It’s rare that I see colors used to the degree that Sharlene does to tell a story and how well thought out every space is - from a space station in the far reaches of outer space to the surface of earth to deep within the ocean. Every area has a texture and tone that not only fits the location but creates a mood for the action to take place. The space station that begins issue two has an ashy grey color to it, a decision made just as much for its flashback necessity as to the fact that space is devoid of life. It isn’t void of light, but there is a dim wash of light as if shadows didn’t exist, as if you were in a sterile environment, being examined, which is essentially what our hero Mia is doing – examining the past.
Looking back at issue one, before the descent into the deep, the colors are light blue and white, skin tones pop vibrantly off the page as sun brings everything to life, and as we delve deeper into the ocean, those light blues becomes darker and then deeper and then swallowed by black. In the deep sea station, Dept. H, the light becomes artificial and unnatural, creating a very claustrophobic environment. Whatever light you have is within reaching distance. You get the feeling that you’re in a cavern of sorts; every pocket and pool of light is exaggerated and fills the tiniest of spaces or overwhelms an entire room. Did I mention this is all done through the use of water colors? There is so much one can do with water colors, they're so expressive. If you can handle adult-oriented Japanese animation, check out the classic Belladonna of Sadness and you’ll see every end of the watercolor creative spectrum in use. Sharlene takes full advantage of its uses, and every image comes to life because of it.
In this second issue, Mia has been transported into a locked-room mystery on Dept. H, a deep sea base where her genius father and man in charge of the expedition was murdered, and her first confrontation with another character is immediately personal. It's with her brother, Raj. Can Mia trust him? First of all, Mia never forgets, and we spend a little time in a flashback in outer space where her father led his family and a team on a search for life. After years, however, it comes to an end and could be the first clue as to why Mia was against this underwater expedition in the first place. More possible sabotage puts the two of them in a precarious situation outside of the safety of the base. That’s all I’ll say right now, but for those who wish to keep reading, this is where I will begin my own investigation in the spoiler warning section of the review.
Normally, I don’t post too many specifics in a review, but Dept.H begs for its readers to put the puzzle pieces together, question motives, and try to see beyond coincidences as each issue hits the stand. This is an old-school murder mystery, and I’m going to figure it out.
What do we know already? Well looking back at issue one (and yes, I am creating a cheat sheet to reference after I read each issue) . . .
The story takes place a little ways into the future, which one can gather from the improved technology in use. There seem to be hints of pandemics and refugees, so something tells me there’s some urgency to what the expeditions, first into space and now onto Dept. H, are there to do. Dr. Hari Hardy is Mia’s father, a genius who has been murdered. To Mia, even though she didn’t join her father and others on this expedition, she sees it in a positive light. A symbol of “hope” she calls it. So, why did she decide not to go along on the initial expedition? Is it just that she hates water as Raj points out? Or is it something more? That’s a big question that issue two hints at. There seems to be some strife between Mia and her brother. Both were on the space station, Hari Hardy’s previous expedition, and Raj voted to end the mission. Why? Not sure yet, but another good question to keep in the back of your head.
One interesting detail in the first issue that Mia points out is that USEAR: Underwater Science Exploration and Research, a government organization, has been funding her father’s work for over a century. Just how old is Dr. Hari Hardy and what has been keeping him alive? I don’t see this as an important inquiry…yet, but I do find the detail interesting, and no detail should be overlooked at any point in the game.
We know that Mia has agreed to help solve this crime at the behest of the head of USEAR, Phillip, because she feels she owes her father. Phillip is worried about the job. Clear motivation, but for me Blake Mortimer, Hari Hardy’s partner and a billionaire who has funded his projects, doesn't want Mia to go and solve this crime to the point of offering her her own space program that he’s funding. He could be genuine in the fact that he doesn’t want her to go down there for her own safety, but he doesn’t earn any points in not wanting to solve his partner’s murder. Is Blake Mortimer hiding something? Alain, her ex-lover, runs the communications between the top side headquarters and Dept. H itself. He also doesn’t want her to go, and from the genuine look in his eyes, for the moment I believe him.
The interesting thing about Raj is Mia’s first statement to him in the first issue about there being a mole and that sabotage is suspected. His response is, “They’re not wrong.”
This brings us to the crime scene. “Completely flooded” it’s called, when really it looks like it was blown up. At the crime scene, Mia spots several items: journals numbered 8 and 9, what appears to be glass with a pretty clear bullet-shaped hole in it, a gun hanging and wrapped around several pieces of string, explosive material, some scientific gear, and a glass sample measuring instruments and other samples. It certainly looks like there could be foul play. She thinks back on a few of these items: samples labeled A, B, C, journal 8, a mask with a screw running through it, and the gun.
There are seven people on the base with Mia, all suspects, all clearly labeled at the end of issue one. That isn’t to say the people above water had anything to do with it, but they couldn’t have literally pulled the trigger. As Matt Kindt reveals more about them, I’ll dig in a little more here.
In issue two (Be warned if you haven’t read issue 2 yet.), we focus mainly on Raj and his strained relationship with Mia due to something that happened between them on the space station that’s only hinted at here. Whatever it is, Mia has found it difficult to forgive him for it. But, she trusts him enough to leave the safety of the base and explore a potential sabotage. Raj thinks the communications connection being broken above water is accidental, but Mia spots a possible clue that points to sabotage: several shards of some kind of matter at the base of one of the supports. What happens next is interesting. What happens next is circumspect, and I won’t make any snap judgements, but will wait for issue 3. And, boy howdy, and I looking forward to issue 3.