Written by Gabby Rivera
Art by Joe Quinones, Joe Rivera, Paolo Rivera & Jose Villarrubia
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
"The change is here. It’s right now. It’s going to wreck everything. And you will be so much better for it."
It’s 2017 and a queer Latina superhero has her own solo title at a Big Two publisher. Let that sink in.
In writer Gabby Rivera’s first comic book outing, she proves that she has a clear understanding of storytelling above all else, even if there are some rough edges to smooth out in the delivery. Thankfully, she’s got a stellar creative team in penciller Joe Quinones, father-son inkers Joe and Paolo Rivera, colorist Jose Villarrubia and letterer/designer Travis Lanham. The story itself is a bit of a throwback - a story that feels a little bit Silver Age-y in tone but still modern in execution - but America is a character that has rapidly built a fanbase since her debut in Vengeance #1 and her rise through the ranks of Marvel’s younger heroes is proof that a solo outing is more than deserved.
Comic books have chewed up and spit out more than a few writers, even ones who have been working at the medium for a while. But good writers are able to adapt, and that’s what Gabby Rivera does here. She starts the book out with America in a very familiar place - leading the Ultimates - and that allows her to familiarize readers with the kind of hero that America is, seamlessly integrating some of her backstory into the proceedings through a few inner monologue boxes that don’t slow down the pace or interfere with the art. There’s a really natural flow to it. This is the right way to execute Stan Lee’s idea that any comic could be someone’s first rather than overwhelming readers with recaps and exposition. America can clearly hold her own with Monica Rambeau and Carol Danvers. She’s respected by Black Panther and Blue Marvel. She’s strong and resilient and has a wariness about her that makes her a bit wise beyond her years. The concept of the title overall is pretty expansive, but it allows the book to go a lot of different directions. And if America #1 was just that, it would be a solid superhero book and a statement on its own. But thankfully, it’s not.
Rivera doesn’t shy away from any aspect of America’s character, specifically her heritage and sexuality. A big part of this story is about America heading off to college and inevitably that will have an effect on her relationships, namely her girlfriend Halloran. Comic books have a long history of beating around the bush when it comes to queer relationships, but it has been slowly getting better of late. America is part of that push to portray relationships realistically and the result is a pretty emotional scene between two people who just aren’t on the same page anymore.
With regards to her heritage, America slips some Spanish into her conversations fairly regularly, and she’s attending Sotomayor University. Eagle-eyed readers will note that the university’s slogan is borrowed from the Queen of Tejano herself, Selena - “Como La Flor Con Tanto Amor.” And the school features a diverse group of students including the slightly awkwardly introduced Fifth Element-themed sorority “Leelumultiplass Phi Theta Betas.” I love the idea but their introduction is overwhelmed by their wordy, rhyming dialogue.
The pacing of the issue takes a hit when America is late to class. (In fact, it feels like we as readers are as far behind as she suddenly is.) But Joe Quinones and the rest of the art team’s consistently great work throughout the book keeps that from really being a concern. Quinones’s work really embodies the best of what Marvel Comics have to offer. He’s able to deliver iconic action moments and really intense interpersonal ones. And his character designs are absolutely gorgeous. A lot of artists have a problem dressing their characters like real people but Quinones takes a lot of pride in giving even the silent background characters very unique looks. That kind of attention to details makes the world feel a lot more real especially when Rivera is making up large swaths of it. Character aesthetics help underline a character's personality and it goes past just wearing a superhero costume. Quinones also places an emphasis in all of his work on character expressions. There’s nothing more effective in visual storytelling than being able to have a character give a really cutting side-eye or huge smile. It makes Rivera’s script feel more visceral when it needs to be.
Cynics will be quick to decry Marvel’s push for diversity as a cash-grab, a hollow gesture fueled by capitalism, the disease of political correctness infecting comics, or the last gasps of a company struggling to remain relevant as comic book sales continue to dip. At this point, those arguments are so boring. They don’t want legacy heroes, but they’ll still complain when new characters are created. Regardless of Marvel's reasons, America Chavez has her own solo title, complete with a notable creative team and solid conceit. It’s a triumphant debut that almost dares readers not to be entertained.
The change is here. It’s right now. It’s going to wreck everything. And comic books will be so much better for it.