Review: Mind MGMT Vol. 4: The Magician hardcover (Dark Horse Comics)

Things start to blow up in Mind MGMT Vol. 4: The Magician. What starts out looking like a standard "recruitment adventure" for Meru and her team, akin to the (also explosive) events of the previous volume, "The Home Maker," goes sideways quickly, becoming the first pitched battle between the forces trying to prevent Mind MGMT from restarting and the Eraser and her agents trying to build it back again. The "good guys" find themselves significantly outmatched and — reading this as I was in the Mind MGMT Comprehensive Report Book 2 (the second of three omnibus editions) — the result is an Empire Strikes Back-type ending to the penultimate chapter of the "trilogy"; there's nowhere for Meru and company to go but up.

[Review contains spoilers]

Thus far, the "anti-Mind MGMT"'s mis-recruitment drive hasn't gone so well; they've recruited no one beyond the core bunch and lost both "the Home Maker" and "the Magician" to the Eraser (and were also turned down by the girl who talks to animals). And whereas Mind MGMT Vol. 3: The Home Maker's fiery conclusion turned into a standoff between Meru and the Eraser, "Magician" becomes all-out war. We've a better sense of the good guys and bad guys than before, if "bad guys" can be defined by the Eraser's team as being willing to murder Meru's team, and "good guys" defined as Meru's team who just want to talk.

But the distinctions are not entirely so clear. Here, the Magician has no interest in joining any "side" — has even turned down the Eraser once already — but the bumbling manner in which Meru approaches her effectively decimates the Magician's carefully curated life. Seeing the Eraser as the lesser of two evils, the Magician joins up. There are two notable flashback stories within this volume, both of which essentially involve past Mind MGMT crews that go rogue; what we begin to see is that despite the murders/doesn't murder dichotomy, Meru's team can't help become a destructive force simply by gathering and by trying to oppose the new Mind MGMT using Mind MGMT's underground tactics. As was perhaps inevitable, even as Meru's team tries to do good, the very act of trying to shape the world the way they think best sullies them in the same way as those they oppose.

Though there's been nicks and scrapes here and there, Magician is by far the goriest of writer Matt Kindt's Mind MGMT stories so far, with more than one instance of voluminous blood spattering in Kindt's sketchy, watercolored style. I wouldn't even call it a fair fight; a good part of the middle chapters is just the Eraser's henchmen slaughtering Meru's team one by one. Out of all of that, it's astounding that only two of the main characters die, and of them only Dusty is killed in the initial brawl, while Bill unbelievably survives his wounds only to be shot in the later escape. Bill and Meru had a strange, cautious, and not particularly passionate romantic relationship, but clearly his death will affect Meru greatly and makes her fight with the Eraser now personal, not just philosophical.

That there's plenty going on that I still don't understand is a feature and not a bug of Mind MGMT. Speaking of Meru and the Eraser, however, we've been given to understand for a bit that the Eraser is Julianne Verve, subject of the true-crime book that Meru wrote but — and I'm not quite sure why — Meru doesn't seem to remember her. Further, there's an exceptionally bizarre (and wonderful) effect in one of the final issues where panels go black and the characters are in different places when they emerge (with Meru and Eraser having landed punches on one another) that I was't sure was supposed to be a demonstration of Eraser's powers or Meru's — or if the two were combining and cancelling each other out. Neither am I sure I know what's going on when Bill seemingly regained his memories just before his death — memories I didn't know he'd lost, but seem to speak to a period (slowly unfolding) when Meru and Bill went off together between/around the events of Mind MGMT Vol. 2: The Futurist and Vol. 3: The Home Maker.

Magician ends with a profile issue of Henry Lyme. We've both seen Lyme profiles before and seen some of these events before, such that the issue doesn't seem to provide a lot new (which, admittedly, usually means that Kindt has something up his sleeve I'm overlooking). One new item however is scenes of Lyme caring for Meru as a child, something we haven't seen before and which helps to explain his affection for her now, which from the audience's perspective has been muddied by Lyme's later serial mindwiping of Meru. Second is seeing Lyme and Duncan as X-Files-esque partners — again, deepening a friendship that previously we didn't totally understand was a friendship.

Third and most important is the new revelation that Lyme's wife Natasha was a Mind MGMT handler assigned to Lyme. The implication then that Natasha didn't really love Lyme and was simply "handling" him all that time hasn't actually been shown, but the seeds of doubt are there. Moreover, one can then begin to question veritably Mind MGMT's inciting incident, Lyme's angry feelings causing a riot and massacre in Zanzibar — was it not Lyme's anger or paranoia, but actually a setup that caused all the deaths, including Meru's parents? Surely that's a suggestion — one I again didn't see coming — that turns the premise of much of the series on its head.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Mind MGMT Omnibus Part 2



I am glad that, despite the looks at the outset, Mind MGMT Vol. 4: The Magician didn't turn out to be another recruiting story, but rather what starts as a recruiting story goes swiftly, terribly wrong. I don't mind seeing Meru and company put back on their heels, especially when the initial blunder is their own; one wonders if in their anger at the Eraser, Matt Kindt will let the characters see their own mistake or not.

[The Mind MGMT Comprehensive Report Book 2 omnibus contains the original front and back covers, introductions by Brian Michael Bendis and Terry Moore, the combined image of the Magician back covers, sketch covers, and pinups]


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