Today, Patrick and Mikyzptlk are discussing Manifest Destiny 1, originally released November 13th, 2013.
“(It is) our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.”
John L. O’Sullivan, New York Morning News, 1845
Patrick: The term “Manifest Destiny” is strange – I’m not totally convinced that those words make sense when put up next to each other like that. I mean, I see how you can make one’s destiny manifest: essentially just realizing one’s potential. My objection — I think — is that it’s redundant: both “manifest” and “destiny” can imply that what is going to happen is meant to happen. And maybe that’s all O’Sullivan was going for, he felt that the US was “supposed” to conquer all the lands between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The genius of the term is that it feels as though the right and responsibility to do so is innate – you’ll notice that he doesn’t say that any man, government or god has granted us this opportunity, just “Providence.” Whatever was out there, it was just ours. No question, no doubt, no reason. It’s already a dangerous and intriguing concept, so what happens when you add secret missions and monsters? You get the best kind of alternate-history comic – one that makes you chuckle in recognition and gasp in shock in the same breath.I don’t need to introduce you to Lewis and Clark. You know who they are. They’re on a mission to… well, you know that too. But they’re not just out there to scope out the spoils of the Louisiana Purchase, they also have a top secret, confidential mission. It’s not entirely clear what this secret mission entails, but one thing’s for sure: they expect to encounter monsters. Monsters! As a result, there are an awful lot of soldiers and ex-cons on the crew. Even with the promise of monsters, the trip thus far has been boring.
That is, until they encounter an enormous arch, covered in plant life. They stop to investigate, and while on land, two of the ex-cons — Wally and the constantly-misbehaving Jensen — entertain the idea of deserting the expedition. Y’see, Jensen’s come to the realization that no one on the crew has any family to speak of – everyone is expendable. Before they can take any action, however, a terrifying creature bursts forth from the foliage and attacks. Clark is able to take the beast down, and we get our first real taste of the kind of shit this story is interested in.
This series is already striking an interesting tone – somewhere between the bright optimism the American History backdrop suggests and the darker horror underpinnings. The cast is classic horror: a team of expendable mercenaries and scientists sent into the great unknown. What’s super neat is that these tones bring about conflicting sets of tropes, forcing me to abandon most of my expectations by the end of the first issue. If this were straight-up horror, I’d say that Jensen and the hardened criminals would survive to the end, and if it were straight-up American Western Adventure, I’d expect Lewis and Clark’s inherent goodness to buoy them to a happy ending.
In fact, even in the first issue, writer Chris Dingess seems to delight in half-delivering on expectations and then subverting them at the last second. The first big example of this is the arch. The structure bears an unmistakable resemblance to the St. Louis arch — a monument which is also called the Gateway to the West and was constructed as a monument to westward expansion. So the Gateway Arch is already subconsciously on your mind the second you pick up this issue and read the title page, whether you realize it or not. But this obviously isn’t that arch, it’s about 160 years too early for that. (Probably also a couple hundred miles too far west for that, come to think of it.) It’s just familiar enough to spark recognition but just foreign enough to make you go “what?” The same can be said of that monster: from the early panicked glimpses, I think we all expect a centaur. The reality is several degrees stranger, and it gets even weirder when the expedition casually tries to assign it a tribe.
Which is just to say that I’m totally charmed by the little mysteries implied by the world. There may not have been a lot of incident in this first issue, but the question marks are enough to pull me back for a second. That, and Matthew Robert’s phenomenal art. Roberts is so patient with his action, giving each individual character moment ample space to breathe. He backs it up with some pretty solid acting, and the exaggerated features of his character designs are actually quite good at delivering subtlety. Check out this early moment that Lewis and Clark share.
The look on Lewis’ face as he dutifully covers his ears is just genius. He knows what’s about to happen and he also know exactly how he can experience it comfortably. Hell, even the change in expression on the dog’s face is awesome – expectant, attentive.
Mik! How’d you like this debut? It bears the Skybound… imprint? What are we calling Robert Kirkman’s mini-empire-within-Image-Comics? Anyway, it bears a lot of the same focus on characters and world-building as Walking Dead and Invincible. Only, you know, without 100 back-issues I haven’t read. Also, do you think it’s weird to name the series after a phrase that wouldn’t be coined for another 40 years after the expedition ended? I think it works, and is as emotionally loaded as something like Manhattan Projects, but it is a touch anachronistic.
Mikyzptlk: I honestly haven’t thought about the title, but it certainly seems to fit this series so far. I definitely enjoyed this debut, as it’s got just the right mix of weirdness and unapologetic storytelling. I think the thing that really grabbed me though, was the characterization. Sure, I may know who Lewis and Clark are from all of those history lessons I sat through, but I have no clue who they are in the context of this story.
Chris Dingess wastes no time in clueing me in on who our heroes are though, and it was a treat getting up to speed. We get to know who Lewis and Clark are in 4 panels, 3 narration boxes, and one rifle blast. Patrick, I’m actually talking about the second image that you posted above. It was the second page of the issue, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn the types of characters that I would be dealing with so early on.
Lewis, the one with the journal, is clearly the brainier one of the Manifest Destiny duo. While Clark, the one with the rifle, is clearly more of a take-action type of guy. Not a word is uttered between these two characters, but an understanding of who they are and why they work so well as a team can immediately be inferred by the image above. That’s great storytelling right there, and it immediately got my attention.
Lewis and Clark aren’t the only characters we are introduced to in this issue though. Patrick has already mentioned Wally and Jensen, but there’s a sizeable handful of other characters that we really haven’t had the pleasure of getting to know yet. One of those characters meets his unfortunate end, while another, by the name of York, discovers something unmistakingly foreboding.
Dude, seriously. PUT THAT FLOWER DOWN. A skull shaped flower, while definitely cool, can only mean bad things. Again, I really enjoy the storytelling that is going on here. Patrick mentioned Matthew Robert’s art, and I’m just as entranced with it. Not a word is being uttered above, but a message is certainly being sent: that arch is bad news bears. Sorry, I probably could have come up with a more dramatic way to say that. Anyway, it’s safe to say that I’ll be reading the next issue of this series, if only to find out more about this wild and wacky west.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?