Review by Ian Keogh
The Abel we see at the start of this volume has been through a lot and it’s taken a toll. He feels himself cursed, and thanks to his experiences in the opening volume he knows what he can now do, if not why or how. Middlewest can be seen as allegorical, examining puberty, breaking away and coming of age, Abel learning who he is for himself, but in his world ancient magical forces exist. We meet a couple of them, and they complicate growing up. He meets other people too, and almost everyone’s opinion is that he needs to grow up, as to them showing any kind of feeling is displaying a weakness. After those lessons, Middlewest takes a wild swerve. We’ve seen the countryside, now we see the town.
In creating Abel’s compelling world Skottie Young and Jorge Corona are stitching together a fable with echoes of so much you already know. The title alone brings The Wizard of Oz to mind even before a raging tornado is introduced in volume one, there are hints of a childcatcher, the Japanese Kitsune myth, Steampunk, and a change of sex for the Snow Queen. Young even references more modern classics like His Dark Materials, but while the touchstones are there, it’s more in the way of intellectual exercise because Abel’s experiences are all Young and Corona’s work.
Corona puts an incredible amount of effort into every page, filling the panels with detail, in some places having to design four different environments in a single page, as per the sample art. While it’s easy enough to draw some desert scrub with a few lines and have colourist Jean-Francois Bealieu bring it to life, Corona excels at detail. That top panel is somewhere we’d all like to visit, yet there’s someone already there. What’s their story? With all the work he’s put in, the job was done before Corona added the fisherman with the immense backpack, yet he added him anyway. He didn’t make life easy by looking at the fox from above in the third panel, and less dedicated artists would have indicated the ramshackle community without such eccentricity and saved themselves some time.
There’s a nice tension set by the end of the volume. Someone’s had a very unpleasant revelation, and it seems someone else is going to be getting another as we’re aware of something they’re not. It’s all very satisfying, and plays out to a conclusion in volume three.