You can’t ask a series to go full-throttle in every issue, and Issue #4 is time for Chris Dingess and Matthew Roberts’ “Manifest Destiny” to move a bit slower. The fact that “slower” still involves a suicide mission, a man possessed by plants and a pregnant girl slaughtering buffalo-mino-centaurs should tell you all you need to know about this series.
As in past issues, Dingess uses Lewis’ journal entries to recap the most recent events, so even new readers jumping on at this point could probably get a pretty coherent idea of what’s going on. More than that, though, the journal entries are well-done. This sort of device can feel manufactured or lazy, but Dingess injects plenty of Lewis’ personality into the words. I also have to repeat that letterer Pat Brosseau has chosen a pretty much perfect font. It looks both handwritten and period-appropriate without being too much of either, and he places the text so that it naturally breaks up the panels. I’ve seen dozens of similar journal entries look tacky and intrusive, so Brosseau deserves serious kudos for defying those odds.
Still, the highest praise in this series has to go to Roberts and colorist Owen Gieni. The art is an absolute wonder. A remarkable level of care has clearly gone into every page. Going back through the panels, I could see a distinct, complex emotion on every face in the crowd. Even those characters who haven’t played a major role in the script — whom Roberts could have gotten away with neglecting — are treated as if the reader’s eyes would be fixed on their faces. So many panels that could have devolved into a dull talking-heads exercise are shifted and arranged so as to make them visually interesting. The supernatural elements are drawn with imagination and clarity. I could continue, but most importantly from a storytelling perspective, Roberts’ scenes always make it clear that something more is going on. Dingess can therefore afford to write a less obvious script, because the art does such an excellent job of foreshadowing.
Gieni doesn’t get to have much fun on this issue, as so many panels are stuck inside a dirty nineteenth-century fort, but he’s found understated ways to cue the supernatural. For instance, when Sergeant Floyd falls in the woods, the sunlight through the trees is unnaturally bright and tinged with green. The reader thereby knows that it’s only a matter of time before the plant contagion takes him over. This approach — taking mundane parts of the natural world and imbuing them with just the right amount of creepy foreboding — is just one of the many strengths of the art in “Manifest Destiny.”
My only complaint is that Sacagawea didn’t get much of an action sequence. She decimated an entire pack of the buffalo creatures all on her lonesome, and it’s all summarized in one splash page. There’s a lot of story to move through, so I can’t whine too much, but I do feel teased after the close of last issue and the cover of this one.
I have hope that we’ll get to see her in action soon, though. “Manifest Destiny” continues to churn through a strong story and an even stronger world, and it’s only a matter of time before another new threat arrives — fully imagined, beautifully drawn and totally unprepared to face Sacagawea.