“He’s just a kid. He needs your help.”
When Middlewest was first announced, it was largely pitched as a coming-of-age adventure in a rural fantasy world. Now, in Middlewest #7, the underlying quest through the Midwest remains but has largely given way to a much more emotional journey. Abel is afraid of who he is, what he can do, and what lies ahead, and that fear has turned into a tantrum with enormous destructive power. A tantrum is a toxic, destructive, and sometimes uncontrollable outburst of anger and frustration, and the brilliant creative team of Skottie Young, Jorge Corona, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, and Nate Piekos of Blambot do a phenomenal job of showcasing these qualities as Abel loses control and causes destruction without intending to do so.
We open with a snapshot of Abel’s childhood and, for the first time, an image of his mother. We don’t know why Abel’s mother left, and we may never know. A mother should never leave her child, and it is never the child’s fault. Nevertheless, Abel’s mom’s expressions of frustration, and inability to control the situation, signify a larger problem at hand. Abel’s childhood tantrum is an indicator that proper behavior has rarely been explained to him. Abel ruined dinner with his violent outburst and Abel’s mom only stood there afraid. We’ve seen Abel’s father resort to violence and punishment to each him what’s wrong, but we’ve never seen a reason, and we’ve never seen what’s right. Punishing bad behavior doesn’t always lead to good behavior. Without instruction and explanation on what is the right thing to do and why, how are we supposed to learn? Abel has only had Fox to explain why it’s necessary to take certain actions. There’s a lot of missing instruction in Abel’s life, and so when a primal emotion like anger or fear takes over, the only thing he can do is resort to a violent action; a tantrum.
Corona and Beaulieu do a phenomenal job of making sure the transition between Abel’s childhood tantrum and adolescent tantrum is seamless. The double page spread is a magnificent showcase of the chaos, destruction, fear, and toxicity that a tantrum can bring as a result of not being able to control your emotions. It signals the start of a very action-oriented issue where people may say one thing, but display their true feelings through action. It’s a heartbreaking issue but also a very important one. As Abel is wreaking havoc upon the carnival, Bobby, Maggie, Fox and Wrench are afraid not only of their friend, but for their friend. It’s easy to forget in the fact of a monster, but Abel is inside that storm unable to control his own actions. In the long term, it’s a problem that needs to be fixed, but in the short term, Abel is a friend that needs to be helped. What’s happening is a consequence of toxic masculinity due to Dale’s inability to control his emotions. Luckily, Jeb is able to save the day thanks to his magic, but that’s when the real drama begins.
This isn’t just a lesson on the destructive powers of toxic masculinity. It’s also a look at what it takes to be a true friend. When Abel calms down, there’s still a lot of fear in the air. The creative team does a great job showing Abel’s fear of his own actions and Bobby’s fear after what just happened in their eyes. Bobby says she’s not afraid, but really she’s facing and overcoming that fear in order to help her friend. Each word is charged with emotion as Abel doubts his own self-worth. It’s easy to see why he’s terrified of himself, and it’s heartbreaking to watch. Luckily, Fox and Bobby are in his corner even though one can’t say the same for the rest of the carnival.
It’s been easy to doubt Fox’s worth throughout Abel’s journey so far. He’s a very questionable influence, and while he’s loyal, he’s also quite negative and rude at times. It’s only when Maggie backs down and turns her back on Abel for the good of the carnival that Fox steps up and shows his true importance. Maggie gave her word that she’d help Abel if he stayed and worked at the carnival for pick-pocketing. She let Abel trust her and made him vulnerable only to turn her back in his greatest time of need. It somewhat dispels the “it takes a village to raise a child” mantra commonly seen in small, Midwestern towns as the village is quick to turn its back. The book has sort of lost its Midwestern feel in Abel’s emotional turmoil which is an unfortunate trade-off. The idea of a quest through the Midwest was a fascinating one, and capturing the feelings and atmosphere of small Midwestern towns isn’t something that’s done in very many comics, and keeping Abel in one place and focusing on the magic has hampered that image. Hopefully the book will recapture that charm as Abel and Fox deal with this betrayal and the aftermath of Abel’s tantrum.
It’s easy to see why Fox is angry, and it’s important to notice how this confrontation is carried out. This is a verbal conflict carried out face to face and portrayed brilliantly using closeup panels of Fox, Maggie, and Bobby as they’re speaking. Their determination and frustration is evident on all of their faces, and it’s easy to see why when Bobby and Fox call Maggie out on her needs of the many bullshit. The greater good is never an excuse for betraying a friend, and Fox makes that clear through a well-delivered speech dripping with disgust and indignation before chasing after Abel. This is all portrayed in a brilliant panel in which Maggie’s back is to the reader as though she can’t even turn to face us. It’s understandable that Abel would want to push everyone away out of fear for their safety and of himself, but Fox remains by his side like a true friend. Abel scar gets worse as a physical manifestation of the poisonous powers of anger, fear, and having a tantrum, but all is not lost with true friends by his side.
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