It’s 1988, so newspapers and neighborhood delivery are still a thing. Delivery in this particular neighborhood is handled by paper girls instead of paper boys. The story begins on the day after Halloween–All Saints’ Day–and three of the girls have gotten in the habit of delivering papers together, because of all of the costumed crazies still hanging around from the night before. Erin has just started her paper route, and after the older girls rescue her from a group of trouble making teenagers they invite her to join them.
The setup makes the story look like a YA coming of age story. It is that, but strange things start happening almost immediately. Setting the opening during Halloween was a master stroke. It leaves both the characters and the reader in doubt about the reality of what is happening. What first looked like misbehavior from masked humans starts to look potentially alien. It’s a bit reminiscent of Vaughan’s digital series Barrier with artist Marcos Martin. It also has a lot in common with the Netflix TV series Stranger Things (similar 1980s setting, group of kids banding together to solve a mystery), as others have pointed out.
Another observation: the paper girls are not cookie-cutter characters. MacKenzie is full of surprises. She’s a Camel-smoking tough guy from a rough family, and is casually homophobic. Erin keeps gently correcting her, but she says lots of things that would not be acceptable today–impolite, politically incorrect, or both. I expect if they do make a TV show out of the series they will tone that part of her character down. When it eventually becomes clear that the girls are dealing with time travelers, then the question is who to trust. That is unresolved at the end of this arc. But the reality of time travel is established when Erin meets her future self after a time machine accident sends three of the girls into the future. Plenty of unresolved questions!
Cliff Chiang has a dream illustrating job here. He gets to draw roughly contemporary people and places, plus futuristic time travelers and machines (including dinosaur steeds, a nice anomalous touch). His paper girl designs are distinctive and individual, although the two brunette characters can be hard to tell apart without clothing cues.
The final chapter of MIND MGMT: good triumphs over evil. Love conquers hate. Friendship beats enmity. Remembering eclipses forgetfulness. All that happens, but the story does not simply turn into a parable. There’s still plenty of drama, and nothing is sure until the very end. In fact things look pretty bleak in the beginning, as Meru and her allies struggle to recruit former agents to their cause. But Henry has rejoined Meru, and wants to make good on his past mistakes–despite having been blinded by agents of the new MIND MGMT, he has found a way to use his abilities to “see” psychically.
The first thing the pair do is restore the memories of the passengers of Flight 815, the “Amnesia Flight” whose memories Henry wiped, and the incident which set Meru upon the path of uncovering MIND MGMT. Kindt gets in one final experiment, as well, a black and white tale about the making of a movie titled “Triple Indemnity.” Mind Management executives commission it, and hire Salvador Dali to direct. The story recurs through the final issues of the series, with a purpose that is not revealed until the final conflict.
When the team arrives at Shangri-la, headquarters of the Eraser’s new Mind Management organization, they immediately decide to back out. But it’s too late. The place is a psychic battlefield, and both sides are full of surprises. The Eraser has treachery and brute force; Meru has cooperation and unexpected allies. She finally confronts the Eraser alone–but it only looks that way. Two other agents have provided her with tools, and the headquarters literally collapses.
Which takes us to NEW MGMT, Meru’s kinder, gentler organization, one that encourages companionship and cooperation. The marginal Field Guide notes reappear (as they had earlier while Duncan and Perrier were on a recruiting mission). And there’s one final intimation of future conflict…it’s a terrific finale, fulfilling and complete, yet just a little bit teasing at the same time.
In the first Get Jiro! story Jiro was a sushi chef in a futuristic, dystopian Los Angeles. This prequel tells the story of how Jiro became a chef, and why he moved from Japan to Los Angeles. The colorful Tokyo underground depicted here is closer to reality, but it looks almost as fantastical as the Los Angeles shown in the original. Jiro was the heir apparent of a Yakuza gang leader. In secret he works as an apprentice to a sushi chef, the only thing he wants to be. His girlfriend is a Japanese/Italian woman who loves Italian food and runs an Italian restaurant. So there’s lots of secrets in Jiro’s secret life, most of them revolving around food.
But the story is much more about gang life and family dynamics than food this time. Jiro’s half-brother Ichigo is a real piece of work: a strutting, self-important punk prone to violence. His competition with Jiro for his father’s favor leads him to hurt or kill almost everyone in Jiro’s personal life outside of the gang, culminating in murdering their father. At first he blames it on a rival gang, then turns the blame on Jiro instead. But the act of breaking the sushi chef’s fingers comes back to haunt him as he is about to finish off Jiro in a final fight.
So Jiro’s departure to the United States is understandable, if a bit abrupt. The events are certainly dramatic enough to explain any intimations about Jiro’s shadowy past in the first book. New artist Alé Garza’s work is similar enough to original artist Langdon Foss not to set off any alarms while reading it. I realized after comparing the two books that there was a reason why Jiro’s appearance seemed a bit off-model (beyond differences in the two artist’s styles). He has long hair until the very end of the story, when he has it cut very short (the way he appears in the first Jiro story) in preparation for his new start in the United States.