Border Town #1
Written by Eric M. Esquivel
Art by Ramon Villalobos and Tamra Bonvillian
Lettering by Deron Bennett
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
"Devil’s Fork isn’t my new home. It’s my punishment. My own personal hell. Keep acting like a racist d#$%khead and I’ll make sure it’s yours too."
The new era of Vertigo Comics’ original series output kicks off with the appropriately grindhouse Border Town #1. Helmed by writer Eric M. Esquivel and artists Ramon Villalobos and Tamra Bonvillian, this devilishly fun and hard R-rated debut follows a band of misfit teenagers caught up in the supernatural forces of their scuzzy little hamlet of Devil’s Fork, Arizona. Though very much charged with racial politics, this debut issue isn’t afraid to get a little campy along with its incendiary commentary on immigration policy, keeping it very much in line with the Vertigo Comics brand. Border Town #1 is irreverent, pissed off, and loaded with artwork destined for cult classic status, making it the perfect torchbearer for Vertigo Comics’ new renaissance.
Frank doesn’t want anything to do with his new hometown, but it quickly becomes apparent that there are larger forces at work centered around the troubled teen. Aside from the normal teenage woes of changing schools and making peace with his biracial identity, a shapeshifting, man-eating creature is stalking the outskirts of the town, having just feasted upon a group of would-be “border patrol militia” not even a night before Frank’s arrival in the town - a town which happens to sit upon the border of America and Mexico.
Esquivel really does a fantastic job of melding political themes onto a truly fun and engaging tale of supernatural hijinks. Though some might be turned off by Esquivel’s abrasive language during a particular establishing scene, his script has a real cheek to it, fueled by the writer’s clear frustration with the current climate. Using the voice of his diverse and instantly relatable cast, including masked gentle giant Quinteh and the steely pair of female leads Aimi and Juiletta, Esquivel channels the spirit of other darkly comic and in-your-face spirit of Vertigo classics like Scalped, Transmetropolitan, and Young Liars with his debut issue.
But while Esquivel’s script gives the story great bones and a bad attitude, Border Town #1 truly comes to life thanks to the artwork of Ramon Villialobos and Tamra Bonvillian. Leaning into the script’s grindhouse tone and character-focused structure, Villialobos and Bonvillian turn Devil’s Fork into a living, breathing town, with all the beauty and horror that entails. Villalobos’ expressive and detailed line work, coupled with Bonvillian’s sun-baked, earthy colors really captures the specific vibe of Arizona, providing this debut with an instant visual identity all its own.
But better still, the pair are also well equipped to deliver bloody supernatural hijinks right alongside their realistic backgrounds and expressive character models. El Chupacabra is a persistent and lurking presence throughout the issue, and the pair really make great use out of his limited screen time. Starting with a bloody bang with the cold open, the art team plants a gory flag early for the series. The violence only escalates from there, as the creature takes the form of whatever the person seeing it is most afraid of - one hapless victim, for example, sees Batman’s Bane bearing down on them in a parking lot. Culminating in an epilogue sure to please the metalheads, Villalobos and Bonvillian prove to be the right people for the job when it comes to detailing Border Town’s specific setting, vibe, and sense of humor.
With a politically-charged energy and earned, sincerely funny edginess, Border Town #1 carries the torch of original Vertigo Comics work into 2018 nicely. Esquivel, Villalobos, and Bonvillian have tapped into a very specific vein of supernatural teen horror with a hefty mixture of cynicism, anger, and wit, and I for one, cannot wait to see where it goes. If Border Town #1 is any indication, Vertigo Comics is coming back in a big way.