By: Chris Dingess (writer), Matthew Roberts (art), Owen Gieni (colors) and Pat Brosseau (letters)

The Story: Lewis & Clark are trapped by monsters in a frontier fort and can’t find their Native American guide.

Review (with SPOILERS): This first 20 pages of of this issue felt very much like a middle-Act type of story.  You know: The first few issues establish the stakes, then the middle does some plot development and then in an issue or two, we’d get some resolution before moving onto the next tale?

So, most of this issue was occupied with Lewis & Clark devising a strategy for getting past the “minotaurs” surrounding them and wondering where their Native America guide, Sacagewea, is.  There’s humor and fun like when they describe one plan as the “mad dash” to the boat and someone remarks that it would be a better plan if there wasn’t the need to include the term “mad”.  Then Sacagewea and her French husband show up with a pile of minotaur pelts and the problem seems to be solved, or at least ONE problem is solved.

There is clearly something weird going on with Sacagewea and her husband.  Never mind that she killed all those minotaurs (off panel) and is now somehow rendered silent and lets her husband do all the talking.  She’s also supposedly pregnant, which is weird because we saw her doing the super-ninja-warrior thing with the minotaurs.  And the husband just looks weird and acts weird…  Something strange is going to happen with these two….

But, what really turned the issue on it’s ear for me was the final page.  Last issue we saw that the former inhabitants of the fort had been turned into plant-zombies.  By the end of last issue, that problem seemed to be done-and-dusted, with the exception of one soldier who was infected.  So, we had the obligatory pages of people talking about how he was infected and needed to be killed, so they have someone watch him, all very standard zombie-story fare.  But, at the end, when they have to whip him (for trying to escape), and as his skin is broken by the whip, we see that he’s all green and planty underneath.  Then he pulls frees and speaks coherent English at his captors/former-friends and he seems evil and insane.  It was very weird.  Like I said about last issue, the thing I didn’t initially like about the “zombies” is that we have too many zombies in comics, so I was happy to see them be plant-zombies.  But, they were still of the moaning and lurching variety: There was no talking and no intelligent intent behind their actions.  This final, page revelation that the turned member of the L&C party is aware/intelligent/coherent is very interesting.  I’m really curious to see how this weird plant-zombie thing works.

Actually, the plant-zombies illustrate what I like about the series so much.  Everything is sort of a fun-house mirror version of things we’re familiar with.  Americans all know about Lewis & Clark, so the story uses them and even the real names of their soldiers, but their mission is slightly different than the story we’re used to.  We know about Centaurs and Minotaurs, but these things L&C encounter are some kind of weird hybrid monster and have their own rules.  The plant-zombies are obviously somewhat familiar, but somewhat different too.  Ditto for Sacagewea.  If you enjoy comics where world-building rules and learning the mechanics of the world are important, Manifest Destiny is pretty fun.

The art is another big part of the attraction to Manifest Destiny.  Honestly, if you put mediocre art on this comic book, I probably stop buying it.  But with this art, it is a “must read” for me.  What I find interesting is how this title has a very similar look/aesthetic to Witch Doctor (another Skybound title).  Skybound is Robert Kirkman’s imprint, so it seems like he appreciates this style of art – and this style is very different from his own titles like The Walking Dead and Invincible (although it is similar to original TWD artist, Tony Moore’s style).  Manifest Destiny (and Witch Doctor) features lots of highly detailed line art – very crisp and precise lines.  The art style is slightly on the cartoony side – just enough that an artist can overemphasize action and facial expressions.  The coloring is rich and uses lots of browns and greens.  In fact, it looks about as different from The Walking Dead as I could imagine – which is realistic, light-on-details, fuzzy and black-and-white.

Conclusion: Another interesting issue of Manifest Destiny.  There is lots of weirdness going on and it isn’t entirely clear what our protagonists have gotten themselves into.  I’m enjoying this series a lot.

Grade: A-

– Dean Stell