Review Brew: Dept H #1
Creators: Matt & Sharlene Kindt
This is an unusual recommendation, but if you check out Dept H this week, read Matt Kindt’s welcome letter in the back first. I admit this is an unusual recommendation, as those kinds of things are in the back of the comic for a reason and they want you to get into the story first. In the case of Dept H., I had difficulty getting into the book until I read Kindt’s comments at the end and understood that this book is coming from a good place in his heart.
He mentions being “inspired by a lot of things: the 1970s GI Joes, the Fisher-Price Adventure People toy line, Tintin, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Moby Dick, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Sherlock Holmes, Jacques Cousteau, and a healthy fear of drowning.” It’s the toy and ocean acknowledgments that made Dept. H click for me. As a kid, I remember countless occasions where I’d play “deep dive” with my action figures in a bathtub or swimming pool. There’s something astonishingly inviting about the ocean, in that it’s such a deep and mysterious world that’s all over our planet, yet only accessible by putting ourselves into a reverse fishbowl.
Dept H is about Mia Hardy, resident of a world where undersea exploration is more the norm than space exploration is in our world, and where corporations look to explore the seas more than the skies. Mia’s been brought in to investigate a murder at Dept. H (the name being an obvious visual pun), an offshoot of the Underwater Exploration and Science Research corporation. Her mission: to solve a variation of the classic “locked room” mystery at the deep sea USEAR headquarters, where its top scientist, the “smartest man in the world,” has been murdered. Who kills a man at the bottom of the ocean, how did they get away with it, and why?
Oh, and the murder victim happens to be Mia’s father, and the limited pool of suspects at the base all have some deep, personal connections to her and her family.
“Depth,” then, is less of a linguistic pun of a title and more of a reflection on the crushing weight of the situation. As Mia descends to the ocean floor, the ocean’s pressure becomes a metaphor for the weight of the situation. The isolation of being contained within the world’s most restrictive environments evokes the isolation of Mia’s quest to expose her father’s murderer among a pool of her friends and family. There’s pressure both within and without, creating a synergy between story and environment which is probably going to be the thematic hook for the remainder of the series.
Be advised that Dept H is neither a light nor traditional comic. This is Matt Kindt art, so as with MIND MGMT, you’re looking at Kindt’s signature sketchy style of art with a lighter, pastel coloring by his wife Charlene. It’s very European in style, so readers who are used to a Marvel/DC “house” style aren’t going to find it here and need to be prepared if they haven’t tried MIND MGMT yet. The story is also very somber in tone. That’s appropriate for the plot, as Mia has to literally descend into a mystery even as she has to grieve for her father. The other side of this is that it makes the story low on action–not a bad thing, but again, readers shouldn’t expect this to be like a typical superhero story.
It is a very different kind of story, though, and for readers looking for a change in environment, tone, and genre, Dept H is definitely worth a look. It’s undersea, it’s exploration, it’s human drama, and it’s a murder mystery. As Kindt says in his introduction, if you’re into any of those things then this book may be for you.
Rating: Four fathoms out of five.