Manifest Destiny #28
Manifest Destiny is a strange concept. Part historical fiction and part classic horror comic, Chris Dingess explores the era of westward expansion by peppering the world of the famous Lewis and Clark trek with myriad monsters, hybrid animals, ghosts, and ghouls. Usually, however, it is the internal monsters that each man and woman on the expedition faces, not the surrounding wilderness, that leads to death and destruction.
During the current arc, the members of the expedition face their nightmares and fears as an oncoming fog drives them towards madness. Despite being in the relative safety of a fort, each man sees his own demons. Several people recognize that their fears are hallucinatory in nature, but most do not. Over the last several issues, the men have begun turning on each other.
In this issue, Dingess focuses on three groups: Sacagawea and Clark, Lewis and Mrs. Boniface, and Sergeant Reed and York. Pairing into groups and creating a “bottle episode”-esque feel allows Dingess to further develop each relationship while also giving a snapshot of the overall effects of the fog.
While the concept of comic book characters hallucinating and turning against each other has reached the level of cliché (see Scarecrow, the Shadow King, the Purple Man, etc.), it feels surprisingly fresh here, in part due to the setting. In a pre-electricity/modern medicine world, the characters have limited options for reversing their plight.
It’s also interesting to see which characters are able to recognize that their hallucinations are not real and which characters become consumed by them.
Life between Sacagawea and the arrogant Clark has been tense for quite some time. Usually, when the two need to interact, they work through Lewis, who plays the expeditions’ peacekeeper. Here, they each see the other as an enemy (ironically, both characters see the other as a violent Native American brave. This is the least interesting of the three interactions, but is heightened by the fact that Sacagawea is pregnant and her child is, potentially, in danger.
Lewis and Mrs. Boniface are Manifest Destiny’s “will they/won’t they?” characters. Over the last several issues, Dingess has advanced their relationship, but he accelerates things in this issue. Both characters search for a cure, but from different psychological states.
Lewis, it appears, is the only character unaffected by the fog. Mrs. Boniface is ill, and sees the image of her dead husband, but is aware that he is a psychological manifestation and not actually present. Lewis goes through his bag of herbal cures, giving each to Mrs. Boniface hoping that something will do the trick.
The most interesting pairing, however, is Sergeant Reed and York. Historically, York was Clark’s slave, passed down from Clark’s father, but was granted his freedom and became a full member of the expedition. In this issue, York, like Mrs. Boniface, is cognizant of that fact that he is hallucinating. Dingess subtly builds backstory here as York sees and hears the ghost of a white man that he presumably killed prior to the expedition. Dingess reveals little about what actually happened, but this will, likely, become known in a later issue.
Reed’s hallucinatory fear is an unknown illness, as he sees York as being diseased. He turns on York because he is afraid of growing sick like the other members of the expedition, unaware that he has already succumbed to the fog. A burning building conveniently saves the two from coming to blows and also lessens the violence by the others.
Each hallucination helps develop the individual character, as does how he or she reacts. Although Lewis’ apparent imperviousness to the fog is interesting, it is Mrs. Boniface and York’s ability to function with their worst fear in front of them that is at the center of this issue.
Penciller Matthew Roberts, Inker Tony Akins, and Colorist Owen Gieni have done a fantastic job of making Manifest Destiny feel authentic. Roberts draws strong action scenes, but it is the creepiness of the hallucinations, as well as the ever-present fog, that makes the art in this issue truly shine. Mrs. Boniface’s rotted husband, Yorks diseased face, and the ghost of the man York killed, complete with a robe meant to lynch the former slave, are all haunting images. Roberts also focuses on people’s eyes throughout the issue to reveal a variety of emotional states.
The most disturbing page, however, is the final one, as the partially skeletal and partially animalistic monster presumably responsible for the hallucinations steps out of the fire leaving readers with a cliff-hanger for the next issue.
This was not my favorite issue of Manifest Destiny. It took me quite some time to figure out why, but I realized that the comic is at its best when it is about the unique monsters and exploring the American Wilderness. Because the issue has a limited setting, and only introduces the actual monster at the end, the issue didn’t have as much of what makes the run feel different from other comics. Having said that, because the issue was character driven, I gained a deeper appreciation of several members of the supporting cast.
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