RHC 2017: America Volume 1: The Life and Times of America Chavez

Read Harder Challenge 2017

This post is part of a series in which I describe the twenty-four books I read in 2017 for Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge

Task: Read a superhero comic with a female lead.

I love comics. I even co-wrote one! But I never really read superhero comics, excepting Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing and a few Batman trades of my brother’s.  I never collected single issues of anything, and I’m mystified by all of the parallel timelines, dimensions, and reboots in the Marvel and DC Universes (and I also think that their cinematic equivalents are a pox upon the box office). It’s always made me feel as though my nerd cred is deficient.

But I truthfully don’t have anything against superhero comics. My gateway comic was The Sandman, which a friend (the same one!) introduced me to in tenth grade. I’d never thought much about comics – they were a thing that I didn’t much care about, except for Batman, because to this day I hero worship my big brother and want to be just like him. But The Sandman changed everything. Preacher was next, followed by pretty much the entire Vertigo line, and then every non-superhero comic I could get my hands on. But The Sandman itself has roots in the genre (there were a few different Sandmen before Morpheus started brooding up the joint), and Gaiman understood the mythic underpinnings of superhero-dom and spun them out to an almost impossibly large proportion with full-throated late eighties/early nineties Gothed-out flair.

So I don’t mean to sound snotty about superheroes in and of themselves. But I also remember clearly receiving the message that most superhero comics were not written for people like me. Not-boy people, I mean (X-Men was a notable exception). If I were something besides white, I’m sure I would have felt even further alienated (again, X-Men being a notable exception). Comics are grappling with issues of representation, with thrilling results (Kamala Khan! Lunella Lafayette! Doreen Green!).  And there’s stuff out there like Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther, Roxane Gay’s World of Wakanda, Ice Man (an openly gay superhero), and America (America Chavez is queer and Latina [I mean, technically she’s not from a Latin American country, she’s from the Utopian Parallel, but still]).

Unfortunately, all of those books in that last sentence just got cancelled.

Marvel swears that their cancellation decisions were strictly sales-based, but there’s still plenty of room to criticize the sales structure that favors established properties and makes it nearly impossible for characters without the cultural status of, say, Batman, to succeed.

Long story short, if you have any interest in a superhero ecosystem with room for everyone’s wish fulfillment, make sure you’re preordering your titles. If you aren’t interested in such an ecosystem and you do like other superhero comics, may I suggest you do some soul searching.

Anyway. I added an additional specification to this challenge – it had to be a female lead written by a female creator, because while their ranks are growing, but there still aren’t enough of them. And my god, I’m glad I did, because I wound up with this glorious, glorious book.

I’d never heard of Oreo-ice-cream-loving America Chavez, whose superpowers include the ability to punch open star-shaped portals to other dimensions and to completely destroy her enemies with just one punch that shatters them into millions of tiny stars. Seriously, her whole thing is punching. She just punches and punches and punches through the whole book, which is about as subtle as a Nazi face punch. Speaking of, the first issue concludes with her time traveling to World War II and punching Hitler. In the face.

She also follows back.

I found myself wondering if Gabby Rivera is just straight-up trolling the GamerGate types who throw fits any time there’s a possibility of comics getting less male and less white. She begins her introduction with the salutation, “dear dandelions of the revolution.” On page 2, America receives information that an astral baddie is blasting pure white energy at her team. America responds, “pure white energy, huh? So let me give her a taste of this brown fist!”

It’s that kind of party.

As far as her queer identity goes, America’s BFF Kate Bishop (AKA Hawkeye) comments after witnessing a romantic encounter between America and the one that got away (a boxing champ, obvs):

I’m literally intrigued and in awe of both of them. If this is what it’s like to date other women, then I applaud all the women dating women right now because this incredible motorcycle courtship case? Check. Missiles and explosions? Yup. And now “we’re just flying together in the sky, heading toward a giant heart.” I swear, if they come back married, I’m going to be so jealous. Sigh. Always the bride’s best archer, never the archer-bride.

And at one point Hawkeye and America rock out together to “Just a Girl” by No Doubt because of course they do.

The icing on the cake is an older woman in a luchador costume who turns out to be America’s grandmother… and a total badass. It’s refreshing to watch a  woman in a “revealing” outfit kicking ass – it’s not played for laughs, either. More of this, please.

This trade ends on the tantalizing reveal of a “trust fund terrorist and leather aficionado” villain, Esterminatrix, and yup, I would dearly like to know where that’s heading.

I don’t think I’m ever going to cultivate a passion for superhero comics. I feel like I’m too late to the party, like trying to learn the violin at the age of 34 (of course you can figure out the complexities of the Marvel Universe or learn the violin at the age of 34, I just… it’s not going to happen for me). But I am glad to have read this, because it was ridiculously fun and had me grinning ear to ear for the duration.

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