The second volume of Scott Chantler’s Northwest Passage (Oni) plunges along while raising the levels of action, danger, and interpersonal conflict. It’s even better than the first, which I thought was very, very good.
Adventurer-turned-bureaucrat Charles Lord is turned out of Fort Newcastle by his vicious longtime nemesis, Guerin Montglave. As a small band of survivors races to safety, Lord searches through Rupert’s Land for reinforcements from his exploring days. Meanwhile, back at the captured fort, Montglave assumes brutal control and tries to manipulate Lord’s resentful half-Cree son, Simon.
Yes, I just used the phrase, “Meanwhile, back at the captured fort…” And you know what? I meant it. It’s that kind of book, and it’s very satisfying.
While Chantler did a fine job with a great deal of exposition in the first chapter, it’s nice to have it out of the way so he can focus more on story and character. He packs a lot of both into 88 pages, filling in detail on the histories and interpersonal dynamics of his cast while providing plenty of “Pulse-Pounding Western Action,” as the cover promises.
Chantler continues with his subtle exploration of Lord’s successes and failures as a leader. It’s a relevant thematic thread, but it isn’t an overwhelming one. Chantler never pulls out the Message Hammer, thanks in part to his willingness to acknowledge Lord’s flaws. The juxtaposition of “good” Lord and “evil” Montglave is more effective because of the things they have in common as authority figures.
At the same time, he layers the story with historical detail. Chantler informs events with observations about class, race, politics, and commerce, which make things even more satisfying. Northwest Passage is first and foremost an adventure comic, but it takes full advantage of its period and setting.
Chantler’s work as an illustrator is sterling, but that’s not surprising. His appealingly open style has proved to be wonderfully flexible, suiting a wide variety of stories and tones. Northwest Passage is no exception. There’s genuine excitement in the adventure scenes, tension to the suspense, and nuance in the character-driven moments.
What’s more surprising is that this is Chantler’s writing debut. It’s a rich, exciting story with a great balance of narrative elements.