Manifest Destiny (#31 – 36) – Chris Dingess

4 out of 5

Manifest Destiny: Back on top.  Some spoilers for this arc below.

After some monster-of-the-arc exhaustion, Dingess and crew smartly turn the focus inward in this collection, in which the Spanish ghost Maldonado makes the rounds of the camp to try to ghostily grab a sympathetic ear for… whatever.  While the arches and the various creepos have been adding to the Dingess-ized Lewis and Clark lore wonderfully, this thread of the spirit who speaks to / guides Lewis is perhaps the most intriguing addition, because it’s kooky, but the character hangs around in the background.  So we know this is going to come to the fore sooner or later, and the subtle build to that – while plenty of over things go on in the camp, such as, like, mutiny – is wonderfully terse, and also allows us to see how Lewis responds to such an interaction, deepening his character.

The team of Matthew Roberts, Tony Akins, and Owen Gieni have found their footing together (Akins solo inking work in the last arc felt a little flat), bringing the visuals of these issues back up to the wondrous quality with which we’ve been spoiled; as this is not a monster-focused arc, and instead all about character, character, character, that each page is this engaging is all the more meaningful.

Dingess, signaling this narrational change, has a different character taking the mic each issue, including the French speaking Irene, whose journal is all in her own language, leaving us to either intuit what’s what through the art (absolutely possible – thanks once more to Roberts, Akins and Gieni) or by reading the translation at book’s end.  This is another variation I’ve seen on trying to immerse us in the reality of a character without doing a normal subtitling or translating between brackets shtick, and… I’m still not quite sold on it.  But, yet again, I’m glad to see people trying to shake up our reading experiences.  However, this ain’t the reason for the lack of star; rather, that narrator switch – which peaks with Irene – feels essentially abandoned thereafter.  It still happens, but it feels less integral to our interpretation of the issues, and that, structurally, can be extended to the arc itself, in which the first half feels like it fulfills the promise of a character study, and the second half then has to catch up and tell a story.

Thankfully the story is really good, and really tense, but I do wish the narrator bit would have felt as strong the whole way through.