THE COMIC COMPENDIUM: Manifest Destiny (2013-)

It’s not Lois and Clark… it’s the Lewis and Clark! Dylan checks out a comic book take on real-life history. 

Who made it?: Chris Dingess (Writer), Matthew Roberts (Artist), Image Comics/Skybound.

Who’s in it?: Captain Meriwether Lewis, Second Lieutenant William Clark.

Original run: Ongoing series.

Released: 2013-present.

I still can’t get over the sheer amount of comic titles out there today. It is hard to work out the economics of how so many esoteric and offbeat titles keep going. It seems to be both a creative wonder and a business miracle that so many artists and writers get to make such amazing work, and ship it all over the world to boot. 

What this means is that it is easy for a comic series to slip under the radar. Therefore, I would like to highlight one that you might have missed; one that mixes a spot-on high concept idea, fantastic writing, beautiful artwork, and a story that expands with every issue.

Manifest Destiny explores the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition, a real-life two-year trek across the Western United States after the Louisiana Purchase, commissioned by Thomas Jefferson to find a route across that side of the continent. During their journey, Lewis and Clark established American interest in the region over the French and the British, and gathered fascinating new scientific data along the way.

Rather than stick to historical accuracy, the comic imagines they discovered an unexplored America full of strange, Lovecraftian monsters. There are buffalo centaurs, cannibal plants, and a cyloptic take on Bigfoot. With Lewis and Clark at the helm, there’s also a ragtag bunch of soldiers, convicts forced into work, Native Americans, French Traders, and more as they traverse a dangerous but gorgeous new land.

As a man of the West Country rather than the Western U.S., it is certainly fascinating to learn about this journey through a fantastical prism. You will soon realise what a fantastic concept this is. Those embarking on the trip would have had no idea what to expect, and you get that sense of wonder and fear on every page, as well as the thrill of discovery, the danger, and the global politics of this manoeuvre.

Yet this is not dry politics, or a mere biology lesson. This is a monster movie set in the early eighteen hundreds, combined with The Odyssey. Even if you don’t have a clue about the historical or political background, the series is worth it for the creatures alone. The monsters are a mixture of those from classical mythology, pop-culture and animals with gigantism; there is always some kind of twist.

The vast majority of these creatures have no qualms about attacking the gang of explorers, and the comic certainly doesn’t shy away from gore, or from wiping out the central cast.  As with much of Image’s work, such as The Walking Dead and Outcast, this is an ongoing story that unfolds over each issue, and the dead stay dead (in a manner of speaking).

This man versus beast battle provides the main thrust for the narrative throughout, yet this is not simple survival horror. The characters are diverse without ever forgetting the tropes and realities of the period. Lewis and Clark, the men at the helm, are protagonists rather than heroes. Much like the real period, the moral compass of taking over a foreign land swings wildly, and you will be surprised by the twists the plot takes. And twenty-four issues in, there are still plenty of unanswered questions, and plenty of reasons to keep reading. What are the mysterious arches that keep appearing across the land?

The art is crucial in bringing these different strands together, and it makes sure the topography is accurate to the real U.S. landscapes. There are bubbling rivers, gigantic forests, tribes of Native Americans, and spectacular vistas around every corner. You understand the collision between the modern world and this new land, and the inevitably violent clashes between the two.

The factual journey of the Lewis and Clark expedition has indeed slipped into American folklore and the comic exploits that tremendously. Manifest Destiny explores what happens when you mix fact with legend, providing a gripping story of survival, mystery, intrigue, gore, and terrifying monsters. Anyone who likes horror must check out this series, but even a casual reader looking for a new comic should join the crew.

Dylan Spicer

Dylan graduated from Brighton Film School and and went on to complete an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. He has worked on award-winning short and feature films. He is currently experimenting with Narradu Memories, and his online audio drama giantcannibals.co.uk.

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