Comic Book Bootcamp Day 2: Alternate History
What we’re reading…
One popular genre is historical fiction. There are countless stories that are retellings of events, sometimes with events altered in a what-if fashion.
Manifest Destiny (2014) by Chris Dingess and Matthew Roberts from Image Comics is a newer series featuring the adventures of Lewis and Clark. As they traverse the New World, Lewis and Clark encounter strange creatures. The volume, entitled Flora & Fauna, presents an America that is strange and dangerous.
Before you read…
Let’s take a look…
Manifest Destiny starts out simply enough. William Clark and Meriwether Lewis, commissioned with the task of exploring the newly acquired territory, document their process and discoveries. Lewis collects and classifies animals while Clark oversees the crew of soldiers and condemned men. The pair of men play off of each other well; where one falters, the other supplements. At first, this comic appears to be just a recounting of their history.
The crew comes across a large arch coated in flora, and readers understand that this is not the same country told in history. In fact, the expedition is presented in a rich fantasy environment. Two things in particular stand out in this first volume, the “minotaur” and the plant people.
A buffalo with a torso of a man charges at the team, and the ragtag crew is quickly to the test. As Lewis and Clark are tasked with the protection and documentation of the expedition, the crew works to advance in their own ways. Each of them are alone in the world, and the expedition is their chance to change their life. Regardless, with their lives in immediate danger, they would do anything to protect their well-being above all else. So, when a small herd of buffalo-people attack the crew, it appears that everyone is on their own.
The La Charette village is a brief refuge from the misnamed minotaurs. The seemingly abandoned village proves to be their greatest challenge. Silent, unmoving figures serve as hosts for a hive-mind-like floral growth. These creatures are much like the undead, another unique view of the zombie mythology. Much like zombie mythology, these creatures are shells of their former selves and live only to further the existence of the plant parasyte. The crew must learn to set aside their pre-existing notions of life and death in order to survive the experience.
La Charette is where the main female characters are introduced. Mrs. Boniface and Sacagawea both join the expedition during this time. Mrs. Boniface is the wife of the late doctor to the village. He and Mrs. Boniface worked diligently to save as many people as they could from the horrible flora disease, but their efforts proved futile. The only solution was isolation and burning the victims completely. She is adamant about protecting the majority of the people, no matter who is infected or the circumstances. Sacagawea has much of the same demeanor as Mrs. Boniface. As a native to this mystical country, she has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to surviving. She is quiet, a woman of few words, but she is fierce. Our first introduction to her is shortly after she kills a heard of the buffalo men. She arrives at La Charette riding with a buffalo man pelt beneath her, and she lets her looks do much of the talking for her. Lewis and Clark have certain preconceived notions when it comes to women. Mrs. Boniface, a woman in a caretaking role as a healer, fits those assumptions. Sacagawea, a fighter, does not.
This world is set up in a way that does not expect the existence of such monsters. Lewis and Clark are pulling double duty exploring and trying to survive a dangerous, unexpected world. This dichotomy is shown time and time again, namely at the end of the book when they meet the source of the flora problems they have. The two men are entranced by the creature. While Lewis sees images of debauchery and lust, Clark only sees images of innocent natives being killed by his hand. This moment sets forth the position we see the two explorers take from now on. Lewis concentrates on loving the world and exploring it, whereas Clark is more concerned about survival and safety. The two men are faced with incredible challenges as the series continues.
Yesterday, when we talked about superhero comics, we had to address the background information. Many superhero comics build upon each other and their greater worlds. With indie comics, it is incredibly easy for new readers to jump into. Manifest Destiny does not require any prior knowledge. In this comic’s specific case, nothing more than an American student’s basic history knowledge. Indie comics are great for newer readers, and their content can surprise those who are unfamiliar with comics in general.
What connections between American wilderness and mythology do you see?
Are you satisfied with the portrayals and presence of women in this volume? Why or why not?