*Warning: Very necessary spoilers to come*
Manifest Destiny has been one beautiful and interesting book for the previous seventeen issues, but it lacked a little direction. As much as you could adore the scenery, ogle the amazing coloured landscapes, despise some of the supporting cast, and shriek at the monsters at hand, you would wonder what the ultimate aim was. It took until this issue for you to truly realise that this book was about monsters, inside and out.
Every issue saw an eclectic set of responses to the indigenous monstrosities the crew would come across, from ugly sea monsters to giant insects. The key was watching Captain Clark navigate the base immoral actions of the crew in order to circumvent a rebellion against him. With Collins by his side, they just about kept everyone in line, though the damage done by some beasts were all too devastating. Jameson was the last person to suffer at the hands of a mutated bat like creature and his penance was so disgusting that it rapidly shunted this comic into the horror genre.
Roberts’ artwork is phenomenal, combined with the inking skills of Gaudino and Akins and the luscious colouring of Gieni. The central pages where the poor chap Jameson has his head hoisted and plumbed onto the monstrous creature is truly disgusting and haunting. It is the sheer size and shape of said demon and the composition of the page that bring the terror effect. It is ever so slowly revealed, as we see its head and then its body and then its size in comparison to the crew. It is cleverly paced and the violence is depicted in a suspenseful manner. Initially the creature flies above before it is axed to the ground. The act is is made all the more upsetting because it is Jameson’s head we are seeing as it attacks and screams. Not only that, but the panels that show his dead face slowly give a smile by the claws of the Vameter is horrific. The see the image of a friend as an enemy makes the assault all the more personal, and the beheading so cruel. Even that process was quite grimly presented and upsettingly expressed. As they all take axes and chop the creature into pieces, we only see the men swinging covered in blood and guts. The hideous monster may not be depicted whilst on the ground, but it is the action of the humans that becomes the lasting image of horror.
Dawhogg, the Fezron bird, is the representative of his kind that depicts them initially as a threatening carnal race to a compassionate and fearful species. They are not too different from humans as they fight for survival against an unassailable foe. Dingess is very deliberate in showing the worst of humanity throughout this series. His ploy was to firmly cement who our crew were, the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. In saving the Ferzon from the Vameter monster, the crew performed diligently and were promoted including the miscreants. This was due necessity, as no matter their motivation, they performed bravely. This theme of how people manage to survive pervades through the book, with some men acting callously and rebelliously in order to overcome the terrors they have seen and others who struggle to actualise their plight and focus purely on the mission. All these feelings come together in times of need and obligation and no more so than their final act against the Ferzon: genocide.
In having very little dialogue outside of the narrative monologue, it finally feels like the crew are acting in unison. Their orders are clear and the reasons are obvious but the act itself is terrible and as immoral as they come. Whatever drove these individuals to join the voyage and become part of this potentially dangerous mission is forgotten. Their overall objective is the same: To clear the country of danger. Whatever may have occurred with Dawhogg, issues preceding had certainly shown the ability of the Ferzon to endanger and threaten.
It is painful to see the cowardice of the characters in striking at night and murdering the entire species. Roberts does not hold back in showing the fright in the eyes of the little birds, but this also highlights their vulnerability and innocence. As they fly around and scurry in a futile attempt to escape, there is only death to be seen. The more savage members of the party take delight in their actions but there is only a blank expression on the rest. Dingess and Roberts use Dawhogg as the focal point for disgust and cruelty, as his eyes well whilst pleading to Collins, the “good” guy, for salvation. The final page firmly presents the idea that despite not having fangs or ferocious claws, humans are as monstrous as anything they have encountered so far or are likely to in the future. The lack of compassion and empathy removes any humanity there may once have been and it is quite crushing to see the juxtaposition of good and bad merged completely and in such a desperately sad way. It may have taken eighteen issues to deliver this message, but the way in which it was revealed was repulsive and sickening. And that response is testament to the exceptionally well-crafted writing of Dingess and wonderfully rendered artwork of Roberts and Gieni.