Thursday, 18 February 2016

Manifest Destiny: Volume 1- Flora and Fauna

I picked this up at London Comic con last summer because Westerns and frontier stories are my secret love and I sincerely hope one day to be either Laura Ingalls Wilder or John Marston, ride a horse as my primary means of transportation and tote a Winchester repeater. Either way, I was drawn to this comic series by its Western Expansion vibes having never actually heard of it before.

The series follows the 1804 adventures of Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark, who I didn't realise at the time of reading were real people, and whom it now occurs to me are the guys that Fitzwilliam talks about in The Revenant. So you live and learn. Anyway, Lewis and Clark, as I believe they are known to actual history, are assigned by President Thomas Jefferson the task of blazing a trail across the West, from St. Louis to the coast. En route they are to: establish a trade route, familiarise themselves with the new land, note landmarks and terrain, establish links with the natives and document the flora and fauna that they encounter.  Smoothing out the territory for the safe and rapid expansion of The United States of America. Your basic to-do list for building a country. Apparently this is all quite true- I don't know, I'm from England, all we ever did in history lessons was Nazis and Henry VIII.

However, Manifest Destiny is history with its horror adventure hat on. Tensions amongst the men on board the mission is rising. Lewis and Clark discuss the disturbing lack of obstacles they have encountered thus far. America is eerily quiet. Some of the more unsavoury men on board the expedition ship can't help but notice that the crew is comprised almost entirely of men without family and convicts...a coincidence? Or is this mission more dangerous than they have been led to believe? This question is answered fairly early, when the group is attacked by some sort of creature that has the body, legs and head of a Bison and the torso and forearms of a man. Obviously the President was not quite as crazy as he might sound. The introduction of some sort of living fauna disease later in the story brings a whole new organic cousin to the Zombie family and makes for some surprisingly beautiful artwork.

One of the most appealing things about this series for me was the characters. Lewis is a keen, boyish scholarly type, sketching and recording and generally being interested in everything like a kid in a sweet shop. Clark is more sturdy and military and just wants to shoot things. I really liked the banter between them both and am looking forward to the development of this rugged, historical bromance. There's a gross convict and possible mutineer/deserter with a gloriously weak chin called Jensen that I'm looking forward to witnessing his comeuppance. Of particular note also d a gloriously badass Native American teen called Sacagawea whose backstory I must know instantly. I sense she will be quite crucial, as the expedition has been ordered to rendezvous with her and her unborn child seems to be of great interest to Lewis & Clark. The baby's apparent father, all-round slimeball Toussaint Charbonneau seems to have negotiated its sale.

Manifest Destiny is off to a brilliant start. I'm always up for some pre-America as you know it stories, but I think this series has a genuinely broad appeal. The combination of excellent protagonists, some dastardly crims, some sort of (pregnant) teen warrior killing machine, contagious plant diseases, tension, danger, monsters all wrapped up in a thrilling adventure story is pretty exciting. the art style is beautiful, and some of the "Unspoilt America" spreads are breathtaking. Even the infected plant victims are strangely arresting- green doesn't feel like gore. If more history was like this perhaps we could finally get over Henry VIII. I've already bought volume 2, which is apparently Amphibia and Insectia so brace yourself for some spectacularly gross giant insects. 

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