5 out of 5
Another stunningly effective arc in the title that’s managed to supersede its potentially superficial “blah meets blah” setup with actual attention to characters and pacing. Lewis and Clark set out on their famous expedition… with the secret agenda of cataloguing monsters along the way. But the richness of the setup – with much, much thanks to Matthew Roberts’ keen eye for framing the scene such as to allow for both the open, awe-inspiring sense of exploring the unknown as well as the more focused and tense setups needed when buffalotaurs are chasing you into a forest of zombie plants, as well as his ability to balance Manifest’s look between the natural and the supra-natural; to Owen Gieni’s equally capable colors, flickering between the pastoral and the dreadful, daytime and nighttime, forests and the river without ever over-saturating the panels or – more importantly in a historical setting – without ever letting any single moment feel or look bland; to letterer Pat Brosseau’s character distilled into each lettering variation – the pleasingly rough-hewn dialogue bubbles, or especially Lewis’ journal entries – the richness, supported by those just mentioned, gives Chris Dingess’ world weight and a true sense of movement. As opposed to just watching a kitschy idea play out and occasionally cough up monsters, we feel like we’re involved in a fully fleshed out story that just happens to weave through history; that just happens to contain monsters. It’s an impressive feat, but one that’s suggestive of a team very proud of the long run version of their idea, and not just the last page surprises.
So. All of that was apparent from arc 1, but it absolutely is sustained in arc 2. Interestingly, one of the most indirect covers of the series yet – issue 11 – is the best example of how the story works. The majority of the cover is taken up by a very rich mountainside, lots of greens, very epic, and a lot of empty, deep space for a cover. Off to the left-hand side is the top part of a structure (a boat) and an era-appropriate American flag, setting the timeline. Off to the right hand side is a shirtless character, dwarfed by the mountains, jumping with a knife in hand toward something outside of the view. It’s almost peaceful, and yet certainly that knife is there for a reason. What’s he jumping for? Yes, you will find out in the issue, and yes, you do want to know, just by looking at the cover. Such is the way ‘Manifest’ is approached, urging us along with a sense of peace that hints at the ominous, and then it suddenly jumps out at you. But throughout, Dingess remembers to include some humor and camaraderie amongst the men, personalizing them to us, as well as kicking up the dredges of human behavior on occasion to make sure we can’t just go about blaming the creepies for any bad stuff.
This time out, we’re floating down the river, ’til the boat gets halted by… something. And just like in arc 1, I found myself not only surprised several times, but gloriously grossed out and edge-of-my-seated by how things play out. I really don’t mind if this continues as a monster-per-arc pace; by leashing the story to real events, it necessitates moving things along, preventing the too-oft-succumbed-to temptation of layering secrets upon secrets and stalling any sense of story.
The summary review: this is just as good and original and good looking as the first arc. ‘Tis a high bar, gentlemen.