Today, Scott and Shelby are discussing Manifest Destiny 7, originally released June 11th, 2014.
Scott: As a culture, we love making predictions. The more impossible something is to predict, the more tempting it is to venture a guess. A quick search on Google yields dozens of 2015 Oscar predictions and NFL mock drafts, despite the fact that many of the films mentioned haven’t been released yet and nobody knows which college football players will declare for the draft until next January (or which players will improve markedly, get injured, etc.). Making such predictions is an exercise in futility. And yet, we do it anyway. We talk at length about what we think will happen next on our favorite TV show, knowing full well the show’s writers are working hard to subvert our expectations. Unpredictability breeds anticipation, and anticipation is fun. Predictability, on the other hand, is a near sin. It’s capital “B” boring. Even knowing full well that writer Chris Dingess is likely trying to subvert my expectations, Manifest Destiny is starting to feel predictable, which is the beginning of a very slippery slope towards boring. I predict he’ll need to spice things up fast if he wants his readers to hang around.
Finally on the move again, the crew is hard at work, while the survivors of La Charrette are proving themselves useful. Lewis has found a capable assistant in Madam Boniface, who’s handy with a scalpel and very observant — so observant, in fact, that she’s figured out the truth behind the expedition, though she hasn’t told anyone else yet. Clark thinks it might be time for her to suffer an unfortunate “accident”, but Lewis insists he needs her around and promises to keep an eye on her.
I’ve watched enough Game of Thrones to know that Lewis has essentially doomed himself here. He’s shown he has a weakness — his fondness for Madam Boniface — and he’s allowing it to cloud his judgment. I’m not necessarily saying I agree with Clark that they should kill her (because that would be wrong, no?), I’m just saying that counting on her not telling anyone about her discovery is sure to bite him in the ass. At the beginning of the issue Lewis offhandedly mentions the idea of a mutiny, which on its own seems like a big red flag. When coupled with the inaction on the Madam Boniface matter, however, Dingess is practically bludgeoning us over the head with all the signals of a major revolt in the near future.
Then again, the men may not even need to hear anything from Boniface. They’re probably starting to figure out that they’re getting more than they bargained for with this mission, a fact made all the more clear when their boat runs into a familiar obstacle.
So there’s another goddamned arch. Arches, it seems, are foretelling of monsters. In this case, the monster is a giant, multi-tongued frog. From a storytelling standpoint, this is problematic in a few ways. First, the idea of a large vessel getting caught on a fixed point like the top of an arch doesn’t make any sense. The boat should be able to swivel and move in any direction (if they can’t pull the boat forward over the arch, surely they can push it back the way it came to dislodge it, and then go around the arch). More importantly, though, the reappearance of the arch establishes it as the symbol of danger. It sets a pattern. Patterns are predictable, and predictable is boring. Furthermore, while a giant, multi-tongued frog is a fine enough monster, after seeing minotaurs and plant-zombies, a big frog just doesn’t seem all that interesting, no matter how many tongues it has. I wanted something crazier. A giant tongue with a bunch of frogs on it, perhaps, but this? Meh.
This issue doesn’t entirely lack for excitement, however, as Matthew Roberts’ layouts are as clever as ever. He opens the issue on what appears to be a small ladybug crawling amongst some pebbles, gradually shifting vantage points until finally revealing what it really is: an enormous, boulder-sized ladybug. This rejiggering of perspectives mirrors how the enlisted men are coming to see their mission — morphing from something ordinary into something bizarre, frightening, unreal. It’s a subtle and effective artistic touch. When Roberts goes for style for style’s sake, however, he’s less successful.
As Clark questions whether he and Lewis can claim they are not murderers, he gazes into his lantern. They both know what incident he’s referring to, and the image of their victim appears, not coincidentally, right over the flame of the candle. It’s a haunting image and another clever idea, but one that is all but ruined by the arbitrary placement of a white box around part of Lewis’ body. It’s not really a panel, as it neither separates Lewis from the space or time of the surrounding image, nor is Lewis fully contained within it. It’s just an awkward white box interrupting a perfectly melancholy tableau.
Shelby, I can’t quite get on board with this series. The promise is there, it just hasn’t delivered. I want to get excited about these monsters, but going from minotaurs to giant frogs seems like a completely lateral move, and everything else seems predictable. Am I missing something or are you getting bored, too?
Shelby: I’m not getting bored, but I understand completely where you’re coming from. “Lateral move” is a perfect way to put it; I felt the same about the game Arkham Origins. I’ve played both Asylum and City, and there’s no arguing that, while Asylum is a great game, the franchise leaped forward with City, in scope and gameplay. Origins made some small tweaks, but that massive step forward just wasn’t there. Now, since I liked the previous two games immensely, I wasn’t disappointed to just get a lateral shift towards more of the same, but I can understand why it would be disappointing to more critical gamers. That’s exactly how I feel about this story; I don’t mind getting more of the same because I’m still enamored with it. But from a monthly, serial story-telling perspective, Dingess is not going to be able to keep up the status quo game much longer.
Honestly, I wish more of the issue was like the giant ladybug hunt you mentioned.
We’ve already established there’s some weird-ass shit in this version of the American frontier, I would like to see the men just trying to deal with it. I’d like to see the benign weird become a sort of uneasy norm, so we can compare the “normal” monsters like these ladybugs to the truly frightening monsters. This would also give us a chance to spend more time with Sacajawea, which I am dying for. I understand why, despite how normal this wilderness is for her, her opinion is discounted. She’s the trifecta of the socially unimportant at the time: a teenager, a women, and a Native American. I get it, I’m just ready for more from her. I mean, come on! Sacajawea, Monster Slayer!
Again, I get there’s some limitation with this being a period piece and all, but I’m really hoping the few women in the book break out of the boxes Dingess has put them in. Mrs. Boniface and Miss Lebrun are perfectly opposed female stereotypes. The one, a virginal maiden the bend men want to rape and the good men want to protect, the other “one of the guys,” barely even considered to be a woman, based on Lewis’ complete lack of concern over being naked in front of her. Much like the arch = monsters pattern we’ve established in the first arc, this lady formula has established and served its purpose, and I hope now we can break away and these characters can grow into something more.
Even with the problems I have with this issue and the growing concerns with the series as a whole, though, I still look forward to it every month. Dingess has created something unique, something which is in a position to really stand head and shoulders above the rest of the horror/sci-fi out there with its added, twisted history. I just hope the team on this book can dig themselves out of the rut they’re developing before even the more patient fans decide its time to call it quits.
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