Bill Loebs’s Journey is a true masterwork–a classic and unique work of insight and brilliance, filled with extraordinary scenes, intriguing characters, and spectacular storytelling.
However, this is an extraordinary comic book. And it’s great to see this series collected in a convenient “Essential”/”Showcase” edition.
Journey tells the tale of Joshua “Wolverine” MacAllistaire, a frontier woodsman in the Michigan wilderness in the early part of the 19th century. You might think a comic based on such a concept would be a bit dull, but this is actually an extremely lively series.
For instance, chapter one tells the story of MacAllistaire being chased by a bear. The chase takes 14 pages–and they are spine-tingling. The story alternates spectacular storytelling with a fascinating interior monologue by the frontiersman. It’s a real tour de force that displays a real command of the comics form.
Loebs uses stunning page layouts to emphasize the scenes in the story–none more stunning than the amazing tableau on page 23 when MacAllistaire escapes the bear. (sorry for the spoiler, folks, but the book is about Old Joss, after all.)
After the brilliance of that first chapter, it’s hard to not get hooked into the comic. One way Loebs sucks readers in is by gradually revealing MacAllistaire’s character in interesting and surprising ways. As the book progresses, we not only see Old Joss’s amazing survival skills but also his love of poetry, his loyalty to friends, and his complex take on relations with Native Americans.
I found myself also really excited by Loebs’s amazing page layouts throughout the volume. Page after page, scene after scene, Loebs delivers moments that are completely unique. Opening this book to nearly any page reveals a stunningly original storytelling style.
See page 170, for instance, for a shocking scene of a man stuck in ice. Or look at page 203 and see how beautifully Loebs manages the scene between MacAllistaire and Sparrow Dark. Or read page 283 and notice how wonderfully Loebs delivers a very simple scene.
It’s stunning how often Loebs delivers perfectly-realized moments.
The idiosyncratic linework of the illustrations is also quite intriguing in this book. Loebs is very highly influenced by the great Will Eisner–which certainly helps explain why his storytelling is so distinctive. However, beyond influence there are also scenes where Loebs seems to actually be channeling Eisner. His art has a charm, richness, and emphasis on facial gestures that is so often associated with Eisner. Most every line seems well thought out; all are placed on the page for specific reasons.
Yet the biggest surprise in reading this book comes from how the plot progresses. This “phonebook” edition collects 14 issues of the original series, and it’s intriguing how thoughtfully Loebs builds his story through the run. The early chapters begin the story of Native American unrest that builds to an intense conclusion later in the series. The story progression displays a magisterial command of the art form, and a very nice payoff for patient readers.
However, there are a few missteps, too. For instance, the book goes into odd tangents with a crossover involving Neil the Horse and normalman–who were also published by Aardvark-Vanheim at the time. There’s also an inexplicable anthropomorphic sci-fi story in the middle of the Native American drama. Nevertheless, by the time those scenes appear, Loebs has earned a lot of credit from readers.
Journey is a lost classic of the 80s. In a perfect world, this series would have been a smash hit rather than a critical darling. Yet critical darling it is. The series has lost none of its brilliance in the intervening years; in fact, time has only done it favors.
Journey is a masterpiece.