Matt Kindt is a master of deception. His Spy Superb is hidden under a plain brown bag dusk jacket. If you’re of a certain age (i.e. old by the kids’ standards,) this book probably looks like one of your old textbooks, when your teachers made you make covers for your textbooks at the beginning of the school year out of the bags you got from the grocery store. But even then, Kindt is secretly sending messages through these bags, covers, and chapter breaks:
- “Spy Superb is a TRADER…”
- “Spy Superb is not SAFE…”
- “Spy Superb - but at what COST…”
Even the spine of the book gets in on the joke/secret:
- “Spy Superb is Matt Kindt + Sharlene Kindt”. (“Is,” not “By”)
If you know your grocery stores, you can probably guess which chain names are getting cut short there. But these are messages sent through secretive means, passed on if you know where to look and can decipher the clues that Kindt is leaving pretty much in plain sight.
In this book, Kindt imagines the Spy Superb- a spy whose reputation is so great that every other power lives in fear and awe of the Spy Superb. “Created during World War II. They combined forces to create the ultimate super spy. The best secret agent the world had known. The ‘Spy Superb.’ Perfect physical specimen. IQ off the charts. Master of disguise. Fluent in every language. Genius tactician.” Think about every great spy movie you’ve seen and every spy story you’ve read and Spy Superb is better than all of them.
“Also? Spy Superb is a lie” the book tells us in the opening pages. The first Spy Superb was killed before his mission began, when his belt exploded, killing him. So the Spy Superb became something more— a legend who could be anyone. Spy agencies would use the myth of the Spy Superb for decades after, manipulating ordinary, innocent people into being their great spies. They didn’t even know and were just used. That is until the latest one ended up dead in the trunk of a car where he’d been for weeks. The next spy superb in line is his brother Jay Bartholemew III, a wannabe writer who’ll get to actually writing tomorrow, the next day, or the day after that.
And with that, Matt Kindt hides what may be the greatest Spy Superb in plain site of everyone— someone who is so bad at everything that he may actually be good at being a spy. Jay is the type of guy that only a true friend could stand and most people wish would just shut up and get on with his life and out of theirs. He thinks just because he’s seen the same movies and read the same books that we have that he can be the world’s spy once he recognizes that there’s something afoot here. The way that Kindt writes Jay is both empathetic and tiring. You can see this in everyone whose path crosses his and it’s a true and honest depiction of the character; he’s just so into his own world that he doesn’t see everything that’s happening around him. Only, in this case, when pulled into world espionage, somehow he does see it. It’s like he’s manifested his dreams into the reality of him being the absolute greatest.
More than a lot of other cartoonists and colorists, when Matt and Sharlene Kindt team up on the art, the books feel like they are a piece of a larger tapestry of Kindt’s stories. Spy Superb works in dialogue with their Super Spy and Mind MGMT, exploring this world of secrets and espionage. In these stories, there’s the world that we see and the world just behind it pulling the strings. Mind MGMT is about learning to recognize the secret worlds while in Spy Superb, it’s practically something that Jay and us trip over while telling us he knew what he was doing the whole time.
Kindt’s artwork is very focused and straightforward here. There are few, if any, real visual tricks or diversions here because Jay doesn’t know any tricks or spycraft. If any of the real spies in this story were the main character, Kindt would be doing all kinds of visual magic and misdirection like he did in Mind MGMT. We see it here a few times as Jay encounters true spies; it’s used to showcase their specific sets of skills. But as Jay has no skills, Kindt focuses on his posturing and his pride. In Mind MGMT, Kindt was convincing you that you had to watch his right hand even as his left was picking your wallet to get to your I.D. or credit cards. Here we’re watching the spies trying to pick Jay’s wallets and him somehow either with skill or luck, evading their nimble fingers.
Matt Kindt is a really good writer for other writers but when he’s creating a story that he’s drawing as well, the pages crackle with potential energy. His drawings and storytelling have become more polished over the years but keep an edginess that drives you to keep turning the pages of his stories. He sets up this clash between the audience’s expectations and the story he’s telling. With Spy Superb, that clash becomes the text of the story as Kindt builds this conflict between Jay’s expectations of the world and what it is. In the end, Jay kind of wins, and his expectations are transmuted into reality.