“Intent doesn’t matter to me kid, perception does.”
A coming of age story. We hear that phrasing all the time, but how exactly does one “come of age?” In Middlewest, the answer lies in Fox, Abel’s companion, similar to Jiminy Cricket, who teaches Abel survival skills but also leaves him to deal with the consequences. From the very beginning, Fox has operated in the gray areas of morality, advising, teaching, and urging Abel along, but the final choice is always up to Abel. This issue emphasizes that notion as Abel has to deal with the consequences of stealing from the carnival. Beginning with an appropriate flashback highlighting the ideas of intent versus perception, Middlewest #5 dives deeper into Abel’s pain, Fox’s loyalty, and a colorful cast of supporting characters. The quest continues as Skottie Young, Jorge Corona, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, and Nate Piekos of Blambot dive back into the journey through Middlewest!
The issue begins by portraying the impact an absent parent can have on a child and the other parent. As we’ve seen throughout previous issues, Abel idealizes his mother who left almost four years ago. We’ve seen Abel’s love for his mother, but we haven’t seen the toll this takes on Dale, something that cannot be understated. Dale is a deeply flawed man, and his actions are reprehensible, but it is necessary to see the pain Dale feels as Abel takes his hard work for granted while putting his mother on a pedestal. Abel says, “She must have known my old piece of junk was on its last leg” to suggest his mom’s care despite her absence, but Dale perceives it as an insult to him and his hard work and takes it out on Abel. Young and Corona do a great job telegraphing emotions through dialogue and facial expressions in this seen. It’s important to notice how rarely Dale’s eyes are shown, because when they are, all we can see is anger.
Back in the present, Abel is losing control of his powers again after he’s caught stealing, but his rage is quickly quelled by a woman we later learn to be Magdalena, the possible answer to Abel’s prayers. Magdalena is not pleased, however, as she still needs to make an example out of Abel for pickpocketing at her carnival.
While Abel faces consequences for his actions, we see get to learn the importance of loyalty and witness a foil to Abel and Fox in Bobby and Wrench. Magdalena explains that Abel’s problem is not an easy fix, and in the meantime, Abel will have to pay of his debt for stealing. It’s a fair consequence that recognizes the intention while addressing the impact that letting Abel go would have on business. Magdalena also recognizes that this is old magic, and unlike most quests, the wise magician does not simply have all the answers on hand. She’s going to have to research Abel’s markings thoroughly, which gives him plenty of time to work! In the morning, we see an eager Abel ready to prove himself, and an experienced Bobby who knows better. First job? Cleaning the Gravitor, this world’s “Vomit Comet,” after every run. It’s a lighthearted hazing that brightens the mood of a book filled with pain and worry. We see that Bobby has learned a lot from working at the carnival for Magdalena, and she hopes that Abel will too.
This issue takes a nice and slow pace, allowing readers to appreciate the beauty that Corona, Beaulieu, and Piekos put into every panel. Corona does a great job crafting the world at large, but his true talents lie in bringing emotions out of the most unlikely sequences. He shows the true impact facial expressions and atmosphere can have on a story while Beaulieu’s excellent color work accentuates the rustic charm of the carnival and the personalities within it. The wind and dust can feel angry, the rain invokes a sense of dread, and Magdalena’s anger and sadness shine through despite her eyes hidden behind those dark glasses. Meanwhile, Piekos completes the issue with his excellent lettering. From the extremely thin world balloons that integrate seamlessly into the panels to Wrench’s comical robotic dialogue, to the brilliantly crafted, original magical language that Magdalena uses throughout the issue, it’s Piekos that adds flair and style to Middlewest.
As the story concludes, we catch up with Jebediah, revealed to be Magdalena’s brother, as he has a run-in with an angry Dale looking for his son. It is purposefully unclear as to what is fueling Dale on his search, whether it be love or rage. Only time will reveal what Dale’s motivations are, and whether or not Jebediah is prepared to deal with them.
Middlewest is an epic journey filled with moments of loss, learning and pain. In Middlewest #5 Young, Corona, Beaulieu, and Piekos show the importance of the journey, while teasing at a potential destination. Spirited and wondrous, yet painful and unnerving, Middlewest continues to be a must-pull series for any fan of adventure.