Middlewest #9 // Review
Skottie Young’s magical coming-of-Age fantasy Middlewest takes a rather large step forward in its ninth issue as displaced kid Abel finds a name for his condition and consults with a god about what he must do to rid himself of a curse passed down to him from his father. Artist Jorge Corona and colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu ground a very wide expanse of story in a dreamy fantasy-scape that keeps the narrative from blowing away in the suddenly quickening pace of the story. Taken on its own, issue nine has the feel of a sweeping fantasy. It will remain to be seen if the sudden rush in the passage of time will compromise the otherwise steady rhythm of the serial.
Abel and Fox have been accosted by mysterious, shadowy figures in the forest. After a very tense interaction, they reveal themselves to be members of a native group known as the Nowacks. When Abel’s anger leads to another potential tornado, the Nowaks identify his condition as the Heart of a Storm. They promptly take him to visit an antlered bear god known as Nokoyuna, who tells Abel and Fox what they must do to rid themselves of the curse.
Young’s fantasy world takes a large step forward with the revelation of a legendary group of aboriginals. That are evidently based in part on the culture of traditional midwestern Native American nations. The nature of magic in the fantasy world of Middlewest feels distinctly aboriginal North American as well. The cosmology hinted at in Nokoyuna’s dialogue gives the overwhelming feeling of the power of an ancient nature that is far older than humanity. The immensity of this is undercut a slight bit by Abel and Fox’s sudden jump forward from the meeting with Nokoyuna through a long journey to the edge of a forest of eternal winter. A long, uneventful journey to the cliffhanger compromise the feeling of nature’s immensity. Thankfully, the art is there to suitably overwhelm readers on a visual level.
Corona is given quite a challenge with this issue. Aspects of the story are very humble and organic in a way that mirrors the rural Midwest...but aspects of it need to feel as big as all of existence. Corona gives magic a powerful, spectral impact on-page and panel. The big reveal of the massive god Nokoyuna is fairly jaw-dropping. All too often fantasy shrugs off the appearance of a god. Aided by stellar radiance from Beaulieu’s colors, Nokoyuna feels like a god on the page.
Young and Corona continue to develop a very unique North American adventure fantasy that fuses Anglo-European culture with native legends in a way that feels breathtakingly fresh. European fantasy has been done to death in pop fiction. It’s nice to see a story that takes a look at the traditional path of the hero from a more uniquely American perspective. Abel might yet turn out to be the self-directed fantasy hero that has been conspicuously absent from pop fantasy for so many years.