by Patrick Ehlers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
I regularly make the claim that I “don’t believe in spoilers.” And that’s like 90% true – if a work can be “spoiled” by learning one detail of what happens in it, it’s probably not going to be a thing I enjoy anyway. There are exceptions to this, of course, and there are the odd movie or series that I wish I could revisit without any knowledge of what it’s about. Like, can you imagine how cool it would be to watch The Truman Show without any idea that Truman is part of a giant reality TV show? The movie so patiently teases both the character and the audience with the reality of the situation before blowing the doors off about 20 minutes in. Skottie Young and Jorge Corona’s Middlewest 1 takes a similarly patient approach to revealing the reality of the world of their story, but the hints are everywhere.
Including, of course, right in the title. As a born, raised and educated Wisconsinite, the term “Midwest” is ultra-familiar to me. Warm, inviting, part of my identity. But Young twists the word just enough to evoke a fantasy setting – namely “Middle Earth.” It’s not enough to give away that this series takes place in a fantasy world, but it’s enough to light up the Tolkien pathways in the readers’ brain.
Once we’re in the issue itself, Young and Corona present us with a dream sequence which anthropomophizes “the wind.” It’s a wicked drawing, but Corona is sure to leave all of the telltale signs and shapes of tornadoes on the page. We’re not meant to see this as literal, but as a manifestation of a real phenomenon in Abel’s dream.
It’s no stretch to describe the winds of the Midwest as “violent,” especially once we start to factor in tornadoes. Young and Corona pull us out of Abel’s dream by marrying the “ABELLLL” sound effects with a screaming speech balloon of Abel’s father yelling at his son to get up.
Because that’s such a common technique in fiction, the reader doesn’t really think anything of it, but this is more of Young’s ultra-subtle tonal foreshadowing. The tornado monster in Abel’s dream is his father’s true form, and Young is giving this away on page five… y’know, if we’re tuned in enough to notice it.
But the scene that follows is remarkably grounded, as a father and son argue about responsibilities. They’re wearing jeans and using alarm clocks and everything is just so normal as to relegate any of that weird stuff we just saw to Abel’s dream. That is, until we meet a talking fox. Mind you, the fox only talks to Abel, so it’s possible that we’re witnessing an imaginary-friend situation. Plus, the fox doesn’t talk about anything outside of Abel’s experience, suggesting that he too is simply a manifestation of Abel’s psyche. The same page that introduces us to the fox also introduces… something stranger…
Every building has a large clear container attached to it, filled with a bubbling pink liquid. If you’re anything like me, you were asking yourself “Hey… what’s with the pink stuff?” But that’s not a question Abel has about his world. Again, Young and Corona steer the narrative back toward more grounded story beats: hanging out with friends, video games and peer pressure.
A whole scene plays out as though it’s an episode of Freaks and Geeks, with nary a supernatural element to be found. Abel and his friends get busted for shoplifting, and it’s not until Abel’s father picks him up that Corona starts to remind us of the otherworldly aspects of this world. On the drive home, those still-mysterious pink canisters, now glowing in the early evening twilight, liter the page. Corona even goes out of his way to include the canisters in some panels.
The issue ends before we find out what that pink stuff is, but not before the magic of this world is put on display in one wicked action sequence. It’s essentially Abel’s dream from the beginning of the issue, this time played out in reality.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?
It’s remarkable to me how much this issue has in common with the second season of Stranger Things (giant shadowy sky-monster, a kid unsure if his visions of it are dreams, kids riding around their midwestern town on bikes), yet doesn’t feel at all like it. Like, it uses some of the same raw materials, but by pushing them in a fantasy direction rather than a sci-fi/horror one, we get something completely different. I don’t have an observation beyond “that’s neat,” but hey, isn’t that kind of neat?
I definitely want to check this new series out. Skottie Young+ Stranger Things+ fantasy/scifi= must read!