Manifest Destiny 4

Alternating Currents: Manifest Destiny 4, Drew and Taylor

Today, Drew and Taylor are discussing Manifest Destiny 4, originally released February 12th, 2014.

I’m busier than you.

College, Traditional

Drew: I don’t know if it is true everywhere, but when I was in college, scheduling a meeting or asking someone to help with something was basically made impossible by everyone’s knee-jerk insistence that they were SO busy. I absolutely understand the importance of saying “no” when you really are busy, but the implication that someone was unwilling to make time for whatever group project that everyone else was making time for always drove me nuts. It was known around campus as the “I’m busier than you” game, which found its practitioners preemptively complaining about how busy they were in hopes of avoiding being asked to do anything. The best response I ever saw to these kinds of complaints was a friend insisting that he had just run a marathon with knives embedded in both thighs — something so over-the-top to (hopefully) give everyone a little perspective on how silly it is to complain about term papers or whatever. Of course, nothing we could come up with was quite as extreme as single-handedly fighting off a band of monsters WHILE PREGNANT, which is to say, Sacagawea (or at least the version of her that appears in Manifest Destiny 4) would have easily won the “I’m busier than you” game.

The issue opens with the men weighing their options for returning to the ship under the watch of the Minotaurs. No plan is ideal, but they decide to send a small team ahead of the main group as a diversion. Just as the first group prepares to leave, they are greeted by Toussaint Charbonneau and his wife, Sacagawea, who have already dispatched all of the monsters. Er, Sacagawea did, but Charbonneau takes all of the credit.

Sacagawea kicking monster ass

That taps into the popular perception of Sacagawea as a key player in Lewis and Clark’s expedition whose role was largely marginalized to focus on the heroism of the men. I don’t know enough about their actual expedition, or the gender politics of the American frontier to assert anything about what her role actually might have looked like, but it’s certainly in vogue to suggest that her role is more important than has been suggested in the past. Indeed, lauding Sacagawea’s place in history is so popular, even the US Government got in on the action in 2000, when it put her on its least popular currency: the dollar coin (which has a history of featuring female figures — you know, aside from when it features presidents). Ultimately, however this version of Sacagawea relates to history doesn’t really matter (you know, because she didn’t actually kill Minotaurs or battle zombified plant-men), but I think it’s interesting that her contributions are marginalized from the get-go here.

Or are they?

Lewis suggests that Sacagawea is “the very reason” they were at La Charrette in the first place, and apparently, his arrangement was to pay Charbonneau the remainder of his fee upon the delivery of her child. That she was pregnant upon her first meeting with Lewis and Clark is true to history, and that child, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, would actually go on to become Clark’s ward after the expedition. Still, the thought that this baby is of special interest to the expedition before it was even born is intriguing.

Elsewhere, the expedition has other issues: Floyd, having been fully overtaken by the plant infection, stages an escape. He’s quickly captured and sentenced to 20 lashes, where he reveals exactly how much of a plant he’s become. It’s a pretty standard “keeping your friend around long after he’s been infected by zombies” story, which gives us a cliffhanger of only one infected plant-zombie, which is exactly one-fifth as thrilling as the cliffhanger of issue 2. That is to say, the crew should make short work of Floral Floyd next issue, meaning we can hopefully put the whole plant zombie stuff behind us.

Between the action and planning, writer Chris Dingess slips in a reminder that Jensen is a total ass — this time with racism! As far as I can tell, Jensen is an invention, but Sacagawea and York (Clark’s slave) are decidedly not, and likely did come up against some forms of injustice…but probably more than just from the one weasel on the team. Like, Clark actually owned York — it’s hard to paint him (or really anyone else on the expedition who accepts this arrangement) as open-minded humanitarians.

Anyway, four issues in, and I’m still not entirely sure where I land on this series. There are some fascinating ideas here, but Dingess seems to have hit the breaks pretty hard with them. The introduction of Sacagawea helped resolve the Minotaur problem (and I do love the running gag of everyone taking issue with the name “Minotaur”), but we’re now back to where we were at the end of issue 2 on the zombie front. It’s literally one step forward, two steps back, and it’s making me anxious to get to more of the insane concepts that made me like this series so much in the first place. Are you feeling any of that impatience, too, Taylor?

Taylor: I’m definitely beginning to get restless with us hanging around La Charrette so long. Lewis and Clark have been stationed at the outpost for three issues now and its unclear if they plan on leaving it any time soon. That would be fine and all if Manifest Destiny had been around for awhile, but we’re still only on the fourth issue. Part of my enthusiasm for this title stems from its promise to craft an alternate history of the real life Lewis and Clark expedition. Naturally, I want to learn all I can about the strange, yet familiar, world these characters inhabit, but with them being stuck in a fort for the past couple of issues, that has proved hard to do. Sure, we learned about some “minotaurs,” plant zombies, and a mysterious, giant arch, but I want more. It’s incredibly important for a new series to establish the world its living in and I think Manifest Destiny has failed to do that so far. While the spirit of “any crazy shit can happen” still remains a positive aspect of this title, I expected some rules for this world to have been set up by now. I understand that Dingess wants to make his version of the pioneer west fraught with danger but by now there should be some sort of logic to that danger.

Still, there are some good things to keep me optimistic about this title even if its not moving at a sustainable pace. There are mysteries aplenty in this story so far and we basically have no explanation for any of them so far. Remember that huge St.Louis style arch made out of plants that had a skull on it? What’s that about? Are the minotaurs simply just hungry for man-flesh or do they enjoy killing men for sport? And of course, what’s up with the plant zombies? By sheer force of curiosity I would continue to read this title just to find out what it all means — this isn’t a wise path by any means (I would know, I watched LOST after all) but in that respect Manifest Destiny has its hooks sunk into me.

Perhaps the biggest hook of all, both in terms of mystery and story telling, is Sacagawea. She shows up pregnant with the hides of murderous minotaurs strapped to her horse. Apparently, she is supposed to be pregnant according to Clark, but the reason remains unclear. On sheer speculative terms, I’m beginning to wonder if the whole modus operandi of the expedition is to simply explore the Louisiana Purchase. If Clark expects Sacagawea to be pregnant that would intimate that someone is working for the United States out west and for some very specific reason. But what? The answer to this question, and perhaps so much more lies in the character of Charbonneau. He seems slimy and untrustworthy and just what his relationship to Sacagawea is remains a mystery. It seems he has been living in the Lousiana territory for some time now, given his relationship with Sacagawea, and the question of exactly what he’s been doing there looms large. Plus, he’s French. How can you trust a guy like that?

The art of Matthew Roberts goes a long way to establishing just what kind of character Charbonneau appears to be at this point. One thing I’ve always appreciated about Roberts’ art is that he draws faces in a myriad of shapes and sizes, which is not always the case in comics. Charbonneau just looks sleezy. But not the kind of sleezy you can just brush past. He also looks like a man whose cunning and smart and who you always want on your side.

A face you can trust.The panel above is a wonderful example of the way Roberts depicts this interesting character. In particular I love the attention to detail that Charbonneau receives in this and other panels. His eyes are shadowed by the brim of his hat which suggests a man who is both literally and figuratively shady. In addition, the tip of his nose is red and whether that is from cold or drink we are left to guess, but given the rest of his look, the former seems more likely than the latter. Also, he has that hat. It’s weird and pointy with some animal skin on it and is atypical among the hats of the Louis and Clark expedition. It seems that Charbonneau is destined to stand apart from the crowd in this story and whether that is a good or bad thing can only be known in later issues. Yet another mystery waiting to be revealed!

With all that being said, I’m still a little on the fence about this series. While the mysteries certainly interest me, I have no guarantee they will be answered any time soon — or ever. With the abundance of great titles currently running right now, its hard to justify devoting time to a title that fails to ever deliver on so many of its promises. Still, perhaps Dingess is going for the slow burn in order to warm things up for Manifest Destiny.  And while that might make it hard to read this title, perhaps we need to still give it some room in our schedules no matter how busy we are, at least for now.

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?

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