‘Dept.H #10:’ Advance Comic Book Review

There’s something very intimate and personal, even beautiful, about Issue #10 of Matt and Sharlene Kindt’s Dept.H. It feels almost like a really great Michaelangelo Antonioni film, like L’avventura, placed gently within a taut underwater thriller. Part of that has to do with the beautiful black-and-white imagery Sharlene creates on the page. The other part is the quiet way in which Matt explores memory and its questionable reliability and fragility.

Before I scare anyone away, this comic is not a drama painted in abstract symbolism (though if it were, I’d love it all the same). This is, first and foremost, a murder mystery set in a base six miles under sea. With no way to the surface, communications sketchy, and the base falling apart around her, our protagonist, Mia, is driven to find out who murdered her father, the head of the scientific expedition. She’s surrounded by a crew of potential murderers, each person with their own motivations. In the last three issues, we’ve been trapped with Mia and her father’s best friend, Roger, in a locked compartment as it’s slowly been filling with water. As Mia questions Roger about each member of the crew, we see their stories play out outside the chamber. It has proven to be a tense and unpredictable way to approach the story. Who will make it to Mia and Roger first? And what will their motivation in finding them be? Who will live and die in the process? Clues to what’s going on have been left here and there, but in such a way that it’s difficult to unwind.

The ebbs and flows in this book have been so well calculated and groomed that it keeps the reader completely off guard, but I’m sure it also keeps the creators inspired. That’s the great thing about creator-owned books and the awesome work Dark Horse Comics does for the industry.

As stated above, the issue begins with beautiful, black-and-white imagery. The greyscaling work Sharlene has done creates a quiet, contemplative, and almost sad environment. I keep saying that once the outcome of this book has been resolved, we’ll see how color (or the lack thereof) has played an integral part in the story itself. It should be something they study in art and film universities: that imagery creates just as much of the story as dialogue. Matt lets these panels play out slowly, letting his characters fill empty spaces before jaunting back in time. Investing the story in a momentary respite from the physical tension, he digs into a more psychological tension.

Is the story that Roger tells true or false? Or is the way Mia remembers it true or false? Time will tell, and if you’re not on board, you’ll be missing out on one of the great comic book stories of recent years.

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