Image Reinvents the Mississippi
When one thinks of the Mississippi River it is evocative of many things. Some will think of the cities along the river which have given rise to so much southern culture. Other will think of the passage of the river through vasts tracts of wilderness and farmland, given rise to much of the nation’s green space. Others still will think of the same passage as that of the route of trade, a superhighway on the water which bisected the interior of the country long before there were railway lines or motor cars. Others still might think back to its early days and its association with the frontier legends and myths which came to dominate American culture.
What often doesn’t happen to the Mississippi though is that it is used as the setting for stories or fiction. It is true that there are lots of stories that use the Mississippi River as a backdrop in the cities in which they transpire, but the river itself is mostly ignored when it comes to fiction, save for the works of Mark Twain. The massive river often just exists as what it is, a body of water that is always moving but not often changing.
In terms of its treatment in fiction, little has changed, except indirectly Image Comics might be challenging that in a small way. It is hard to say that Image is making a conscious decision to challenge the nature of this river, for Image as a comic company has effectively no control over the creative decisions of its series. Rather the company puts comics into wide release which are of a certain quality which might otherwise be hard for most comic fans to find. Nonetheless at the moment the Mississippi does factor into two separate Image series, and neither of them are in the slightest way related.
The river serves as the Eastern boundary of the Carlyle clan in Lazarus. In this future dystopian series, a series of families have taken over control of the world in place of the former states. It has returned the people of Earth to a system of semi-feudalism, and where individuals running corporations run large, it can be expected equally that the environment is degraded in unacceptable ways. As the border between two families, the river is maintained by neither of them and is instead a black moving cesspool, which is swum across at one point by one of the characters, even though the thought of doing so disgusts him.
The other Image series dealing with the river is one which puts it in the spotlight almost all the time. Although it is often not identified specifically as such, the river forms the route by which Lewis and Clark lead their men after the Louisiana Purchase. This series is very much different from what we know from the history books, rather it is a fantasy/horror retelling of the adventures of the two American heroes. Instead of charting the wilderness of the United States, they are forced to fight off against giant mosquitoes, plants that turn people in zombies, buffalo-minotaurs and various other creatures. It thus becomes not a story of discovery but rather one of survival as the team members die one by one, succumbing to the inexplicable threats.
The Mississippi is a piece of Americana, and as the world’s fourth longest river, it does serve as an emblem of what is so large and vast about the American interior. Equally though, the river is often untouched when it comes to fiction, more often than not simply reduced to the idyllic slice of life from the time of Mark Twain. Authors often ply their craft simply be reimagining that which is a symbol, and in the case of the two Image series, they are at least challenging what we think about this great river.