(Image Comics, 2014)
Written by Chris Dingess
Artwork by Matthew Roberts
Color Artwork by Owen Gieni
Lettering by Pat Brosseau
This series set the bar extremely high with a stellar first issue and has continued to raise that bar with each successive issue. Series creators Chris Dingess and Matthew Roberts’ tale of westward expansion meets supernatural horror is a truly ingenious blending of the historic and the horrible. With some elements of the actual journey kept intact, the book is every high school history teachers’ nightmare. The narrative is briskly paced; Dingess very adroitly weaves the action into a tapestry of terror and human drama. His interpretation of Lewis and Clark as characters is an amalgamation of imagination and history, allowing the historic figures to always pierce the veil of fiction. In fact there is a sense of reality underlying the entire work that gives it a sort of funhouse mirror reflection of the actual events.
This issue deals with events surrounding Sgt. Floyd’s transformation into a kind of undead plant/zombie. It seems there is a virus causing the infected men’s bodies to turn to vegetation while leaving them with diminished mental capacities. Ever of a scientific mind, Lewis attempts to restrain Floyd instead of destroying the vegetative version of the man that now stands before him and the rest of the expedition. It is Lewis’ intention to study the virus causing the horrible transformation in hope of finding a cure. However, after crucifying Floyd to the ground with bayonets it becomes obvious that the man no longer exists, only the monster that has taken his place. It is equally obvious that he is going to have to be utterly obliterated to ensure that the virus will not spread. So after snipping off a finger for study, Floyd is set on fire. After the heinous chore is tended to the crew returns to their boats and starts back out on the river.
Upon regrouping with the sentries Lewis and Clark recount the awful events and inform them that they will have to return to the forest to eliminate any remaining vestiges of the virus as well as any infected beings to diminish the risk of an outbreak. To this end they retrieve vials of early napalm called “Greek Fire”, which is an extremely volatile liquid that combusts upon exposure to air, from the cargo hold. Dingess gives us an interesting bit of foreshadowing; when searching for crate 14 containing the “Greek Fire” a case of wooden stakes is discovered, perhaps a hint that vampires are lurking about but even more of a hint that someone knew the kinds of threats they would be facing ahead of time, perhaps even Jefferson himself.
Despite Sacagawea’s protestation, the crew set off the next morning armed with “Greek Fire” to address the problem at hand, even if that means burning the entire forest to embers. Unfortunately for them what they find is even worse than they could have imagined. Matthew Roberts’ final page revelation is meticulously rendered in painstaking detail and it is nightmarish in its terrible beauty.
Manifest Destiny is a book that everyone should be reading. It appeals to Walking Dead fans, Swamp Thing fans as well as history buffs who like their facts tempered with a little fiction. The narrative is engrossing and addictive, the characters are genuine and highly detailed, Dingess has given them each very recognizable voices through his talent for writing great dialog. This issue contains all the elements that make this series so darn good. Visually, Matthew Roberts and Owen Gieni provide a cinematic sense to the action with highly detailed character designs, sweeping landscapes and authentic settings. Roberts has a wonderfully dynamic style that lends itself easily to the tone of the narrative, his knack for creating creepy monsters as well as engaging characters shows a degree of versatility that is sure to serve him well on what is certain to be a long and prolific career. Gieni’s vivacious color palette enlivens even the darkest corners of this ethereal world which works as a clever contrast to what is usually rendered in much darker tones.
This is a great series, it’s smart, fun and over the top exciting. If you haven’t been along for the trek thus far, all I can say is grab the trade when it comes out and hit the ground running. (4.5/5)
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Shawn is an aspiring writer/ artist who has been reading, collecting and living comic books for over 30 years. He lives in Baltimore with his wife, their son, lots of cats, dogs and other various finned and furry friends.