Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Journey: The Adventures of Wolverine MacAlistaire, Vol. 2 by William Messner-Loebs

Journey Volume 2 collects the second half of the story of one of the most interesting indy-comics runs of the '80s black-and-white boom, about a frontiersman in the early 1800s -- back when the frontier was in Michigan. I reviewed the first volume a few years back, so see that link for a more detailed look at the series.

The eleven issues collected here are just as strong as the sixteen in the first volume, perhaps more so: this book forms more of a single long story than the first collection did, as MacAlistaire travels the wilderness with a foppish Boston poet and they find their way to a small settlement with dark secrets and complicated mysteries, during the harsh winter of 1808-09. As in the first volume, Messner-Loebs's real subject is mankind in all of its variations, thrown into relief by the dangers and privations of that frontier, and the battles both between individuals and nations, as settlers push into the land held by Indian tribes. MacAlistaire is the central character, but Messner-Loebs has sympathy for all of his people: the smart and the dim, the crafty and the single-minded, the crackpots and the educated, the ex-Hessian soldiers as much as the sheltered teenage daughters as much as the grizzled frontiersmen as much as the pressured and uneasy Indians.

Messner-Loebs's art is still Esineresque, particularly in his faces -- many of his people seem to have jumped directly out of one of Eisner's tenement stories of the late '70s -- but his backgrounds in these stories revel in the possibilities of white and black, as they move from the deep woods after a major ice storm to the dim, smoky cabins of a new settlement. These stories are always about people, even as they're dwarfed by the wilderness or obscured by the darkness in their own homes, and Messner-Loebs's art shows them as the center, in all of their flawed glory.

Messner-Loebs is an deeply unappreciated comics creator, particularly for his great, deeply resonant takes on historical fiction -- not only this series, but his Epicurus the Sage stories with Sam Kieth -- where he has shown a vastly greater appreciation and knowledge of what we have done and thought than all but a tiny handful of his fellow creators. In a just world, he'd be one of the most lauded tellers of stories about how we used to be and how we always have been -- but, sadly, we live in this world, and so we need to treasure the Messner-Loebs stories we do have.


James Davis Nicoll said...

in the early 1900s

Not early 1800s?

Andrew Wheeler said...

James: Absolutely right; that was my typo, and I've now corrected it.

Post a Comment