Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘Mister Mammoth’

“I search for things that are taking me high and far out of reach”

Matt Kindt and Dark Horse have worked out a deal where Kindt gets a little corner to play, and we’ve seen a few fruits of that labor, and now we have Mister Mammoth, a new graphic novel drawn by Jean-Denis Pendanx and lettered by Jim Campbell. Kindt has a good track record, so this should be good, right?

The eponymous character is the world’s greatest detective – Kindt likes pulpy detective stories, and this is another one – but, in a nice twist, he’s a seven-foot-tall giant with a good reputation who might not be rich but is well respected and does okay for himself. One day a client shows up and hires him, and the case leads him to some places he’d rather not go, as we knew it must! The client is an older man who made a fortune in pharmaceuticals. He received a blackmail note and then a photo, just of him walking through the street, which was just to let him know the blackmailer is following him. He claims he’s done nothing that he can be blackmailed about, but he wants Mr. Mammoth to find out who wrote the note and what’s going on. Mr. Mammoth is on the case!

As you do, Kindt throws in some plot points that seemingly don’t connect to the main story, but we’re just waiting until they do – there’s the kid in the car accident, the strange soap opera (or, as Mammoth calls it, an “existential crime drama”) that Mammoth is obsessed with, the exotic-looking castle Mammoth is apparently building with his bare hands in the forest outside of the city, and, of course, the person trying to kill him. Kindt brings all these elements together, of course, and the plot is pretty good once it’s all said and done. There’s something vaguely unsatisfying about it, though. I’ll explain: some detective stories are pure plot, and the plot just overwhelms everything, and if they’re well done, it’s a good read but it doesn’t delve into the characters too much. Other detective stories don’t worry about the plot too much and use the detective to ruminate on the nature of humanity and existence and such. Detective stories are good vehicles for this kind of story because detectives meet a lot of interesting characters that allow them to ruminate. Kindt tries to thread the needle between these two poles, and he doesn’t quite accomplish it. He’s done it before – Red Handed comes to mind – so it’s not like he can’t do it, but he doesn’t quite succeed. I’m not sure if it’s the length of the book – it’s only 91 pages long, and while it’s fairly dense, it feels like Kindt skims over a bit too much. I’m not sure if that’s because Dark Horse is a bit of a fancier publisher so their production value is higher and they need to charge more and a longer page count would have made the price untenable or if because Kindt/Dark Horse had to pay an artist, Kindt wanted to keep costs down, but I do get the feeling that if Kindt had drawn this himself (which he said he had planned to do until he met Pendanx), this would have been longer and Kindt could have delved a bit more. That’s not anything I know, mind you – it’s just a feeling. (Red Handed was published by First Second and Super Spy – which was quite a nice, long book – was originally published by Top Shelf, two publishers that know how to put together a book but might have a bit less overhead than Dark Horse and therefore wouldn’t need to rein Kindt in as much. Maybe.)

Anyway, Kindt’s plot is decent enough – the mystery is unusual, certainly, and while it’s not exactly a “fair-play” mystery, it still unfolds in an interesting way, as Mammoth tracks down some good clues and figures things out. (The book is set in 1970 for no discernible reason except that I’m convinced that writers set things in pre-internet, pre-cell phone days so that it’s harder for people to collect information. That’s the only reason that I can think of for this book to be in 1970.) He also ruminates on existence to a certain degree, and we discover a bit about Mammoth himself and why he’s the way he is. It’s interesting watching his process, and while I don’t love some of the things that come up (I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’m not going to be more specific than that), I do like how Kindt uses the television show to illuminate some of the themes he wants to examine. Mammoth is very large, but he doesn’t like to fight, and that makes this a bit quieter than most detective stories, as Mammoth simply does his thing, intimidating some people but trying not to fight. I do like the ending, although I’m not going to spoil it, either, because Kindt comes up with both a bummer of an ending but also a hopeful kind of ending, which is hard to do. It becomes a question of Who We Are and What We Do About It, and Kindt makes that more subtle than we might expect.

As I noted, Kindt planned on drawing this himself, but for those of you don’t like his art (for shame!), he did not, and Pendanx does good work on it. He has a softer, more precise line than Kindt does, and the book feels a bit more … ethereal? nostalgic? gentle? than it would if Kindt had drawn it (Pendanx does draw a few good violent scenes, so not “gentle” in that regard, just … easier on the eyes?) Pendanx is more concerned with detail than Kindt often is, so the book is a bit more “realistic,” and the late Sixties/Seventies vibe is handled well, without Pendanx going overboard with cultural references. He does a nice job blending the past and the present and fiction and reality by not really showing the jumps between them but hinting at them by subtle color changes, and because many of the places Mammoth hangs out have earthier tones, we get the sepia-toned tinge of nostalgia without Pendanx having to be too obvious about it (when Mammoth walks through the forest, for instance, there’s not a sepia tone to be seen!). His design of Mammoth is very nice, as he’s such a giant but Pendanx has to imply that he is, in fact, gentle, which is difficult to do. Pendanx makes sure that Mammoth is intimidating because of his size, but he gives him pacific eyes and he has him “move” through the comic in a non-threatening way. However, there’s a moment where Mammoth does have to appear threatening, and Pendanx nails it, which is a testament to the work he did on Mammoth up to that point and also the choices he makes with regard to Mammoth’s facial expressions in that moment. For a hauntingly sad script, it’s a hautingly beautiful book, which I guess is what Kindt and Pendanx wanted, so mission accomplished!

There’s a lot about this book that works and that I like. My objection to it, honestly, is that Kindt does bring up a lot and simply doesn’t have room to resolve it all without falling into some hoary tropes that he usually avoids. It’s not badly done, and it’s not even the most egregious thing in the world, it just feels like a bit of a missed opportunity for the ending – which is quite effective – hit a bit harder. The ending doesn’t have quite the emotional impact it should because, it feels, of the brevity of the book leading up to it. Still, it’s a solid mystery, drawn nicely, and that might be enough for you!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆


  1. fit2print

    For me, the issue with Kindt’s art has always been that he generally chooses to write in the spy/crime/mystery genre. In doing so, like it or not, he’s up against a tradition of polished hyper-realism in pencilling and inking, if not necessarily page design. Think: Steranko, Sean Phillips, Steve Rolston, Javier Pulido, Cliff Chiang, Greg Smallwood. I’ve read and enjoyed a ton of Kindt’s work but, as well-done as much of it is, I can’t help but think how much more impactful titles like, say, Mind Mgmt and Dept H would’ve been had he chosen to hand over art duties to artists along the lines of, I dunno, Ivan Reis or Phil Winslade, just to pull two names out of the air. By no stretch of the imagination do I consider Kindt to be a poor illustrator, I’m just not sure Kindt the artist is always a good match for Kindt the writer. As the man himself was once quoted as saying: “For me, the art is dictated by the story – what it looks like, the style, the color, the format? All of that has to spring out of the story and character.” With some of his work – thankfully not Mister Mammoth, which I just read today and thoroughly enjoyed – I feel that Kindt failed to follow his own dictum, the two titles listed above being prime examples.

    1. Greg Burgas

      I don’t completely disagree with you, but I don’t completely agree with you, either. I think Kindt’s art works beautifully on something like Super Spy or even Red Handed, which is definitely in the genre, but not as well in other things. I think Mind Mgmt is fine, but I agree that perhaps Dept H might have worked better with a different artist. Kindt’s work seems to fit a very specific kind of book, even within the genres he usually works, so it’s interesting to consider when his art works well and when it doesn’t. I do tend to like his work better when he draws it himself, but maybe that’s because a lot of stuff he writes but doesn’t draw is corporate superhero stuff?

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