INTO THE NEXT STAGE: Korean Mother Behind Her Own Daughter’s Near Death in Comic Book Mystery?

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By GUY AOKI

One of the most unusual comic books of the past year is “Mind the Gap.” It’s kind of a murder mystery except that the target didn’t quite die.

Elle Peterssen was attacked on a subway platform by someone wearing a hoodie. Somewhere between a coma and death, she found her spirit in a dimension called “the Garden,” where others in her situation linger until their physical bodies on Earth die.

Keeping the mystery going is her amnesia. She barely remembers who she is, let alone who attacked her and why. So readers follow a cast of characters back on Earth and slowly learn clues along the way.

Elle’s half Korean as her mom, Min Peterssen, is Korean and her dad, white. Elle’s best friend Jo (who looks at least part black) slowly begins to realize what’s happened to Elle, who — in the same hospital where she lies comatose — inhabits the body of an old man, then later, a young girl, and is able to speak to Jo before the host bodies die.

Min comes off as a real ice queen. She’s rich, smug, and very confident. We eventually learn she falsely framed Dane, Elle’s boyfriend, as Elle’s attacker, by giving ammunition to Dane’s estranged father. We also discover she was the one speaking via phone to “Hoodie,” who attacked her daughter, and later poisoned Dane’s father, killing him.

The series lost serious momentum earlier this year when there was about a three-month delay between Issues 7 and 8.  Issue 9 was damaged by hack fill-in “artist” Dan McDaid, who wasted 19 of 23 pages in almost wordless chicken-scratch that was colored mostly in just blue and white. 

Thankfully, in the last issue, #10, we finally got some answers as Eddie revealed to Jo and Dane that he’d been the person in the hoodie who was with Elle on the train platform… though he denies attacking her. 

And yes, he’s working for his mom, who wanted to kill Elle’s psychiatrist (who’s now in the Garden with Elle), and yes, he killed Dane’s dad. But Eddie’s secretly scheming to thwart his mom’s plans. But even he doesn’t know who is “the Fifth” that Min answers to.

And Elle’s learned from her psychiatrist that she’s been in a place like the Garden before. In fact, when she was “really alive,” he was trying to help her remember her experiences in such a place. We also saw a letter Elle had written to Dane before the train incident where she seemed to say she was going to end it all. So maybe Eddie kept her from jumping onto the tracks? Maybe Elle’s tried to kill herself before?  OK, at least now it’s getting intriguing.

There are several distractions to this series. One, there’s an awful lot of dialogue, and it’s stilted (I’ve found this to be a particular trait of British writers in independent comic books like this — it’s published by Image. So I was shocked to discover writer Jim McCann is from Nashville. No excuse, Jim, the dialogue really sucks) and too often in passive voice. 

Also, in order to not give everything away to the readers, characters talk in ways that keep revelations in check. Here’s a sample of Eddie’s dialogue: “Yes, the body has been dealt with. It’s completely taken care of and out of the local police department’s jurisdiction. As for his son and the girl? They are under a very watchful eye.”

Later, when Jo learns he’s gay, Eddie responds in typical bombastic fashion: “I don’t make the rules, Jo. Society does. And they have thrust upon certain … standards people like my family must maintain, facades and lies though they may be … If you like, for your edification, I could march across the room as a private pride parade. I do hear it gets better.”

Two, while the visuals are better than what passes for comic book artwork these days (it’s gone downhill since the industry’s peak in the early ’70s), too many of artist Rodin Esquejo’s women’s faces look the same: Min, her daughter Elle, even her best friend Jo and police detective Antoinette Wallace. They all look vaguely Hispanic. You kinda have to go by the skin coloring to figure out who’s who, sometimes.

Three, because this is a murder mystery with the writer controlling how much he reveals bit by bit, it’s often maddening to figure out what the characters are actually saying to each other. When the major mysteries have been revealed, you’re going to have to re-read the entire series up until that point to decipher what was really going on — and to see if there was really a need for such unnatural-sounding dialogue.

The cover of “Mind the Gap #5.” Clockwise from upper left: Eddie Jr., Eddie Sr., Elle and Min Peterssen.

Not Labeling an Asian Serial Killer an Asian Serial Killer Department: After “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez died, I was shocked to learn how many of his victims were Asian (thanks to The Rafu for reminding us). From what I could figure out from his Wikipedia biography and other sources, at least 10 out of 22 murder victims were Asian as well as five out of 15 who were attacked, meaning at least 15 out of 37 were Asian. That’s a pretty high percentage given that at the time of those crimes, we didn’t even make up 10% of California’s population.

Ramirez’s defense attorneys were sensitive enough to this fact that they didn’t want any Asians on the jury. Yet I don’t remember the mainstream news media characterizing Ramirez as someone who specifically targeted Asians (they still didn’t after his death). Even though at the age of 12, his cousin told him about raping Vietnamese women during the Vietnam War and showed him a picture of at least one decapitated victim. Surely that influenced Ramirez.

Why didn’t our community assert he had something against us? If that many victims had been Hispanic or black, you can bet Latino and black civil rights groups would’ve spoken out about it. Was this another demonstration of our inferiority complex?

’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.

Guy Aoki, co-founder of Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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