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Middlewest #10 review: the paternal influence

Abel discovers a cycle of toxicity and abuse close to home.

“This… This is who I really am.”

Middlewest has never been for the faint of heart.  Forged by Skottie Young, Jorge Corona, Jean Francois-Beaulieu, and Nate Piekos of Blambot, Middlewest #10 delivers one of the most brutal and heartbreaking issues yet.  Right away we’re presented with one of the most remarkable uses of white you’ll see in a comic.  This isn’t just Abel and his grandfather talking in an all-white panel.  This is a snowstorm depicted in immaculate detail with shades of light gray and blue-gray adding a lot of depth and really rounding out the landscape.  This is a creative team that clearly takes pride in its creation and shows it in every panel.  The book roars with emotion and character even though it’s largely a discussion between two people.  Nevertheless, it’s a conversation that will stick in your mind for a while.  It’s just that powerful.

One of Middleswest’s greatest strengths of late is its fearlessness. It will jump into a heavy topic right away and focus on it the entire issue. It’s unafraid to dive in while also giving readers time to reflect.  This is not the same decompression we saw during previous issues.  The book is leaning into discomfort and talking about important issues from multiple angles.  You might think you know Abel’s grandfather, but his true colors aren’t revealed until the very end.  Skottie Young clearly understands and cares deeply about toxic masculinity and familial abuse because he displays a lot of passion in Middlewest #10.

The issue begins with some powerful words coming from an authoritative spirit deep within the snowstorm.  Piekos is really flexing his lettering skills in this issue.  Abel’s grandfather is a powerful man with a lot of gravitas.  You can feel his presence through the pages and probably react with a mix of awe, nervousness, and fear.  That’s exactly how Abel feels too, even once he learns it’s his grandfather.  Can he help with the cursed marking?  Well, that depends.  Abel’s grandfather has found a solution, but it definitely isn’t the best one or even a healthy one.  Additionally, in doing so, Abel’s grandfather illustrates a cycle that can occur during instances of familial abuse and toxic masculinity.

If this sounds like a lot, that’s because it is.  Abel’s grandfather is a powerful presence that shakes you to your core and does the same to Abel.  He has a very narrow view of masculinity and owns it two a fault.  It is a very toxic and limited viewpoint made clear throughout the issue.  Now we know where Dale’s toxic and abusive behavior came from: his own father.  We know how easy it is for the cycle of abuse to continue and now, Abel wants to break it but seems out of options.  Abel already appears destined to become the storm just like his father and grandfather.  The toxicity and hatred ooze through the page and travel directly to your heart, displaying the same raw, emotional, and impactful truths about the harsh realities of toxic relationships.

This is largely pulled off thanks to Jorge Corona’s masterful layouts.  Using a variety of unique, powerful angles and wide, cinematic framing, Corona makes Middlewest #10 look like a spectacular family drama you’d watch in theaters.  Corona’s ability to frame words with such a violent atmosphere is what allows emotion to radiate through the panels.  His style is clear, sharp, and defined, accentuating body and facial expressions to help further emphasize emotion.

The snow white background in most of the issue gives off a very grounded, rustic vibe that contrasts nicely with the dour, melancholy scene during the flashback to Abel’s grandmother’s funeral.  Abel’s grandfather is half man, half storm/monster, and Corona does a great job displaying both qualities within both forms.  This is a harsh reality for Abel, who now has almost no one to turn to.  It revels in the scary, uncomfortable, and heartbreaking emotions. Corona and Francois-Beaulieu bring us into Abel’s state of being whether we’re ready or not.  There’s a very honest sadness to the entire issue.  Abuse, violence, and toxic masculinity have been prominent in the series since issue #1, but they’re really emphasized here.  Abel’s grandfather’s attitudes towards Abel, Dale, and his wife exude confidence and a raw sense of malice.  It’s sickening, and Abel feels it too.  This was the last place he could turn to. He didn’t know what to expect and it still shattered his hopes. The question now is: Will Abel break or emerge stronger?

There’s definitely a sense that Abel’s being tested, and there’s a reason that most of the issue takes place during a snowstorm.  Abel’s grandfather is incredibly cold, laughing off cruel actions committed in the past and the hurt he’s caused others.  He comforts Abel briefly before turning on him in an instant; a common sign of violent and abusive behavior.  The authoritative, booming voice from before now becomes angry and scary, even through Piekos only subtly changes the font style. The final page simply shows Abel in the snow, broken by the violent words of a man he sought for help.  A man who welcomed Abel only moments before.

Each member of this creative team delivers a vital piece to the overall story.  Young’s words provide truth, anger, and insight.  Corona’s lines provide definition, coldness, and power.  Beaulieu’s colors show the true meaning of a cold heart and bring the harshest parts of nature, both environmental and human, to life.  Piekos’s letters bring impact and gravitas to all that is being said and conveyed.  The words of Abel’s grandfather are practically weighed down by anger while Abel’s look small and weak in comparison.  Middlewest #10 is an important examination of the destructive cycles of abuse and toxic masculinity that plague many homes.  If you’re interested in a book that isn’t afraid to be honest and real about heavy and sometimes uncomfortable topics, jump aboard Middlewest.

Middlewest #10
Is it good?
A powerful story about the heartbreaking cycles of abuse and toxic masculinity that can and do occur in our world.
A strong look at real issues surrounding violence and masculinity.
Piekos is really flexing his lettering skills with some powerful fonts and SFX that accent and emphasize Young's words.
Corona and Francois-Beaulieu do a great job making sure the emotions shine through the art.
A cold, blank world very reflective of the emotions, actions, and lack thereof at play here.
10
Fantastic
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