I wasn’t expecting much out of Manifest Destiny volumes 1 & 2. For myself, alternate history stories is very hit or miss. But the creative team of Chris Dingess, Matthew Roberts and Owen Gieni with lettering by Pat Brosseau surprised me and I’m better for it.
Published under Image’s Skybound label it follows the adventures of Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark as they set out from St. Louis, Missouri to forge a trail to the western coast of North America. You might know them better as American history’s Lewis and Clark, 1804 journey men. With Manifest Destiny Chris Dingess and company give us a twist on their famous trek by retelling their adventure as having a secret mission given to them by President Thomas Jefferson.
If you’re unfamiliar with this history or Lewis and Clark, it’s alright because Manifest Destiny‘s strength is that it reads as just as well as an adventure story. The story stands on its own as a slice of alternate universe fiction/history drawing on the Lewis and Clark Expedition as source material.
The historic story has Lewis and Clark tasked to explore and map the new acquired territory of Louisiana. In the version Dingess presents, the exploration is secondary to President Jefferson’s true mission of cataloging and studying or possible termination of dangerous creatures to clear the way for future American settlers. So Lewis and Clark are accompanied with a crew of soldiers and expendable criminals on their way to La Charrette to meet up with a French Trapper and his Indian wife, Sacagawea. Sacagawea is more than just a translator and future mother on this journey, she proves to be more skilled a warrior than any solider and as good a monster hunter as Lewis and Clark.
The first volume serves as an introduction to the story, the environment and the people involved. It includes our first look at monsters in the new lands as well. The crew encounter the Buffalotaur – a Buffalo/Minotaur/Centaur hybrid – which are a little too similar to the “Indian Savages” portrayed in films and books of the American West for my liking. They come across as having a singular purpose to be a threat. They have no intention of communicating the Lewis and Clark so fighting and causalities soon ensue. Soon after comes the infectious, zombie-creating species of plant – don’t worry Dingess didn’t resort to the popular use of zombie monster but provides them with an explanation that is clever and suitable. Volume one ends with their escape from the La Charrette and the creatures as they sail downriver with the surviving French villagers.
Volume two starts to expose and examine the characters of Manifest Destiny and nothing does that better then conflict. The party is travelling in their ship and they soon get snagged on arch – a structure that runs through volume one and continues into volume two – and are stranded. Separating into two parties, one ashore and the other remaining on the boat, they will each face different dangers: a giant man-eating frog and deadly giant mosquitoes.
Dingess uses the separation of Lewis (boat) and Clark (land) to offer us insight and history in to each man. The circumstances and creatures in volume two are the vehicles that Dingess uses to provide the reader into the minds of the characters through their actions. The supporting cast also gets to shake of some of their static “red-shirt” status and we learn little bits of their characters on this “journey” through their actions and reactions to the events unfolding around them. The cliff-hanger like endings of the singles don’t get lost in the trades like some other series. Manifest Destiny paces all of its action, suspense, some horror, some humor and an entrancing plot to keep you turning the pages.
The artwork and letter certainly helps the story as well. The line work is clean and the settings are done well for a period piece, they are not distracting but accompanying. The clothing, weapons and items show that Matthew Roberts and Owen Gieni did some research. The work reminds me of the Classics Illustrated comics: vivid vibrant world, yet flat at the same time. The lettering by Pat Brosseau is great. Juggling journal entries, captions and dialogue and giving them all a distinct “voices” helps a reader as much as good panel placement. Pat Brosseau did just that.
Volumes 1 & 2 of Manifest Destiny has produced a good start with their alternate history story. If you’re looking for something different but familiar that will keep you on the couch entertained for an afternoon, Manifest Destiny is a very good investment.