Review: Mind the Gap Vol. 1: Intimate StrangersA comic review article by: Francesca Lyn
My policy is to only write about stuff I like and Mind the Gap is no exception. The first issue came back out in May and I'm actually surprised no one on Comics Bulletin has reviewed it yet. Have you seen this site? People review Archie comics here! It's ridiculous. [HOW DARE YOU - ed.] Anyway, Mind the Gap #6 goes on sale this month so you should probably pay attention to this review and go buy it from some cool comic book shop -- or download it to your iPad if you are a hip millennial.
The first thing I thought while reading Mind the Gap was, "Wow, this comic really has a lot of interesting female characters." Then I realized that this comic, unlike most popular fictional entertainment I come across, passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. I am often very conscious of how many works fail the Bechdel test, even those that are supposedly created to appeal to women. Right away, we are presented with a female main character, Ellis "Elle" Peterssen, whose journey is the focus of Mind the Gap and the mysterious circumstances that she finds herself in drive the narrative. Writer Jim McCann does a great job making her a fully realized character with agency. Her relationships with others -- particularly her interactions with other women -- are integral to advancing the story.
Mind the Gap starts with Elle getting attacked on a subway platform for unknown reasons, leaving her comatose. Rather than this being a "women in refrigerators" style plot point for some hero to rescue, we soon learn that her consciousness is very much intact and interacting with other unconscious individuals in a sort of creepy psychic limbo called "The Garden." For as yet unknown reasons Elle is being guided in The Garden by Blake Robert Plangman, who prefers to be called "Bobby." Bobby seems to have good intentions with Elle but only time will tell if we can trust him or anyone else in Elle's world.
Elle cannot remember anything from the attack and seems to be suffering some kind of amnesia, but learns that she can control and manipulate the limbo environment as well as temporarily inhabit the bodies of other coma victims. McCann has experience writing for One Life to Live and, while I associate coma victims and amnesia in fiction with the sort of melodrama that soap operas thrive on, it's obvious that McCann is interested in dealing with supernatural themes and interpersonal relationships in a different way than most soap operas incorporate these themes.
Meanwhile, Elle's physical body remains at St. Francis hospital with her family, boyfriend and best friend Jo dealing with the circumstances. McCann's storytelling successfully grounds us with realistic interpersonal relationships. In a couple of panels we know that Elle's brother is an entitled brat, her father is appropriately shocked and saddened, and her mother is not going to be winning any Mother of the Year prizes anytime soon. Jo, who was on the phone with her right before the attack occurred, manages talk to Elle in a dream. I really like how much Mind the Gap focuses on Elle's relationship with Jo. It's immediately evident that the two have a close bond, much closer than Elle's family. McCann spends a lot of time on their relationship so it makes sense when Jo is the first one Elle is able to make contact with in a dream.
Also at the hospital is Dr. Gina Gellar, who is very suspicious of Elle's condition. Some of the best dialogue occurs between Gina and her wife Antoinette "Annie" Wallace, a policewoman, as Gina is immediately suspicious of the circumstances surrounding Elle's accident and her current condition. Annie is a supportive spouse but understandably apprehensive about getting involved in the situation. It seems like they will be working together to try and piece together what has happened to Elle and I hope that their story gets expanded on in future issues.
In interviews McCann has mentioned that Mind the Gap was originally conceived as a television show, and I can definitely see how it could owe a lot of its heritage to shows like Twin Peaks. Thrown into this narrative, we quickly discover that Elle's attack was planned out for mysterious reasons, and Elle seems to have been involved with something that she kept secret from everyone she knew right before she was beaten. What was the secret? Someone goes through a lot of trouble to make her boyfriend look like he was responsible. We also learn that Elle is from an extremely rich family and that her cold bitch refrigerator mother may be behind all of this. Is this some sort of medical experiment? Who is that guy in the hooded sweatshirt?
Mind the Gap depicts its world with characters rendered realistically in a surreal setting, and we discover the mechanics of that world at the same time that Elle does, which is great. The artwork by Rodin Esquejo is wonderful -- I know his work from the Morning Glories covers and I think it is perfect here, especially when he gets to draw weirder moments, such as in #4 when Elle imagines herself as Red Riding Hood surrounded by men in hoodies with the heads of wolves. However, I do think that Sonja Oback's colors are sometimes a bit garish, even verging on Lisa Frank territory; sometimes there are just too many purple shadows and bright orange highlights. Now I like unicorns with rainbow-colored manes and teddy bears with tuxedos as much as the next person but this particular comic does not lend itself to that palette. I think this is a common criticism with digital coloring but some more texture and skillful use of more restrained, muted tones would go a long way towards raising the artwork from good to great.
The only drawback to this kind of mystery-based story is that I always want more information and resolution. I wish we had gotten a little more backstory at the beginning; I was attracted to the friendship between Elle and Jo and thought we would have learned more about that by the end of the fifth issue. I understand that there is always a balancing act between plot and exposition but I am also hoping we get just a few more answers soon. Mystery-thrillers drive me crazy because it has a chance of never getting to a satisfying conclusion. Right now, Mind the Gap has limitless possibilities to where it can go, though without a firm direction the story could also go off on unappealing tangents and that gives me anxiety. But, the strong characterization and well-written dialogue on Mind the Gap is enough to keep me entertained while I try to figure out just what is going on.
Francesca Lyn is a professional student who is sick of being shown where the manga section is without being asked and prefers to watch movies where Liam Neeson saves somebody. Despite wearing black-framed glasses and being the recipient of a liberal arts degree, she does not care for the work of Chris Ware and thought Blankets was "just okay." She often tweets incomprehensible things at @francescalyn and annoys the four people that follow her on tumblr at meme-patrol.tumblr.com. She and her friend Jillian started a feminist science fiction reading group that can be found at integratedcircuit.tumblr.com.