Lindsay and Zawadski’s psychological thriller takes another unexpected turn: it slows down. It’s a smart piece of writing that gives the characters a chance to take in all that has happened, and the reader time to process what comes next, before the real action begins.
Headspace may only be three issues in, but Ryan K. Lindsay’s psychological thriller already feels as though it is approaching critical mass, shifting between action, horror, intrigue, crime, fantasy, science-fiction, and several other genres several times in its infant run.
And for each of the many thematic shifts, there is at least one incredible narrative revelation. As of the end of issue #2, Shane’s reality in the small town of Carpenter Cove has already been obliterated; the town sheriff has witnessed natural and unnatural cataclysms, a murderous alligator, grotesque murders, rampaging monsters, and even his own dead son – all within the confines of the island town. Though not all of the pieces have fallen into place yet it is known that Carpenter Cove, Shane, and all of the other inhabitants exist within the mind of Max, a ruthless trained killer, in order to stop him from killing again.
This is all a heck of a lot to take in, but the incredibly fast pace of the first two issues proved an effective means of introducing the complex layers of the book’s central conceit. What makes the third issue so unique is how quickly it abandons that frenetic energy in favour of a slower burn.
In the real world, Max continues his mission of getting to his mysterious benefactor, taking a detour by breaking into the home of Michelle, an old flame. It’s late at night and the two have a brief but telling encounter that helps to illuminate some of Max’s past. It also demonstrates how tactically smart Max is, having conducted thorough surveillance of the house and all its occupants, making his encounter with Michelle a deliberate and calculated move.
The relative calm of this reality seems to trickle down, at least momentarily, to Carpenter Cove, where Shane and the Librarian have a bit more time to explore the ramifications of Shane’s recent discoveries. Part of this exploration is mechanical, establishing the Matrix-esque “if you die here, you die in real life” gambit, as well as setting up the only safe way for Shane’s consciousness to escape Max’s mind: sailing off into the unending horizon surrounding Carpenter Cove, something he had been unknowingly programmed to do to others who were losing their grip on the mission.
Lindsay is wise to have slowed the pace in this issue. Through issues #1 and #2, he had the benefit of Eric Zawadski’s action-packed art to keep the stakes high and the intrigue mounting. By taking the energy down by a few steps, Lindsay allows us the same respite as both Max and Shane – a time to reflect on what has happened, what has been learned, and to clarify exactly what must happen next.
Zawadski adapts well to this shift in pace without changing much technically in his art. Still utilizing some interesting framing layouts, he manages to infuse a different breed of stakes into Lindsay’s writing. The scene between Max and Michelle feels more like an espionage novel than an action movie, playing off the “chess game” being played by Max – he counters each of Michelle’s counters as the frames cleanly slide into place. It’s a logical layout, but it feels as though its organically adapting to the dialogue as it happens.
Once the story shifts back to Carpenter Cove, the panels stop being so adaptable. In the final few pages of the issue, where the action once again begins to mount, there is almost no variation in panel size or placement at all. Though considerably less visually interesting, it still feels like a strong choice, as it reinvests in the book’s heartbeat as the pace begins to ramp back up.
Thus far, Headspace has been an intriguing read. Lindsay and Zawadski have made Carpenter Cove a town that feels as alive as it should. The shifting energy and pace of the action turn what started as a relatively normal town into what it truly is: a living nightmare. Not to mention all the actual monsters roaming the streets.
As the story pushes onward, what remains to be seen is who is really pulling the strings behind Max’s sudden awakening. Whomever they are, they are the real threat to Shane’s mission, guiding Max to destroy Carpenter Cove and the government’s attempt to stop a dangerous killer.
Ryan K. Lindsay (W), Eric Zawadski (A) • Monkeybrain Comics, $0.99. June 11, 2014.