’s in control of others; who’s being controlled by the mind-controlling app; who’s free from outside influence. To this effect, Pearson textures some characters with more lifelike detail and others flatter. This is particularly interesting when two such characters share the same panel, conversing with one another, or when one character starts out in one style, but ends up in another.
Another strength of issue #1 which returns in Mindset #2 is the diverse and interesting page layouts. Many pages aren’t as linear as in a traditional comic book. But, Pearson’s layouts combined with the excellence of Otsmane-Elhaou’s placement of narration boxes and word balloons guide the reader’s eyes exactly where they should go. These more experimental pages aren’t just stunning to look at; you can also dive into them, searching for more layers of meaning.
Then, in the middle of the comic, Pearson switches to the most linear layout in comics, the nine-panel grid, to depict the meeting of protagonist, Ben Sharp, with leading lady, Hanna Atlanta. The effect on the pacing and feel of the story is noticeable.
In all of this, Mindset #2 continues to explore the theme of control and free will in multiple contexts and on various levels.
In a way, we can even interpret Pearson’s page layouts and Otsmane-Elhaou’s word balloon placement as a form of control. The creative team purposefully made each decision in order to influence the way we look at and read through a page. And the best part is, on the more non-linear pages, we may not even notice that we are being guided in a curve back and forth through the page.
In the story, Ben Sharp and his three friends have just discovered a pattern of flashing lights and sounds that grant momentary mind control. Now, they want to test it.
So, where do college grad students start? By forcing each other to perform painful, disgusting and embarrassing stunts worthy of an MTV reality show, of course. Here we find some displays of exploitation, but nothing too extreme and only things one could realistically imagine college students doing.
A quick parental warning – this is not a comic for kids, as there is some strong language and brief partial nudity, but not in sexual situations, so again, nothing too extreme.
The group then turns on the science, which actually leads to the only two weaknesses in this issue. First, we are meant to believe that these four grad students discover, thoroughly research and further develop the mind-control technology in only a few hours. That’s too unrealistic.
Second, the additional pseudo-scientific explanation of how the mind-control works actually takes a little bit of the mystery and intrigue away from the concept. I understand how Kaplan connects this explanation to the themes of free will and submissive control, but I still think it’s unnecessary. Fortunately, these two weaknesses pale in comparison to all of the strengths, so they are easy to forget.
After programming the mind-control technology into a smartphone, the four friends decide to test it on others. From there, the story builds in an exploration of the moral complexities surrounding mind-control and just how far these young men are willing to go.
They decide on rules for the ethical use of mind control, even as they use it on others. On a meta level, they decide on rules to control the way they themselves mind-control others.
But they also continually push boundaries and break societal rules. They get caught up in the excitement of what their technology enables them to do. So, on the meta-level again, we wonder if they are truly still in control of themselves or now drunk with power.
As for the main character, Ben Sharp was introduced in issue #1 as a young man with anxiety problems. He’s tried to control most everything in his life, just in order to come to grips with life. Now, the discovery of real mind-control technology leads him down a path that is escalating toward a total loss of control, in more ways than one. How that changes him is the real story of Mindset #2.
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