With the future of the comics industry still in flux, Brendan Allen and I are taking the opportunity to introduce each other to comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals and things that go bump in the night. This week we hit a series in my favorite underappreciated genre!
The weird western is a wholly American genre of fantasy and horror, a genre full of cowboys, bounty hunters and Native Americans mixed with magic and the supernatural that’s been around since at least the radio serial days, if not earlier. Yet, before 2014, the very first western story has never had that particular twist put on it. However, Manifest Destiny by Chris Dingess, Matthew Roberts and Owen Gieni finally did just that, putting a supernatural twist on none other than the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Tony Thornley: So Brendan after two weeks of cape books, what did you think of our western?
Brendan Allen: I liked it. This is a nice little piece of revisionist history. The storytelling is fantastic. Paced well. Leans into what we learned in history class about Captain Merriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark, while experty weaving in those dark paranormal themes.
TT: I grew up deep in the Rocky Mountains, so I was raised on John Wayne movies. Though this series takes place significantly before most of those classics, I was hooked pretty quickly. The mixture of classic Western tropes with the exploration elements that are unique to this story and this setting really spoke to me.
One of my favorite things about this first volume is how Dingess sets up the concept. By the end of the third page, you know that the Corps of Discovery weren’t the explorers we thought they were- they were hunting monsters and keeping a separate journal all about it. Then in another three, we hit what became the series key plot point- revealing a massive mysterious arch. And then we get our first monster, the buffalo centaur. It’s a quick and concise statement of the concept, mission statement and plot hook.
BA: Yeah, no. That was great. Buffalo centaurs. They don’t stick around very long, but it’s a quick and dirty punch in the face, letting you know these guys have no idea what they’re up against. What was it the men called them? Minotaur? That scene where Charbonneau corrects the Captain in his terminology is golden.
TT: That was a great little gag. After Lewis and Clark decide to call it a Minotaur, literally everyone else corrects them, and all of them for different reasons. As we get deeper into the series, we run into a variety of monsters, but after the “Minotaur” I like that Dingess goes with zombies with a twist as the main threat in the first arc. It’s a familiar monster, but the series’ take on them is very different from the usual walking dead we get in comics.
BA: And then, there’s that art. I love how this thing just looks like a period piece at first, before everything goes sideways. Characters are memorable and distinct. Costumes and weaponry are period correct. Then, when the weird stuff shows up, it blends right into the visual world the art team has established.
TT: In my mind, this is where Roberts and Gieni really shine. Both are able to seamlessly blend horror, fantasy and monsters into what we’d expect of this story. Roberts is able to render them in grotesque detail, while Gieni’s colors really make the art come to life. The sickly green he uses for the plant zombies? It’s gut-wrenching. This is one of the best line-art and color-art matches I’ve seen in a very long time.
So what do we have on tap for your next choice?
BA: After I sort of ambushed you last time around with an absolutely horrifying and topical pandemic survival horror story, I figured I’d let up a bit with this next pick. Just kidding. It’s super dark and heavy. Get ready for a backwoods secessionist adulterous murder mystery in Grass Kings Volume 1, by Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins.
Manifest Destiny (2014) Image Comics. Written by Chris Dingess, line art by Matthew Roberts, color art by Owen Gieni, letters by Pat Brousseau.
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If your local comic store is temporarily closed, not offering safe curbside pick up or mail order, or is out of stock on this title, you can find a copy on Comixology for $7.99 here and this book is also included in the Comixology Unlimited subscription service. Barnes and Noble also has physical copies here.