August 10, 2018

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Plumbing the Depths of Matt Kindt and Sharlene Kindt's Dept. H


Matt Kindt likes a good mystery. Many of his comics’ premises are built around trying to solve a puzzle. From Mind MGMT to Red Handed and to the Super Spy books, Kindt has created these mysteries that bend the narratives and realities of these books to pull the reader into them. With Dept H. his recently concluded underwater murder mystery, Kindt and colorist/wife Sharlene Kindt have created one of Kindt’s most personal stories yet. It’s the story of “murder six miles deep” as the tagline of the series reminds us. But as with so many mysteries, the case isn’t about who pulled the trigger and killed Hari Hardy, the Jacque Cousteau-like space and oceanic explore.  Instead, the heart of the story is the journey of Hari's daughter Mia, who is sent to his deep sea base to investigate the killing. In her consideration, every member of Hari’s exploration team is a suspect, including her brother Raj and childhood best friend Lily. And when shortly after she gets to the base, all of its systems start failing, threatening to kill her and all of Hari’s team, Mia has to figure out who killed her father while also trying to figure out how to get back to the surface and safety.

Over the course of 24 issues, collected into four gorgeous hardcover collections by Dark Horse, Kindt lays out the life of Hari Hardy, a complicated and driven explorer who brought out the best in people. As Mia's investigation considers everyone around Hari in his last days, she knows their darkest secrets because she grew up around these people. They are the fixtures of her childhood and early adulthood when her father took her everywhere he went. Whether it’s the former theology student Aaron, Hari’s best friend and sometimes rival Roger, the strong man with a violent past Q, or the awkward and bumbling scientist Jerome, or any of the other damaged people who Hari gave a purpose to, Kindt shows how Hari was a man who gave all of these people a second chance to be their best. None of these men or women, Hari included, was what you would call an outstanding human being but each of them had the potential to be a decent person and that’s the opportunity that Hari found for each of them.


While her brother Raj was always the faithful one to their father, Mia was the rebel who always wanted to look beyond her father’s dreams. She grew up the daughter of explorers and when her mother died, her father took his team and his children into space, wanting to escape the world where his wife no longer was. And when he returned to the ocean depths, his daughter wouldn’t go with him. Mia wanted to see space and thought that returning to exploring the ocean was a step backward. His son followed his father unquestioningly but Mia is truly her father’s daughter, exploring and questioning everything.

In the race for survival, Mia continues to explore and question her father. Investigating everyone’s relationship to Hari while looking for their potential motive to kill her father, Mia hears tales of compassion about her father that are lessons about how to live life. Even from beyond the grave, Hari has lessons for Mia about how to live a good life. Hari was a complicated and driven man who had his own personal issues that he was blind to, but he was also a man who saw good in others. Through the stories that she’s told about her father by his crew members, Mia gains an understanding of who Hari was, an understanding that’s more rounded than the paternalistic view a daughter has for her father. Even though he’s dead for the entire run of the story, he’s very much alive in the memories of all of the people whose lives he’s touched and to whom he's given a purpose. That’s not to make him a saint but it does broaden Mia’s understanding of who her father was and the example he should be for her. Those stories of compassion and mercy are hard for Mia to reconcile with the belief that one of these people murdered her father.

Dept. H is the story of exploration on both a personal and a worldwide level. Kindt creates this personal tragedy against the idea of global tragedy as an epidemic sweeps over the earth, one that Hari and his team may have found a cure for. And that cure is maybe why he and his team are the targets of some unseen killer. The stakes of this series exist both at a micro and macro level but it’s really only the personal stakes for Mia and Hari’s crew that count. Kindt solves the mystery in a way that feels like a possible fakeout, constructing a “might have happened” based off of supposition rather than concrete fact. After all of the setup, it’s a bit disappointing how sloppily the mystery itself is wrapped up until you realize that the story was never about the mystery but about Mia and Hari.





Dept. H Volume 1: Pressure (reprints issues 1-6)
Dept H Volume 2: After the Flood (reprints issues 7-12)
Dept. H Volume 3: Decompressed (reprints issues 13-18)
Dept. H. Volume 4: Lifeboat (reprints issues 19-24)
Written & Drawn by Matt Kindt
Colored by Sharlene Kindt
Lettered by Marie Enger
Published by Dark Horse