Gabby Rivera (writer), Joe Quinones (penciler), Joe Rivera & Paolo Rivera (inkers), José Villarrubia (colorist), Travis Lanham (letterer & production)
March 1, 2017
America Chavez is, in the grand scheme of comics lore, a new kid on the block. Created in 2011 by Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta for Vengeance, she really made waves in the Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Young Avengers, where I first met her. Ms. America was stylish, strong, smart-mouthed, queer, and Latina. I latched on immediately and have yet to let go, but I never dreamed that she would get a solo series so soon, let alone one written by Gabby Rivera, the queer Latina author of Juliet Takes a Breath, and drawn by Joe Quinones. I literally would never have imagined this happening because it seems so far-fetched, and yet here we are, the first issue of America Chavez’s very own series and it’s brown and queer as hell.
So, who is Ms. America Chavez? She’s a babe with thick thighs who wants to punch through her problems. That’s relatable; even if I can barely throw a punch I still want to solve problems that boldly and confidently. So maybe she’s not a lot like me except in all the ways she is–queer, Latina, and feeling kind of adrift in a universe of universes. That’s the jumping point for Rivera and Quinones; now that’s she’s punched a lot of things, solved a lot of problems, and joined up with the Ultimates, does she feel fulfilled by all that heroing? Who exactly is the best version of America?
The issue opens in the middle of a fight near her home parallel with the Ultimates, a fight that makes her late (yet again) to meet up with her EMT girlfriend, Lisa Halloran. They’ve been planning a move to be near a college campus, because America Chavez wants to better herself in every way–be stronger AND smarter–and she figures college is a good place for that. She meets up with a few familiar Young Avengers on the way, and it’s almost effortless how well integrated all aspects of her personality are in the book. America #1 is bright and fast-paced, and a lot of fun.
It’s not a totally smooth journey to the real meat of the arc (which gets going right at the very end), however. Some of the writing is clunky; Rivera is clearly finding her legs in comics scripting versus young adult literature, and there are a few pages where that really shows. America’s new professor is really talky, and America herself has a few lines that can knock you out of the flow. But honestly, it’s forgivable. It’s so forgivable because I opened to the double page spread to a map of Sotomayor University and almost screamed in delight. I don’t give a single solitary fuck if it feels like it’s pandering, because if it is, it’s pandering directly to me and I love it. I embrace it. I’ve never had a “mainstream” superhero comic book speak so directly to me, and it feels amazing. It’s a weird rush of joy, and I hope it continues for as long as Marvel will keep this book going.
One big part aspect of this book’s personality is that it allows America to be totally, unapologetically queer; she’s so queer that her and her girlfriend end up in a fight that feels recognizable. She’s queer, and it’s not just a blip or a joke; it’s a part of the book and her story. Even better, she’s got at least one queer friend at school, Prodigy, who I’m so happy to see in a book again. I’m sick of characters, especially QPOC characters, being the only gay in the village when every superhero lives in a metropolis. That’s just not how it works if you’re queer in the city; you’re more likely to have a token straight friend than anything else. It’s that same with her brownness. She’s Latina, style-wise, speech-wise, everything, and it feels natural. While some dialogue falls flat, it’s never because the slang is wrong (i.e., what this book doesn’t suffer from is Old White Dudes Writing Teens of Color Syndrome). The way America speaks Spanglish feels like how a real person might integrate Spanglish into everyday life, unforced and just part of who she is.
Artwise, the book has a real signature look, and I’m really into its overall style. It’s all bright colors and cool clothes and big earrings. America Chavez under McKelvie’s hand was a fashion icon, with lots of flag-themed clothing with enough street style that she always looked cool rather than dorky. Quinones keeps this up, giving her some good street clothes and a new superhero uniform. José Villarrubia keeps the bright colors flat, and that keeps the colors from being too overwhelming or confusing as you read. It helps create a pop art-y and fresh look for the issue, although there are a few times where it feels like the colors and inks are at odds with one another, including one panel where America’s nose disappears.
But all of these bumps are pretty easy to overlook, especially in a first issue. The story seems solid and looks like it’ll be a lot of fun as it unfolds. For me, America #1 is a success, and part of that success is how much it feels like it sees me as a potential audience, a reader, and a person.