Middlewest #1 / Writer: Skottie Young / Art: Jorge Corona / Colors: Jean-Francois Beaulieu / Lettering: Nate Piekos / Publisher: Image Comics / Release Date: November 21, 2018
The wind. Anyone who has lived in the Midwest—that great flat stretch in the middle of America—knows the wind. Wind that howls, that shakes, that bites. The wind seems an entity, and in The Middlewest #1 it is a character in itself.
Middlewest #1 opens with main character Abel, a teenager, lost in a dream where he’s confronted by living wind. He awakens to his abusive father yelling at him for oversleeping on his paper route—the second time in five years. In his rage, Abel’s father throws the alarm clock against the wall. Abel sets out to do his route, and this is when he encounters a talking fox that he knows. Partway through delivering papers on his route, a gust of wind scatters Abel’s remaining papers. He starts to put them back together when his friends come along and entice him to go game with them. Unfortunately, Abel is supposed to be home right after delivering papers. Abel is unsure, but the fox is there to give him a bit of a push. From this point the issue marches toward its surprising and emotional conclusion.
The Bright Blue Sky
A comic book paying a certain homage to the Midwest needs a matching color palette, and Jean-Francois Beaulieu is prepared. The big sky is bright blue. The grass is a verdant green. The nights are dark. For good measure the fox is a lovely shade of burnt orange. Middlewest #1 requires a vibrant color selection, and Beaulieu delivers.
Those vibrant colors are a well-done complement to Jorge Corona’s art. That bright blue sky I mentioned earlier is big. It’s in almost every panel. When the ground is flat, the sky feels like it goes on forever, and that’s the sensation that Corona captures by smartly including the sky so often. And what about that wind I mentioned earlier? Corona’s use of shading on the ground and the inclusion of particulates make the wind feel real; even the way Abel’s hoodie is caught in the wind and flaps behind him plays into this. Most striking, though, is the wind monster in Abel’s dream. With unraveling limbs and a swirling backdrop like a marionette’s strings, the monster is a living tornado. This is the wind personified.
That Pesky Wind Monster
Nate Piekos, for the most part, delivers standardized letters and word bubbles. In that way his contribution would be competent but forgettable. Except…for that pesky wind monster. Relentlessly calling out Abel’s name—with extra L’s for good measure—this one word screams across the panel, letters undulating in a wave, and plays along its edges. To be sure these few instances elevate Piekos’ work.
Middlewest #1 offers several environs of the Midwest, and that’s due to writer Skottie Young’s attention to detail. Beyond the story and protagonist here, there’s also a world that feels alive and calls to mind—for those that know it—the unique character of the Midwest. The story, in its way, is a coming of age tale as Abel pushes back against his abusive father. Abel, aside from being friends with a talking fox, is a normal teenager. Abel has a job. He has friends. He blows off his parents’ instruction from time to time. He’s recognizable even as his hatred of the wind goes so far as to fear wind monsters. Successes aside, the story has one significant failing. Intentional or not, Abel and the talking fox evoke Calvin and Hobbes. That evocation invites comparison, and Young’s work does not hold up. Rather than a relationship that brings out the best in each other, Abel and the fox are snarky to each other and most definitely do not bring out the best in each other. The exchanges are somewhat jarring against a setting that, for most of the issue, plays it fairly straight. For my money, it is an unfortunate addition.
Talking foxes notwithstanding, Middlewest #1 delivers on the world its title suggests. Skottie Young’s story is largely fun, pleasant, and good. The art team realizes the vision no doubt set down by Young’s words, to the point where I would say the issue’s greatest success is its art. After reading the final pages—a description of which I have left out to avoid spoilers—I can’t imagine someone not adding this to their pull list. And if that doesn’t do it—think of bright blue sky.
Rating: 4 out of 5 gusts of wind
Theron Couch is a collection of 1000 monkeys on 1000 typewriters trying to produce Hamlet. From time to time he accidentally types comic book reviews. Theron’s first novel, The Loyalty of Pawns, is available on Amazon and he’s published assorted short stories. Theron maintains a blog with additional comic and book reviews as well as posts on his personal struggle with mental health.