MANIFEST DESTINY collects issues #1-6 of the Image series by Chris Dingess and Matthew Roberts. I don’t know much about either creator, but the subject matter alone was a draw for me. Historical exploration of the West? Monster fighting? Who do I make the check out to?
MANIFEST DESTINY reimagines the Lewis & Clark expedition of 1804 as a monster-hunting adventure. The familiar Captains Lewis & Clark lead the familiar expedition, except in this story, exploration is secondary to the prime directive of clearing all the monsters out of the way to make room for the mass of American settlers to come.
Lewis & Clark know this. But their crew of paid soldiers and paroled convicts are kept in the dark, at least until the first encounter with a buffalo-minotaur-centaur. Why the big secret? It’s unclear. Even the steadfast captains express doubt at President Jefferson’s secret directive at first.
But the monsters do appear, and there is fighting. Casualties are suffered on all sides. I usually am unrelentingly enthusiastic about monster fighting stories, but something about this one gives me pause. The West? Full of beasts and savages that only mean us harm? Isn’t that pretty much how white Americans viewed the native tribes all along? This book seems to take unabashed joy in slaughtering the beastly races encountered on the expedition. The buffalo-minotaur-centaur race are no mindless beasts. They have tooled weapons and markings on their skin, evidence of a rich culture. And yet they are written here as “other,” a dispensable enemy that we need not empathize with, much like the “savages” featured in earlier generations of American West literature.
But then along comes an infectious, zombie-creating species of plant, so perhaps I’m reading too much into it. (Never mind our heroes’ brilliant and ecologically-devastating solution to that problem.) Maybe there is commentary here? It sure seems like we’re supposed to be rooting for our destructive dynamic duo.
MANIFEST DESTINY is almost exactly what it says on the tin: Lewis & Clark vs. monsters. There’s little subtlety, at least through the end of this first volume. Lewis & Clark play the part of the buddy cops, casual one-liners and all, and everyone else seems to be either expendable or just a plot device. But it’s a fun book, and worth the $10 cover price.
Oh, there is a briefly-addressed subplot about Sacagawea and a Frenchman and their unborn child, but I’m pretty sure in the end it will have something to do with monsters.