REVIEW: Mind the Gap #1

I had quite high expectations for Mind the Gap, despite knowing very little about it.  Really, all I’d heard going in was that it would be a horror/mystery type series, that it would involve a girl experiencing some kind of mental trauma, and that the cryptic teaser images were rather intriguing.  I have of course quite exhaustively documented how Image have been on a roll lately, and this seemed like it could be another stellar new issue #1.  Sadly, upon picking up Mind the Gap #1 this week, I found the end product to be a bit disappointing.

I think my main problem with the comic lies with the visuals.  It is drawn by the Morning Glories cover team of Rodin Esquejo and Sonia Oback, who have provided some lovely covers for that series, and give us a couple of similarly lovely covers for this one: I had difficulty choosing which variant I wanted to have!  But the downfall comes with the interiors.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s all very pretty.  The page layouts are skillfully handled, and the anatomy is flawless.  But it’s with the faces that things fall apart.  Too often, the facial expressions are just cold and glassy, like looking at a doll.  Even when the faces are technically detailed, they have this lifeless look that recreates a disconnect, this “uncanny valley” effect.  It’s strange: I have read comics with art that is technically inferior to this, but I’ve liked the art much more because they get the faces right, because even with less detail, the artist captures that spark of life and emotion that lets me, as a reader, connect.  And I just didn’t feel that here.

The problem is further exacerbated by the coloring.  This is entering the realm of the highly subjective here, but in terms of colors, the waxen, hyper-glossy tone employed throughout the book creates the kind of aesthetic that can leave me finding some Dynamite books hard to warm to.  It’s not something I typically associate with Image’s output.  I know this is reading like the ramblings of someone who doesn’t know much about art complaining about more qualified people’s artistic visions, and my reasoning for not liking it may not be much better than “I don’t like it”, but it’s just not my cup of tea.

I don’t want to be a total downer to the contributions of Rodin Esquejo and Sonia Oback, however.  There are some sequences they just nail perfectly, such as a character emerging from the shadows through the glow of his cigarette, or an eerie double-page splash where our lead character Elle is lambasted with snatches of voices from her lost memory.  As I say, though it may not have resonated with me, I can recognise the objective craft and skill that has gone into the artwork for this book.

Not all the problems with Mind the Gap are visual, though.  The relation to Morning Glories extends beyond the shared cover artists, as much like that series, I felt a self-conscious attempt in Jim McCann’s narrative to write a TV series in comic form, and in particular it feels like that slew of would-be cult dramas that followed in the wake of Lost: Flashforward, The Event, you get my drift.  Like them, comics like Morning Glories and Mind the Gap focus so much on piling on the mysteries and raising the questions that will form an epic, long-running mystery that they lose sight of first getting us emotionally invested in this world enough to care about the answers to these mysteries.  But Morning Glories managed to hold my interest for close to a year in spite of this flaw by having an engaging ensemble of characters, which Mind the Gap thus far seems to lack.  Yes, there is a collection of characters, and they all seem to be filling certain roles and raising certain questions.  But that’s all they really feel like at this stage: pieces on the chessboard getting moved to the points in the plot they need to be, rather than actual people.

I know it’s early days yet, and I’m perhaps being unfairly harsh.  Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood to enjoy this comic.  All I know is that I really wanted to like it, and this review is a day later than I wanted it to be because I wanted to take a day, and reread it to see if I liked it more.  But the story just isn’t grabbing me.  Like with the artwork, I can recognise the craft, and can see how technically proficient the plotting is, but it just feels cold and clinical.  As I neared the end of my initial read, I was just thinking that – in spite of this being a 50-page comic, and great value for a first issue – there was nothing about this world that made me feel compelled to come back for issue #2, when, in the last couple of pages, a twist is introduced to the concept that suddenly gives us a hook, and makes this mystery much more intriguing.  But was it too little too late to reel me in?  Probably.

I’ve deliberately not mentioned any of the plot.  This is a mystery book, and I think it’s best that you discover what the story is about yourself, if my review hasn’t put you off.  All I can say is, this wasn’t a book for me.  If you’re an avid fan of Morning Glories, or if you like Lost and its various imitators that followed it, you might be a lot more keen on Mind the Gap than I was.  If you’re on the fence, it’s still worth checking out.  50 pages for $2.99, it’s a great deal.  And really, I may be totally off-base here.  The comic is getting some amazing reviews elsewhere.  Maybe months from now I’ll be kicking myself for missing the Mind the Gap bandwagon.  So, if you’re at all curious, don’t let me put you off.

Mind the Gap #1 is available now from all good comic stores.

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