Since November 2018, Middlewest has been writer Skottie Young and artist Jorge Corona’s mixture of midwestern America and outlandish fantasy, telling a coming-of-age tale about a boy escaping abuse and toxicity. The farther Abel is from home, the more he learns of his family history as his abusive father was also abused his own father. As the family shares the terrifying transformation into a storm monster, Abel is left crippled and goes into his own form of self-isolation amongst a number of kids who are kidnapped and enslaved to work at the Raider Farms.
Elsewhere, Maggie and Jebidiah rally a crew to rescue the kids, but they need to be quick — Dale literally storms away to reach his son. Opening this volume with a flashback showing Abel’s life before it went to hell as he starts off delivering papers, his family life slowly deteriorates, from his mother leaving to his father becoming violent. Cutting to the present day where Abel is forced to do a job that is more hazardous, Skottie Young cleverly mirrors that sense of escape from the past, only to return in worsening circumstances.
Right from the start, Middlewest plays like an American fairy tale in that it explores the fears of preparing for adulthood, not only from Abel’s central dilemma, but also the other imprisoned children sharing their own stories of horrible parents. The standout of the supporting characters is Jennie, who has the attitude and the best dialogue, as well as having a tragic backstory, which is about wrestling with both her sexuality and role as a preacher’s daughter. Although the children toast their drinks with a classic “f*ck adults”, it doesn’t negate how cool the elderly wizardry of Maggie and Jeb is.
As this volume covers the final six issues, the creators aim to go big as they take their time before the epic battle commences, with different factions of players slowly clashing into one another. The children led by Abel have their own means to escape, while Maggie and her townspeople pummel their way through a hellish storm to reach the Raider Farms. The sense of grandeur could’ve easily detracted from the intimacy we like from these characters, but the creators never fall into this trap and are able to resolve everyone’s arc without having to conclude with a shallow extravaganza.
I have always praised the world-building of Middlwest, which continues to expand in Vol. 3, from the menacing gas-masked guards that patrol the Farms to Maggie and his group tearing apart their cars and trucks and turning into boats. With an art style that is very cartoony from the characters to pulp-styled machines, Jorge Corona puts so much detail on every page that the world he’s depicting feels huge, only to be enhanced by Jean-Francois Beaulieu’s multi-layered coloring.
Ending on a high-note, Middlewest is one of the best titles from Image today, thanks to its combination of American midwestern fantasy and a coming-of-age narrative that is both dark and heartwarming.