Middlewest: Book One by Skottie Young (writer), Jorge Corona (art), Jean-Francois Beaulieu (colors), and Nate Piekos of Blamobot (letters). Collects issues 1-6.
I'd only ever really known Skottie Young for his eye-catching cover art. But he's proven to be a man of many talents, not only able to convert our favorite superheroes into colorful cartoonish versions of themselves, but equally, if not more, able to write a sprawling fantasy-epic found in Middlewest.
The story is pretty simple: Abel is a teenager in a figurative version of the United States Midwest, with sprawling farmland and clear blue skies. He's been sort of holed up in his hometown with his friends and his father, and hasn't ever ventured outside of his comfort zone. Oh, and he has a talking fox for a sidekick (who remains nameless throughout.) Abel's father, physically and emotionally abusive, is raising Abel on his own after his mother left for unknown reasons. Abel finds solace in his paper route and his group of friends. Everything seems pretty droll until one day, Abel's father's anger literally turns him into a tornado that sends Abel running for his life and thrusts him on an adventure, finally allowing him to escape his hometown and venture off further than he's ever gone before!
The story is set in a world that is equal parts steampunk and rustic. On Abel's journey, he comes upon buildings made of piles of junk that are so aptly put together they look almost artistic. What may seem bizarre to us, the reader, is normal to the story's characters, thus it is unclear where (or when) the Middlewest really is.
Skottie Young proves a formidable storyteller, laying out a fantastical world in which Abel and his fox-friend venture, meeting all sorts of characters: an old man with a secret, a former fortune-teller who knows the ways of magic, and a young woman Abel's age with her own trusty sidekick. In single-issue form, the book leaves you wanting more, but the story plays out much better in trade paperback. Oftentimes, fantasy pieces do. Young's characterization of Abel is spot-on at some points, and misses the mark at others. The young man's dialogue is both realistic and far-fetched, with some inconsistency, as are some of the other characters. Aside from that, the story is a pleasure to read; fast paced but slow enough to let the reader absorb all that's going on. This isn't a short story arc, and Young wants you to know this. There is world-building here and this epic will take awhile to reach its conclusion.
Corona's art coupled with Beaulieu's colors give this book its zest and charm. Corona juxtaposes the simple and extraordinary, the rustic and the bucolic with the futuristic, with such ease that the reader will have a hard time knowing whether they're in present day Midwestern United States, or some alternate reality. Corona's contours of characters reminds me of Sean Murphy, both simple and complex, while his landscapes and buildings are minutely detailed and worth a second look. Beaulieu sets the mood with colors both vibrant and dark, and truly set the tone, whether it's a bright sunny day in the Middlewest, or a dark, storm-filled night. Both artists complement one another magnificently. Piekos' lettering fits everything perfectly, easily readable and in a style different than most books on the shelf, it really complements the vibe of the book.
Middlewest is a equal parts epic fantasy and science fiction. But it's also a coming-of-age story coupled with the hardship of loss and how it affects all parties involved. A unique blend of family drama and steampunk adventure, Middlewest is definitely worth picking up, and with the first six issues easily accessible in this trade paperback, anyone can get caught up just in time for issue #7.