Month after month, Skottie Young, Jorge Corona, Jean Francois-Beaulieu, and Nate Piekos have tugged at our heartstrings with Middlewest, and this issue is no different. This issue teaches the importance of solidarity, protest, and numbers when rallying around a cause. Despite Abel’s recent adventures through Middlewest, he’s not very well known, and if the people from the carnival were to try and break Abel out by themselves, they wouldn’t stand a chance. Luckily, Jeb and Maggie rally people from all over Middlewest against the injustices of Nicholas Raider. It’s amazing what people will do for the right cause, and I can’t help but think that’s what Young is trying to say here. Despite the violent weather standing against them, hundreds of individuals rally together to make boats and push through. It’s quite moving, especially thanks to Corona’s weathered expressions and the stormy sky lit up by Beaulieu’s brilliant purples and and blues. The creative team goes a long way to show what a strong community can achieve while preparing for the invasion, but even with their numbers, it wouldn’t have been enough to weather the storm, so Maggie has to turn to Mick Doran, an old river master whose mind has deteriorated due to dementia.
The page that follows is the best moment of the issue and one of the best moments in the entire arc. All of the struggles and anxieties of this violent downpour melt away into a tranquil and peaceful fishing mindscape where Maggie and Mick are able to have a heart to heart. Corona takes a minimalist approach here, only making use of the right and bottom sides of the double-spread while leaving the rest of the pages as a blank, calming white. Perhaps it’s because it’s all Mick’s mind could create, or perhaps it’s all he wanted to. Beaulieu complements the white nicely with a palette of soothing aquas and grays. The real star of the show, however, is Nate Piekos. His lettering flows across both pages like the rivers Mick can control, and it makes this meaningful but dense moment all the more beautiful.
As Maggie, Jeb, Wrench, and their allies begin to cross the river, Abel is plotting his escape. It’s a much more playful and contrasting scene filled with sunlight and fun banter. With a clever distraction, Abel was able to pickpocket one of the head workers’ security card and everything has been set in place for their escape. It’s nice to see Abel have some self-confidence and friends he can rely on, and while primarily plot heavy, there are plenty of signs in this issue that Abel has grown up and changed for the better. Abel’s attentiveness and sneakiness have proven handy and all of the other children recognize him as a leader. Even then it doesn’t go to his head, rather Abel uses he leadership to build moral and have fun during a serious time. Junie’s late arrival and Raider’s watchful eye doesn’t bode well for our young escapees, but I am excited to see what’s next.
Overall, my biggest problem with this issue exemplifies my biggest problem with the series: Middlewest #15 feels like two separate books. Young consistently separates his plot heavy beats from his emotionally heavy ones, which can sometimes lead to issues such as this one feeling like mostly setup. On the issue level, the vast majority of the issue deals with catching us up with what Jeb, Maggie and the carnival were up to while preparing to storm Raider’s territory while Abel sets things in motion for their escape. There are one or two breaks taken in the middle for an emotional moment, but the vast majority of the issue is going through the motions to prepare for the final showdown.
On a series level, this issue is much more plot-heavy than Middlewest #10 or #14. It is clearly setting up for the final showdown, and that has made things slightly predictable. It’s fairly obvious that this torrential downpour is due to the rampaging Dale searching for his son. In the next few issues, Abel will likely escape and meet up with the Carnival and his father while Raider’s men chase after him. It’s a final showdown you can see coming a mile away, and I feel like it’s telegraphed by how separated the plot often feels from the emotion.
Beyond this more structural problem, however, Middlewest continues to be a book that shines brightly in the details. In Middlewest #15, Young, Corona, Francois-Beaulieu, and Piekos prepare the heroes, villains, and readers for an epic conclusion in the coming issues.