There is a point early on in any promising relationship when your significant other gives you a gift that lets you know they really get you. In the case of my current relationship, that gift was the Volume 1 trade paperback of a comic series called Manifest Destiny. I’m a sucker for anything that falls under the weirdly specific category of “fantasy organic science”: stuff that delves into plausible-sounding pseudo-scientific minutiae as it pertains to biology that doesn’t actually exist. I’m pestered by questions like “If contact with iron burns faeries, what’s the oxidizing agent in faerie blood?” and “If drow live underground they must be obligate carnivores, so how can they digest vegetables?” Manifest Destiny is not only great fuel for my fantasy biology obsession, it’s an original, beautifully-illustrated and creatively written piece of historical fiction. The story follows Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their famous exploratory journey across the Louisiana Purchase, except in this version, mapping and documentation are just a cover for what they’re really doing: clearing the new territory of strange and terrible beasties to make it safe for human habitation.
While the concept and aesthetics are a delight, the writing does fail in some more-or-less predictably disappointing sexist and racist ways, which is especially frustrating since the series came out in 2014. Sacajawea, in spite of being well known and almost mythologized in popular culture, is woefully underdeveloped and more than a little caricatured. Although historically Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery encountered and had good rapport with many Native American communities, (establishing trade was, in fact, part of the mission) Sacajawea is the only Native American to appear in the first six issues of Manifest Destiny, and although she becomes directly involved in the narrative in issue three, she doesn’t even speak until issue six. It’s an irritating distraction from a series that has a lot going for it creatively.