In preparation for this review of Image Comics’ Mind the Gap: Intimate Strangers, I attempted to provide a quick synopsis of the book to an inquiring would-be reader. You know what I discovered? IT CANNOT BE DONE. Creator/writer Jim McCann and artist Rodin Esquejo heap mysteries on top of mysteries; as soon as you peel back one layer of the narrative you quickly discover that, yep, there’s another damn layer. It’s cruel, spiteful, and a hell of an entertaining read.
This first volume of the popular series is a skillful blend of conspiracy and intrigue, with a healthy dose of the supernatural. Elle Peterssen awakens in the hospital after a brutal assault only to discover…she’s not actually awake. Her body lies dormant in a coma and Elle herself is trapped in an in-between spirit world, unseen by her friends and family. As Elle tries to figure out what happened to her, her friends in the real world work to unravel the mystery of her attack. Can Elle find her way back to the physical plane before the attacker comes to finish the job? Is her assailant among her closest friends…or part of her own family?
Writer McCann plants many seeds of distrust in this first volume, giving his characters a deliberate ambiguity that makes it hard to glean their true motives. The book features an immense cast, sometimes to its own detriment, yet McCann does a fine job of balancing the large ensemble in a way that feels organic. Characters aren’t forced on one another; each interaction has a purpose, and as a reader you think you can see the clues as the story unfolds. However, this is no easy whodunit–Mind the Gap is a slow burn, raising two new questions for each one answered. At times the story reads a bit like a soap opera; connected threads and shocking reveals are plentiful, and the cliffhangers are absurdly exciting. Though soap-like, McCann never allows his characters to fall into stereotype. He does a great job of creating fully formed, realistic individuals in a not-so-realistic setting. In fact, McCann deserves credit alone for the strong qualities he gives the females in his cast. These are no damsels; they’re smart, tenacious, and full of refreshing real world personality. There are moments where the personality is a bit too heavy, however. Characters can come off as unnaturally clever as banter becomes a bit too obviously banter. Despite that, when McCann’s dialogue is on it is really on, resulting in some great character beats and genuinely emotional moments. He’s also quite the tease, tantalizing with presumably obvious clues (such as frequently “showing” the attacker). With Mind the Gap, McCann has concocted a thoroughly enjoyable yarn made better by the wonderful art.
After reading this book, it’s safe to say that Rodin Esquejo is more than “that guy who does the covers for Morning Glories.” Fabulous though those covers may be, his work in Volume 1 serves as a statement to the world that he can handle full time artist duties just fine. Frankly put, the book is gorgeous; Esquejo shows a remarkable attention to detail, turning even the most mundane scene into an eye-catching delight. His character work in particular is amazing. With such an expansive cast it could be easy to get the players mixed up, but thanks to the artist’s sharp character design I never once uttered the all too familiar “who’s that again?” More notably, his ability to convey emotion through facial subtleties and body language proves immensely powerful. Esquejo is the rare artist who allows the reader to see that which isn’t said; faces are riddled with grief and fear, disdain and love, adding extra gravitas to the scene at hand.
Not alone in this endeavor, Mind the Gap is made even more beautiful by the striking work of colorist Sonia Obock. From warm skin tones to eerie shadows, Obock adds the last bit of “oomph” that really helps elevate the art. In fact, it’s the fantastic coloring that actually leads to my only nitpick. The detail on the faces is so stunning that at times the background environments look plain and drab. It creates a bit of a cartoony feel in an otherwise realistic world. Still, when Esquejo’s art fully meshes with Obock’s colors the result is truly lovely. Though there are a few panels that seem slightly off in scale and the colors at times are a bit distracting, the overall work in Volume 1 is nothing short of amazing.
With so many background pieces and sprawling subplots, Mind the Gap could have been an ambitious book that fell flat. Thankfully, it’s not; McCann and Esquejo prove a perfect pairing, resulting in a book that feels unique and new in all the right ways. The back spine of the book proclaims that “everyone is a suspect,” creating the question of who can you trust? With a story as good as this, it’s safe to put your trust in Mind the Gap.