In 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, at the behest of President Thomas Jefferson, set out to map and explore the land west of the Mississippi River recently purchased by Jefferson from Napoleon Bonaparte. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 doubled the landmass of the United States with the Louisiana Territory stretching from what is present day Louisiana to roughly eastern Montana. What few people actually know about the Corp of Discovery Expedition is that Lewis and Clark, other than looking for a convenient route to the Pacific Ocean, were under explicit orders from Pres. Jefferson to purge the land of monsters. Oh, yeah, you heard me right. Lewis and Clark were commissioned to rid the Louisiana Territory of monsters. Plain and simple. You won’t read that in Lies My Teacher Taught Me!
In reality, this is the premise of Chris Dingess’ Manifest Destiny, a book set to play off the otherworldly and supernatural exploits of historical figures. Not that it’s a bad thing. Dingess, a producer and writer for television shows like Reaper, Ed, and SyFy’s Being Human, uses the unknown element of the American frontier to his advantage. Lewis and Clark are still keeping with the original mission as recorded in Lewis’ journal, but the two friends are the only ones who know of the expedition’s true objective. Though they intend on keeping their secret for as long as possible, Lewis still doubts their mission is nothing more than an elaborate hoax brought on by French tall tales. Their plans are quickly squashed when they come across a structure that strangely resembles the St. Louis Peace Arch. Only this one looks to be entirely constructed out of plant life, some of which resembles ominous skulls if you look at them the right way. While collecting samples, the crew find themselves in the path of a creature hitherto unknown to them, something not of any tribe they know. Something that isn’t remotely human.
Dingess does an excellent job of setting up the premise and the characters while keeping the pace nice and smooth without wasting a panel. Lewis and Clark are painted (almost literally by the gorgeous artwork of Matthew Roberts) as an odd couple of sorts with Lewis being the bookish collector and Clark his practical bodyguard. Their company of soldiers, volunteers, and vagabonds are quite the motley crew with one degenerate in particular, Jensen, piecing things together rather quickly that he, his friend Wally, and most of the expedition share something in common: none of them have families to miss them should they not return for some unspecified reason. It’s a great way to add tension to an already tense situation considering the dangers the real Lewis and Clark faced from outside and within the expedition. Dingess plays a little loose with the history, though not by much – I mean, if you can get over the monsters bit. There is some discrepancy over whether Clark was a Captain or a Second Lieutenant at the time, but I’m okay with Captain Clark since he and Lewis, who was a Captain, shared command of the expedition. Sorry, I’m letting the history geek in me out to play today, but it’s a lot of fun considering Dingess clearly enjoys weaving the supernatural into the historical. Roberts makes for a good fit since his art is beautifully illustrative, bringing the famous duo, and their compatriots to life in a way most paintings never could. I especially enjoy his depictions of Lewis as a wide-eyed naturalist and Clark as a stern disciplinarian.
Final Thoughts: I can’t wait to see what happens when Charbonneau and Sacagawea show up!