Writer: Skottie Young, Artists: Jean-Francois Beaulieu & Jorge Corona, Letterer: Nate Piekos.
I bought the first issue of Image Comics' Middlewest at my local comic book shop in a bid to diversify my comics portfolio, as it were. I had plenty of the capes-and-cowls stuff and I wanted to branch out into different kinds of narratives, stories that moved me in different ways. After poring over Middlewest #1, the series found a permanent residence in my pull box due to its fantastical approach to down-to -earth emotions as well as its ability to blend madcap zany with heartfelt realism. Now Image Comics has decided to spare you the month-long wait between issues — through which I had to suffer — by collecting all eighteen issues of this coming-of-age story into one cover-to-cover experience. Middlewest: The Complete Tale is a narrative marvel in its vibrant imagery and empathetic storytelling, balancing the innocence of childhood with the malevolence of generational trauma.
Middlewest's Abel lives a life of silence and anger. The death of his mother and his father's steady decline into abuse made sure of that. Skottie Young (writer of The Me You Love in the Dark ) brings this darkened yet sadly familiar reality to life with calculated silences and unstilted dialogue that just feels real. Early scenes between Abel and his father show this well with small amounts of dialogue representing vast amounts of context. Abel is afraid of his father and his father resents Abel. This is conveyed simply yet powerfully. Young brings a realism to his writing that is rooted quite deeply in character relationships, foregrounding emotional struggles against a backdrop of outlandishness. The writing is relatable, adding emotional weight to our characters' motivations and individual stories.
The world of Middlewest is ramshackle and vibrant. Jean-Francois Beaulieu (I Hate Fairyland Vol. 1: Madly Ever After ) and Jorge Corona's (The Me You Love in the Dark ) art details a zany storybook homage to mid-western living; open and agrarian vistas merge seamlessly with bridge trolls and automatons. The full extent of this visual worldbuilding is seen through sporadic splash pages, each its own breathtaking, but miniscule, glance at the complexity of Middlewest. Whether it be a carnival or a field definitely in violation of child labor laws, the art manages to bring each person, place, and panel to life in its own unique way. The visuals are deceivingly cartoonish, but at their fullest serve to make emotions titanic. While Young's writing grounds the story, Beaulieu and Corona's art carries the heavier themes.
As a monthly series Middlewest had me enraptured, but as a compiled whole, Middlewest: The Complete Tale presents a fully realized tale of one boy's search for family in any form. The story reads better as one complete text. It avoids the risk of forgetting key narrative bits over a given month while giving the story more visual continuity. If you're already a fan of the series or a new fan eager to read then Middlewest: The Complete Tale is the optimized story you should definitely be reading.
Rated a delightful 5 out of 5 POPs, you can pick up Middlewest: The Complete Tale from YOUR LOCAL COMIC BOOK SHOP (!!!) or directly from Image Comics here!
Austin Kemp read Batman #315 (Batman vs Kite Man) when he was 5 years old, and hasn't stopped reading comics since. Austin is a college writing teacher and has a masters degree in Comics Studies. Austin and his partner, Savanah, live in Massachusetts with their master, a cat named Chaplin.