When strange things start happening in the border town of Devil’s Fork, Arizona, it’s easy for some folks to pin the blame on “illegals.” What they don’t realize is that the border with Mexico is not the only border in this area, and “illegals” are not the actual threat. Take the jump for our review of Border Town #1 from DC Comics.
Writer: Eric M. Esquivel
Artist: Ramon Villalobos
Colorist: Tamra Bonvillain
Publisher: DC Comics (Vertigo)
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: September 5, 2018
This is a new, ongoing series by Eric M. Esquivel and Ramon Villalobos. Frank Dominguez is the new kid in the town of Devil’s Fork, where racial tensions are high and weird things are happening. High school can be a tough time, but you’ve never seen it quite like this.
TWO WORLDS AT THE CROSSROADS
Border Town #1 is a mature readers’ book, mainly for language and violence, much of which happens off panel, but that doesn’t make it any less horrifying. And we open right up with racial tension as we see a small group of white vigilantes psyching themselves up to go patrolling along the border, including letting loose with their guns. Then we see a small immigrant family (parents and their young daughter) who are close to crossing the border – and close enough to hear the guns. Suddenly, there is blood on the father’s crucifix, and we hear a scream. But the father was not killed by the vigilantes. They appear on the scene, horrified to see an enormous, monstrous figure in a sombrero standing over the bleeding bodies of the family. It is a powerful opening.
The next day, we meet Frank, who is moving to Devil’s Fork with his mother and her boyfriend. A teenager, he is not particularly thrilled, especially with the poisonous snakes and moving to a “desert wasteland full of bigots.” This not only tells us a lot about Frank, but this is a book that has some things to say, particularly about race. (I am on board with this. One of the functions of art throughout history has been to tell us truths, some of which may be uncomfortable.) They drive by a couple javelinas who are eating the remains of a human body, and tearing up the little girl’s stuffed raccoon. We also see the tension between Frank and the boyfriend as the latter compares the spoiled teenager living rent-free in Arizona (i.e., Frank), to kids braving the perils of a desert crossing to get to Arizona at all. Frank, under his breath, observes that maybe they aren’t running toward something, but rather away from something.
Frank’s first day of high school is eventful. He is one of those young men who gets along with people. He befriends Quinteh, a large young man in a luchador mask, perhaps not the smartest of people. (He is likeable and enthusiastic though.) He is also befriended by Blake, a white kid with a shaved head who does not seem well liked. This does not go unnoticed by two young women at school, Aimi and Julietta. There is so much packed into this book that I cannot cover it all. Suffice it to say that race is front and center in this book. Frank is Irish-Mexican-American, and can “pass” for white, as they say, which is why Blake, the neo-Nazi first approached him, and why he calls him out for a fight after school.
This sets up as great scene where we see more versions of the monstrous figure we saw near the beginning. They appear as the type of person that some people are afraid of, be it ICE, a tiki-torch Nazi, an urban teenager. (Or Bane, if you’re a young Batman fan.) This is a fascinating metaphor. Fear exists for a purpose – legitimate fear helps us to survive. Irrational fears, on the other hand, can lead to terrible outcomes. At any rate, Frank beats Blake badly. One of Blake’s friends hands him a gun, and one of the monstrous creatures shows up, appearing as a cop. In the chaos, Julietta ends up with the gun, shoots the cop, and it turns into a small, toothy creature with a long tail.
This is where we learn that the US-Mexico border near hear is also the border between our world and the Aztec underworld. The little creature is a chupacabra, and right now the Lord of the Dead, Mictlantecutli, is not pleased with it.
LOVELY LINEWORK AND LUMINOUS COLORS
The art of Border Town #1 is solid. It has a lot of detail. It looks like there is a lot of painstaking work in the inks, and wow. The characters are all very distinct with a lot of naturalistic movement and great expression. We do see a lot of blood here, and fallen bodies (and body parts later on), but most of the active on-panel violence here is in the first fight. The giant monsters that turn out to be chupacabras are terrifying and are very well-endowed in the teeth and tongue department. The kids at school generally look like teenagers. The main exception is Blake. Perhaps it’s from having a shaved head, but he kind of looks like he’s in his thirties. That is a small criticism.
The colors have a very warm tone, at least in our world. When you think about it, the story takes place in Arizona, so it gives is a sun-drenched desert look. In contrast, the Aztec underworld has a lot more blues and greens. I love the way it has a Meso-American futuristic vibe to it. The Mexican folklore here fascinates me. In this book, it’s kind of creepy, but I still want to see more of it.
BOTTOM LINE: GIVE THIS BOOK A TRY
Seriously. Border Town #1 deals with issues that are alive and well in our country today, but it sets them up with an intriguing metaphor that gives us a little distance and breathing room, so we have the space to be able to take an honest look at them. Plus, it sets up a fascinating other world, and situations so fraught with danger that there are already several levels of conflict and tension in the story. Things could go so badly. One only hopes that they don’t entirely do so.