Mindbender, written by James Pruett with art by Federico De Luca, offers a unique, strange read. I enjoyed the first six issues, which together form a solid and succinct story arc. The first few pages of the first issue set up the story well, with a young boy accidentally using his seemingly psychic powers to incinerate his parents in a blast of purple energy. From there we cut twenty years later to when the boy, Alex, has grown into a man in a subdued, mute state within the confines of a mental hospital, though of course, the facility has much more nefarious intentions beneath the surface.
The cast of characters in Mindbender forms a kind of ensemble with Alex as the lead. Since Alex hasn’t been exactly conscious since he was seven years old, he alternates between a childlike and more adult persona within the body of a large adult male. He also has an array of superpowers ranging from deadly blasts to traveling through mirrors. He requires a variety of people of myriad intentions to help him navigate the complex world of both his powers and the various factions out to use them for evil, revenge, etc.
There’s the director of the mental hospital, harsh and rigid with his own plans for Alex. Then there’s the mental hospital’s latest employee Rachel who forms a seemingly instant genuine connection with Alex even in his catatonic state. There’s also Alex’s cousin who helps fill in the backstory of Alex’s family. Two of my favorite side characters were the ones who like Alex hold some kind of cosmic mental ability. Berdy is a homeless former stockbroker who goes into hiding after realizing he can commune with a seemingly omniscient voice in his head. Elvis, another patient, has powers similar to Alex only significantly weaker. He believes he holds the reincarnated form, as his name suggests, of Elvis Presley. Both of these characters added levity and color to the dialogue wherever they appeared.
Mindbender provides a fairly fast-paced plot as Alex is constantly either searching for the secrets of his powers or evading groups attempting to capture him, ostensibly for the use of turning him into a superweapon. We rarely have time to breathe with the characters as they are almost always on the run to or from some guys-with-guns-versus-Alex confrontation. This pacing is balanced by how often, basically every issue, we get a significant reveal either about Alex, the nature of the dimension where his powers seem to come from, or what one of the other character’s connections to the greater story is. These reveals feel weighty and worthwhile, and keep the book from ever feeling stale.
One thing I appreciated about Mindbender was its commitment to focusing on the potential of the mind. All of the powers the characters have come from a kind of greater cognitive understanding of reality. Some of the material is well-trod in comics, multiverses and energy blasts abound, but the commentary feels more genuinely interested in exploring the mind as a concept.
I like how Alex struggles with childhood trauma and a kind of severe developmental-psychology while navigating his mind-based powers. Berdy and Elvis are similar, people who we might write off as “crazy”, but actually have more complexity than you would at first recognize. After all, Berdy really is talking to a voice nobody else can hear, and while Elvis might not be reincarnated per-say, he’s got his own extra-dimensional reasons for believing what he does. I certainly wouldn’t say that Mindbender fetishizes mental illness. Instead, it investigates characters suffering through mental illness within its science-fiction framework.
I loved Federico De Luca’s art. He does a great job especially capturing the wonkier, dimension-warping sections of the book. He makes Alex look incredible, like some kind of purple-blue cosmic god. I also loved how he paid attention to capturing the emotions in the eyes of his characters. They resonate through the page. The only pet-peeve I have is that often the characters’ skin takes on this particular shade of a muddy gold that does not resemble human skin (this happens for characters of a variety of races and heritage). Otherwise, the art was successful in its task of bringing Pruett’s supernatural tale to vivid life. The covers especially are jarringly creepy and cool.
Overall, Mindbender is worth checking out if you’re interested in a fast-paced comic with plenty of similarities to Stranger Things or The OA. It succeeds in living up to its title and has more than a few surprises along the way. The sixth issue, in particular, was stunning and sets the story in a new direction going forward.