America was one of the most controversial character introductions ever. It seemed to immediately draw the ire of anyone against diversity in comics while at the same time being hailed as a comic with a superhero people need right now by the other side. She’s a character with an incredible power set, but that never seemed to matter to most, as her sexual preference came at the forefront, as well as her heritage and the fact that her parents are also two gay women. We’re were well aware of her social implications and importance, but unfortunately, the first volume just wasn’t any good. The series is now canceled, but let’s explore volume two to see if it made any progress steering the ship back on the right track.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
America Chavez faces her biggest threat yet: Exterminatrix! As the Midas Corporation invades every corner of America’s new life, she’ll have to learn some new tricks to take them down with help from the family she didn’t even know she had! Plus: America’s never-before-told origin story, featuring art from an all-star cast including LOVE & ROCKETS co-creator Jaime Hernandez!
Can I jump in easily?
This isn’t the easiest trade paperback to jump into, but it does have a clear beginning and end that explain America’s heritage. That gives the title a story, although you may be lost as far as America’s supporting cast, her abuela, and the villain who wants to destroy her.
Reason 1: America’s ancestry is well done.
I was wary of America from the start because her power set seemed too great. Not only does she have super strength and can fly, but she also can punch open portals to other locations. That said, why she has these powers is quite interesting and that is fully fleshed out in the opening chapter. In it, we learn of her bloodlines cosmic god-like beginnings, as well as the planet her people lived on. That planet has a source which gives them these powers, but it’s also a location that is not unlike to Wonder Woman’s Themyscira. Gabby Rivera does a good job establishing this world and makes you want to see more of it. It’s a slice of something new in the Marvel Universe that’s fresh and has the potential for great stories with America or even with other heroes. There’s a bit of a resolution to the main conflict of America’s people near the end, which gives this collection a bookended feel, but also the introduction of a new female supporting character that has great potential in the future.
The opening flashback is an interesting creation story.
Reason 2: Clunky plotting, dialogue, and logic.
There isn’t a lot of logic to the plotting or story. Take for instance the villain’s big plan starting in chapter two of this collection. The villain drops in to become dean and we never find out why. By glossing over the details it reduces the impactfulness of this big switcheroo. Later, America breaks her chains and fights the dean’s guards and even chokes the dean and at this point, she doesn’t know she’s a supervillain. That makes America come off as wildly unhinged and dangerous rather than doing the right thing.
Then the collection ends on a painfully rushed note. It wraps things up, but in a way that negates the purpose of the enemy entirely (they served as symbols of those who want to crush diversity early on) and rendering America’s people as uncaring villains to some extent. Stuff happens as if the creators got bored and wanted to up the ante with no setup or reasoning. When America robots show up you’ll be scratching your head as to why the villain didn’t release them earlier. Then you’ll remember things happen in unnatural ways in this series and you have to just roll with it, but that further reduces the enjoyment of the series.
Dialogue is at times infuriating as it’s incredibly unnatural and unrealistic. Issue ten, eleven, and twelve all end with words of inspiration via captions, which may ring true to a younger audience, but come off as preachy. Characters drop words like “snowflake” or say things like, “We must resist” which make the characters seem more like puppets delivering messages than believable characters.
The way she’s standing is inspiring. Art by Joe Quinones.
Reason 3: Tries too hard to be a voice of change and inspiration, coming off as preachy and insincere.
The main thrust of this volume deals with Exterminatrix taking over as dean of America’s school. There’s a “fight the power” message in there that’s obvious, especially with the viciousness America and her friends take with these transgressors. Exterminatrix certainly gives the creators something to punch in the face: she’s basically an avatar of the 1% with little character work, but it’s so untethered from reality the message falls flat.
The alien villains who are attacking America’s people seem to be a symbolic threat to diversity, which is really their only character trait until the very end. Like internet trolls, they’re rather boring and pointless. To make matters worse, Rivera reveals they weren’t evil monsters at all but misunderstood. There’s a message in there about listening to each other, but it’s lost due to it being a rushed plot point at the very end.
I understand the goal of creating a nearly all gay cast surrounding a gay character who is the product of two female parents who are also gay (who are also products of two female cosmic entities), but it’s a bit much. Again, it’s untethered from real life so as to display an incredibly diverse set of characters, but a lack of straight and white characters seems to miss a chance to show more diversity. It’s trying to be big for folks who want more diversity but in a way, ends up being less diverse because of it.
The art was top notch here and there too.
Not every issue in this collection is drawn as well as the others, but two standouts are the opening issue drawn by Jen Bartel, Ming Doyle, Aud Koch, Joe Quinones, Joe Rivera, and Annie Wu. That’s quite a lot of artists, but the otherworldly and beautiful nature of America’s great-grandparent gods are rendered exquisitely by Bartel. The mix of artists is seamless due to the story transitioning between telling a story, America and her Abuela in another realm, and finally cutting back to Earth business.
Joe Quinones positively kills it on the second chapter in this volume, delivering some truly inspiring images of America standing up to the dean and sneaking about. Quinones makes America look more like a 20 something adult who is ready to take on the world. It’s a huge difference from how other artists render her in a more cartoony way throughout the volume.
Is there a rationale to the reasons?
I can see the appeal of this series for many due to its diverse cast and the social implications of the enemies it throws in the face of America. The character’s backstory is also rich and interesting, but the series is too preachy and clunky in its plotting. Maybe this series is a lesson that if you want to take on real-world issues about diversity, racism, and social class the series needs to be grounded in some kind of reality. Unfortunately, the delivery is so insincere it’s even harder to take an already outlandish concept of an alien superhero seriously.