Review by From The Booth’s Jim
Imagine, if you will, that you have sustained a life-threatening injury. To your family and friends, you are lying comatose in a hospital bed. But to your awareness, you are at the threshold of death’s door, the moment between life and death described by a very few that have returned from such a journey. Now, imagine that you are trapped there…and for reasons known only to them, forces are marshaling to keep you there…and you are not alone.
Such is the premise of Image Comics’ MIND THE GAP, having published its seventh issue in January 2013. The focal character, Elle, has been injured on the subway and lies helpless in a hospital bed. Her family and friends have marshaled around her, in vigil over her comatose form. As questions start to coalesce around the circumstances of her injuries, it becomes clear to the reader that a conspiracy is afoot: There are those amongst her so-called benefactors that are in on it, and others who are trying to unravel it. Meanwhile, Elle’s consciousness is trapped in a nether-world between life and death, her disembodied psyche privy to what’s going on with her body, but unable to affect it, and suffering from a mysterious amnesia that slowly dissipates as time goes by. She is joined in this between-place by the souls of the nearly departed in her physical vicinity: others here are in the same state as she, and some have been there for a long time. Most, however, are in the process of dying and likely to be moving quickly to the great beyond. As she begins to remember things about her life and the events leading up to her injuries, she discovers the ability to possess the physical bodies belonging to the souls surrounding her, allowing her to communicate briefly with trusted friends about the sinister nature of events that have left her in distress. She is, nonetheless, unable to return to her own body.
McCann is presenting a unique twist to the age-old trope of the damsel in distress whose main obstacle is finding someone who will believe in her plight: Elle can only communicate through the bodies of others. Getting friends, family, doctors, or law enforcement (any of whom may be in on the conspiracy) to help her can only happen if she can make them believe it’s actually her mind within the body of another. To add to her troubles, the time she can spend possessing any one body is limited: the bodies she inhabits are no healthy for her hijacking them, and it is unclear if she can survive the physical death of a host body she occupies.
It’s all very harrowing, and handled deftly by McCann in terms of pacing. He doesn’t give the mystery away too quickly, or rely on filler to get by until the next worthwhile installment, which can challenge many writers. Instead, he regulates the flow with seeming ease. The characters are fully realized, with each member of the cast revealing their character in ways both subtle and overt, just like real people. The characters are all believable and grounded, and the settings are all very normal: you’ve seen them before, in the waking world, which serves to make the story more personal and immediate. As a reader, I would only ask for a very slight adjustment toward a quicker narrative, but this is a very minor concern, as things seem to have come to a nail-biting cliffhanger at the end of #7.
Esquejo’s art is aptly executed. He tends toward a thin line to delineate detail, but he’s not afraid to vary it. He chooses detail carefully without saturating the page, and he understands how to render the face in any perspective. He doesn’t shy away from the odd lip curl, or any of a range of facial expression available to an artist of his skill level: he simply gets the emotion in the written scene, and makes it visible. Not much, if any, of the shading is being done by pencil here. Nevertheless, the third dimension is immediately evident in his line work, leaving a great base upon which the colorist might determine lighting and bring that volume out.
Oback’s (among others) colors lean toward the pastels, but without being overtly stylized. Only the moments where Elle is within the nether-world get the dreamscape treatment, with the artist playing a little more with the tones and effects during these sequences. Where her work really shines is in the lighting, being so consistent that it adds volume and believable depth to every scene. Sunlight streaming through a bedroom window, a lit fireplace in a home office, harsh hospital phosphorescence, street lights, neon-lit shops, etc. are all consistently rendered with light sources anchored in space and their effects washed across every type and shape of surface and skin, giving the world of the comic a cohesion you seldom get to see in hand-drawn media. You couldn’t ask for a better lighting reference if you were filming the scene for television.
In summary, the work here is very good, and I’m hungry for more. Yes, we’ve seen some elements of this plot scattered here and there in popular media, but these elements are drawn together here in a unique way, combining a spirit of mystery, dread, hope, and love into a tense drama, where characters deal with the fantastic in a believable, human way. It’s no less impactful for not having tights, capes, laser beams and ‘splosions. The art hits home with its tweaked realism, and the grounded characters, after a few issues, seem like people you’ve known for years. It’s another in Image’s current stable of top-notch efforts.