reMIND is clearly a labour of love. It is the brainchild of Jason Brubaker who is both the writer and artist on the two volumes being reviewed here. He has been living with this story for years, and it shows in the obvious enthusiasm and skill with which he renders his tale.
The story is—at first—about a woman named Sonja living in world mostly like ours, but with some advancements in technology that we have yet to achieve. Sonja herself, for instance, is adept at casual tinkering that results in powered battle armour and grapple guns. She lives a lonely life, maintaining a lighthouse in a town whose sole claim to fame is an urban myth about lizard people living in the waters of the area. One day, Sonja’s cat, Victuals, goes missing, and when he returns, he is now able to speak and think with human level intelligence. From there, the story gets even weirder.
The most impressive thing about reMIND is the art. Jason Brubaker is an accomplished artist working at Dreamworks Animation so that should tell you something about the level of talent on show here. The work is digital, and more in line with exaggerated, animation than the stylized realism of prominent artists like Jim Lee. His lines are clean, simple and carry the same kind of proportional emphasis as Mike Mignola’s Hellboy work, which fits the tone of this more fantastic story. Where the art work really shines is in the color. While Brubaker is credited as both the artist and the writer, there are additional credits for colour assistance and additional colour work and it’s easy to see why. Though reMIND is a clearly a work of digital art, the colours have been painstakingly rendered with custom digital brushes to add a painterly texture to them, reminiscent of watercolour work. The clean lines and “traditional” ink work is thus complemented by some very delicate colour “painting” a technique not often used in comics, though it’s always worked out incredibly well in the works of artists like Jon J. Muth and Kent Williams. While Brubaker is clearly not trying to copy that more realistic style, the subtlety of colour in those works is on show here, with some imaginative use of shades and colour choices that go beyond the usual primaries comics are best known for. The art on display here is quite well done, and a treat to look at.
Unfortunately, Brubaker is a much better artist than he is a writer, and this is where the shine starts to come off this two volume, hardcover collection. Brubaker has a clear plot in mind, and he ruthlessly, efficiently carves his way to the resolution of that plot. Too much so, in fact. The focus Brubaker puts on getting to this action sequences and next turning point in his story come at the cost of characterization, and make the story too predictable, telegraphing future events far too early because everything about the characters is pure set up for plot. Writers like Joss Whedon and Neil Gaiman create very likable, compelling, flawed and human characters that the reader can care about. They often feel like real people caught in extraordinary circumstances where they must overcome their own fears and limitations in order to triumph. Brubaker doesn’t do this, revealing only as much about the characters as needed to advance the story, thus spoiling certain elements like Sonja’s ability to created powered armour which inevitably gets used to move the plot forward. There are also pacing issues, such as Sonja being established as a major character only to get ditched for the vast majority of the tale, coming back as a deus ex machina device towards the end. In many ways, Brubaker has created a serviceable stage and framework upon which to create a story, but has left that skeletal, mechanical structure intact for everyone to see, with none of the colour and texture that gives it real life. It’s hard to care about a character when you know they exist only as a stepping stone to another plot point, and that’s what Brubaker has done here. These characters don’t live outside the story, and fail to convince as authentic people that we can get behind and root for. Brubaker could have remedied this by giving the characters more time to breathe as people, something happens to a small degree in the beginning before never getting addressed again once the story gets into full swing.
In the end, while reMIND succeeds as a testament to Jason Brubaker’s skill as an artist, it leaves something to be desired as an engaging tale with characters to care about. Prospective buyers should look on this as a collection of wonderful artwork grafted onto some unsteady narrative. Those that are looking for a marriage of art, character and plot might be better served with some of the old classics, such as J. M. DeMatteis’ Moonshadow.