Comics has an accessibility problem. After decades of existence some books can be really hard to ease into. That’s why the infamous “jumping on point” was created — single issues designed to garner new readers and lure back old fans. Each week brave surveyors Luke Miller and Jamil Scalese will venture into the comics abyss and let you, the consumer, know just which series are worth JUMPING ON, and which are better left to be revisited at a later date.
Dept. H #1
(Matt Kindt; Sharlene Kindt; Marie Enger)
Luke: Alright, I’m going to break all protocol and say right out of the gate that this book was fantastic. I loved everything about it. A deep sea, sci-fi, murder mystery thriller? I’m jumping on right now. Jamil, what were your initial thoughts? Are we still allowed to be friends?
Jamil: Well, I am pretty damn petty, especially about comics, but I can certainly understand one reading this issue and feeling committed to the cause. Hell, Matt Kindt literally pitches why it’s better to follow this underwater noir as it releases as opposed to a binge-read once it releases in trade. He makes a great point about ongoing stories. They’re meant to be digested, and while I love to marathon me some Netflix, there’s a merit to letting a murder mystery unfold at a more deliberate pace. Some alcohol is meant to be sipped slow, and that applicable to this story.
The premiere issue takes its time. The washy, pallid gloom blankets the reader as we follow Mia into the world of Department H. Matt Kindt focuses his words on character and lets his wife Sharlene color a world pregnant with doom. We get no significant indication but it seems there’s something amiss in the world of Dept. H and it goes beyond the suspicious death of Mia’s father, one of the world’s foremost scientists. The mix of detective serial, sci-fi movie and Jules Verne-like spectacle captures the eye for sure. I definitely understand why you’d be all about this book, Luke.
Luke: You just listed a whole bunch of reasons why I loved this, yet you sound less than thrilled. Here’s a confession: I’m terrified of the ocean. Everything about it scares me – the vastness, the depth, not being able to see through it, not to mention all of the insane things nature has developed down there that could kill me in an instant assuming the lack of air doesn’t get to me first. Setting a story in such a hostile environment invites fear in at every turn. Throw on top of that the idea that people are there – enigmatic, untrustworthy people, and at least one of them is a murderer, and that’s a story I want to read.
I loved the art and the colors, too. They seemed “murky” somehow which fit this story perfectly. I also liked that we didn’t even get to the ocean floor here until the very end. As you said, something is amiss, and it shows through in the above water scenes as well. So, Jamil, what about this didn’t float your boat?
Jamil: Uh, your description of the sea for starters. Spoken like a true landlocked Nebraskan!
I kid. The ocean is freaking spooky. It’s huge and unrelenting and completely indifferent. I’m a fan of The Abyss and Sphere and hell, Sealab 2021, and I think the setting works for me because it literally puts the characters under pounds of pressure at all times.
Dept. H double downs on the danger, and I respect that. The comic is well-crafted, but also feels like it was run through a plot generator. While the Kindts instill this story with soulful emotion the high-concept A-meets-B just doesn’t pop like it should. I failed to connect with the work on a secondary level and felt the dead body was unveiled in a winding, contrived way. His linework is intimate and absorbing but also feels a little stiff and though Sharlene Kindt’s watercolor work is brilliant (in choice and design) it’s just really not my bag.
Personal taste it what it comes down to. This title does a lot of things well, but I can get a similarly dangerous world and capable though damaged protagonist in The Spire or murder and melodrama in Stray Bullets. Against the writer’s wishes I’ll likely check this out some other time.
Luke: Well I guess there’s just no accounting for taste… I think this is our first real split decision. I get the plot generator complaint. This is hardly the first underwater murder mystery. Hell, it’s just a locked room mystery with water and pressure, but I was really into it. The characters seemed aloof and distant and wrong, but I liked that. It made me distrust all of them. Plus, we haven’t mentioned it yet, but the Dept.H being a pun on “depth” is really its own reward. I’m jumping on, and recommending our readers do the same.