Out this week is the collected edition of the five-issue series America Chavez: Made in the USA. It is without a doubt a bold comic book, as it aims to rewrite the lead character’s origin. Can Kalinda Vazquez and Carlos Gomez pull off the near-impossible task of retconning and augmenting a character’s past, presumably to make for a better character by its end? Well … sort of, but not quite.
This book opens by revealing America’s adopted parents are looking for her and with a few flashbacks, we see they found her on a beach when she was quite young. It’s obvious from the start this story aims to realign our thoughts on this character and her roots. The best thing to come out of this rewrite is that America is much more grounded in a reality that’s relatable. She’s a human being and her powers come from science, more or less.
This story makes it abundantly clear America has always known the truth about her adoptive parents, and yet hasn’t given her adopted family the benefit of the doubt, understandably being confused and unsure about it all. Throughout her childhood, she’s pushed back on those who took care of her even though they meant well. Again, this is a relatable element that tethers America to something readers can cling to.
That’s also a bit of a problem, especially if you liked America’s origin story. You see, America always felt like a character more powerful than anyone could comprehend. Her powers let her teleport, fly and use super strength. Her origins were deeply moving and tied to something much larger than human understanding and her parents were an incredibly new idea in a universe with cosmic rules relatively untouched for the last 30 years.
The origin as we know it up until this story involves America’s two mothers raising her in a reality that’s outside of time called the Utopian Parallel. She inherited some or all of her superpowers from the Demiurge’s ambient magical presence. To save America, the mothers sacrificed themselves to seal black holes that were threatening America and their home. In response, America jumped across the multiverse and eventually found herself in the 616 universes fighting crime.
The problem isn’t so much that America’s origin was changed, as this is a fairly common thing done in comics. The problem lies in how ordinary and uninteresting the “real” origin story revealed here ends up being and how it’s delivered. I won’t spoil it for readers who want to experience the tale for themselves, but know it involves greedy rich folks, a superhero-making operation, and secret siblings. It’s all been done before, ends up reading like it’s been forced into too small of a story arc, and is particularly frustrating if you liked her origin in space.
It also doesn’t help America is told what her true origin is and fights it until she gives in and gives herself an injection that lets her see the truth for herself. Much of the middle of the book is a back and forth of America denying it, the reader seeing it in flashback, and then finally America getting confirmation after injecting herself with some magical serum to let her remember.
The book looks sharp from cover to cover. The strength in Gomez’s art lies in the time changes and how he depicts America at different ages. She looks accurately 10 years younger than from the present, but we also see her as a teenager too. This is important since her aging — and the anger she harbors that never seems to go away — is quite important. Spider-Man gets a few panels in the second and last issues and he looks great, too. Paired with color art by Jesus Aburtov, the book has a realistic look thanks to the lighting, whether it’s day or night. Much of this book is talking heads scenes and the art team keeps your interest up thanks to good acting no matter the scene.
America Chavez: Made in the USA reads like a book that has its goals in the right place, but the rewrite of the origin is too boring and the requirement of the reader to simply accept that is really too unbelievable. It reads like Marvel had a mandate to clean up America’s origin before the MCU got a hold of her and we’re left with a much too quick retcon. The book looks great though, and it does tie into the human experience.
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