"Manifest Destiny #7" Comic Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Image Comics
Written by Chris Dingess
Illustrated by Matthew Roberts
2014, 32 Pages, $2.99
Comic released on June 11th, 2014
The untold story of Lewis & Clark continues in Manifest Destiny. After barely making it out of La Charrette alive, the crew makes their way down the river to continue to explore the US wilderness in 1804. Only Lewis & Clark are aware of their true mission which is not just to map this uncharted land, but to kill any monsters that they come across, making it safe for future travelers. They've already encountered a minotaur-like creature and plants that infected and possessed humans. Now they've come across giant ladybugs and much more.
Author Chris Dingess uses Lewis' journal to narrate the story. This works well as it provides a level-headed background for the events, although it can be somewhat shaded by his opinions. For example, he mentions that Clark will become upset about something and then the page cuts to the man screaming about killing someone. It's a very proper way of reporting on their encounters.
Despite this, Lewis is excited for the new creatures they come across. He approaches each with a wide-eyed look of wonder. When the ship gets stuck in the river, he's the first – and only – one to strip down and dive in to see what might be lurking under the surface. He does this knowing that there are all kinds of beasts in this area, such as the aforementioned minotaur creatures.
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Dingess hints at the backgrounds of some of the characters, providing examples of the crimes committed by a few of the men on board. These are presented as flashbacks brilliantly illustrated by Matthew Roberts. The first of these is for Moran, who found his wife with another man, then beat them both to death with a stool. The panel isn't broken up with a traditional line. Instead, Moran looks like a conjoined twin with one side in the present and the other flashing to the past, bloody weapon in hand. (I almost wrote “bloody stool” there but realized this review would come up in all sorts of weird Google searches...whoops.)
Roberts does this once more as Lewis and Clark are arguing about murder and what they're capable of committing. There's a closeup of a lantern with a Native American writhing in pain inside. It's a quick flash that creates many questions about what else is hidden in the shared past with these two characters, and it pulls me in.
As this is the first issue of a new arc, the look and feel of it is rather calm. The crew has already survived a few terrors and now they're peacefully sailing down the river...until they get stuck. This tranquil setting makes it all the more jarring when the monsters finally do arrive. It's like for a moment you think this is just a regular voyage, as depicted in the classic film Almost Heroes starring Chris Farley and Matthew Perry. Then you're suddenly reminded that there are strange and hungry creatures lurking about.
Manifest Destiny continues this alternate – and far more interesting – take on the adventures of Lewis & Clark. I know that I would have paid more attention to this part of history if the pair fought monsters as they explored the uncharted continent. It takes the subject seriously, never playing the situation for gags. This is presented as close to reality as possible and pulls you in and doesn't let go. You become invested in their journey as you need to find out how they possibly get through this alive.