April 16, 2020

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The World of Super Spy by Matt Kindt


Super Spy and Super Spy: The Lost Dossiers
Written and illustrated by Matt Kindt
Published by Top Shelf/IDW 

2 Sisters: A Super Spy Graphic Novel
Written and illustrated by Matt Kindt
Published by Dark Horse

In Super Spy (and the related books I'll discuss), Matt Kindt brings you into the paranoid orbit of spies during World War II. These are fantastic stories that work as both (a) cool, fun tales of stealth, secrets and gadgets, and (b) poignant, lonely, and sometimes tragic explorations of what it means to lose yourself in a job that is entirely based upon deception. Kindt has a gorgeous, unique style, and weaves complex tales of intrigue and deception.

My initial plan was to just talk about Super Spy, the great graphic novel by Kindt. But to get a fuller experience of this story, I highly recommend (and will be discussing) 2 Sisters: A Super Spy Graphic Novel (2 Sisters for short) and Super Spy: The Lost Dossiers (The Lost Dossiers for short). I also have related bonus movie recommendations at the end. I'd also say that as much as love these stories for themselves, they're also interesting as a fan of Matt Kindt's work. Subsequent to all of the Super Stories, Kindt went on to tell the story of Mind MGMT over the course of 36 issues. Mind MGMT takes a lot of these themes and pushes them to the next level, exploring the world of espionage and intrigue, but then adding in a whole other layer with individuals with super-powered abilities, mind control, propaganda and more. Once you've explored the world of Super Spy, I highly recommend reading Mind MGMT (my in-depth review here). 


Kindt is one of my favorite illustrators in comics. He has a unique, angular style that somehow finds a way to be both rough and precise. He's a master of pacing, and is highly innovative as far s page layout and design. That sense of innovation and creativity is all over the pages of Super Spy. While many Dossiers are in the form of first person narratives, some Dossiers take the form of memories where Kindt takes on a very different artistic style, or there is a cartoon within the cartoon where Kindt uses another totally different style. Panel design, layout, pacing can all vary highly, in order to provide exactly the effect that Kindt is going for. 

Super Spy is tells a complex, interconnected story. 52 of them, in fact. Each one is numbered as a “Dossier” and they’re included in the book out of sequence. Thus, the story being told is not a chronological one. If you want, you can choose to read the Dossiers in numerical order in order to read the story in chronological sequence. I’ve never done this, as I prefer to read the story as a series of puzzle pieces that come together over time as I read the story.  The out of order sequencing of the Dossiers gives each character additional poignancy, sort of like how we see John Travolta's character in Pulp Fiction as the movie ends on a positive note until you remember, “oh yeah, he gets shot to death”. The book is full of characters and stories like this. People who are bit players in one story become the main focus in another. Or even after we know someone's ultimate fate, we get to see them again, at an earlier time.


The Lost Dossiers supplement that reading experience by providing a few unused Dossiers, along with showing some examples of WWII photography that served as a basis for some of Kindt's illustrations. But 2 Sisters is very much its own thing. You don't need to read 2 Sisters in order to read Super Spy (or vice versa), but what 2 Sisters does is take a very deep dive into the history and inner life of one of the periodic characters from Super Spy, named Elle (and her sister, Anna). 

So what sorts of stories are these? They’re all set during World War II, almost all of them set in Europe. The Dossiers are an interconnected web of crosses and double crosses. There’s illicit romance, plenty of people in desperate situations, there’s espionage galore. These are incredibly fun stories, and Kindt is a master of weaving together complex, tense, weird stories.  loves gadgets and clever spy craft, and Super Spy is full of all of that. It’s an absolute joy to read on that level. But it’s also a much sadder, lonelier tale. As Kindt makes clear, being a spy is a life of deception. You lie to others all the time, and even begin to lie to yourself. There’s also a profound sense of instability, as a character on whom we’ve focused as important might be suddenly murdered. And yet, we see that character again, earlier in life, or preparing for the mission.


2 Sisters, however, takes a different approach. Where Super Spy represents the breadth of experience in espionage, 2 Sisters plumbs the depths of one such spy, Elle (who we see on a number of different occasions in Super Spy). 2 Sisters takes us on a journey through Elle's career as a spy, and this is intercut with scenes of Elle and her older sister Anna's difficult childhood. There is plenty of highly entertaining espionage in 2 Sisters, but it's really a study into the mind and soul of someone who excels at this world. Someone who excels at lying and deception, including to themselves. This story, even more than the shorter-but-poignant tales of Super Spy, show us the human cost of a life of deception. It's hard to form and maintain human connections when all there is is mistrust. No one can be taken at face value, everyone has an ulterior motive.

These stories are also intercut with a completely different story, as we see an ancient gold vase being stolen by one woman in ancient Roman times, and then we move to (presumably) the early 1700's, as the vase is being transported on a ship that's boarded by pirates. A man and woman are passengers aboard the boat, and the man dies, but the woman makes a series of remarkable decisions, which begin with her cutting her own hair and disguising herself as a prisoner aboard the ship. We follow the path of this woman and the gold vase, and ultimately see the connection between this old tale and the story of Elle.  Without giving anything away, Kindt brings the stories of all of these women together in a revelatory way. And the format of an entire graphic novel to tell this one story gives Kindt a lot more breathing room. With this breathing room, he can really play with time and pacing and negative space in a very engaging and satisfying way.


Super Spy and 2 Sisters are an absolute joy to read, and I recommend all of these books for the creative ways Kindt plays with the format, and their creative storytelling, and the way he takes a deeper look at the human toll of living in a world of lies.

I also have two related movie recommendations. I'm late to the party on these, but I highly recommend Fritz Lang's Ministry of Fear and John Frankenheimer's classic The Manchurian Candidate. I'd be surprised weren't both influential works for Kindt. Ministry of Fear tells a weird tale of espionage and secrets centering around a man in 1944 England, who leaves an asylum where he's been for the last 2 years, promptly wins a cake at a local small-town fair, and then things just get a whole lot weirder from there. There's lots of intrigue around this cake, there's murder, seances, and more. Ministry of Fear is suffused with an atmosphere of weird dread and paranoia and is highly entertaining.

The Manchurian Candidate is, for those who don't know, a stunning political thriller. Soldiers come back from the Korean War, haunted by weird, terrifying dreams and memories that don't seem quite right. One, in particular, seems to have been particularly affected. There's action, espionage, mind control and more. And Angela Lansbury as one of the most unsettling mothers you'll see in a story. The Manchurian Candidate is weird, tense, profoundly unsettling, and a fantastic experience. Both movies get my highest recommendation.