Tensions are rising at the U.S. – Mexico border, but Santa Muerte is driving Blake to open the border between our world and that of Mictlantecutli. What could possibly go wrong?

Border Town #4 ReviewBORDER TOWN #4

Writer: Eric M. Esquivel
Artist: Ramon Villalobos
Colorist: Tamra Bonvillain
Publisher: DC Comics (Vertigo)
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: December 5, 2018

Previously in Border Town: The young people learn that Brujeria is the knowledge of the old ways that could keep people safe from the wrath of Mictlan. The curandera at the herb shop wants to train them in the ways of Brujeria so that they can save Devil’s Fork. These young people are honest – Frank doesn’t particularly like the town; Julietta is black and knows no one would help her, so why would she want to help them? Quinteh befriends the little chupacabra and is worried mostly about it. Aimi is more caught up in the curandera’s knowledge, and paints a protection glyph on the school – and carves one into her own skin. They aren’t the only ones affected, though. Blake gets a compulsion to peel off much of his skin and is…changed.

PACKS A POWERFUL PUNCH

There are some undeniable parallels to our present world in Border Town #4. That’s one of the things that, I think, make this an important book to read. We all see the world through our own filters; to understand others and empathize with them, we need to try to understand the world through their eyes.

We start out with a flashback again, this time of Julietta’s parents when they meet. Her mother was Spanish and moved to Mexico to work in a family restaurant. Her father was Brazilian. Their language made both of them stand out, which is a reminder that the Spanish spoken in Mexico is not the same as that spoken in Spain, and neither of those is Portuguese. Life and language are complicated. Her parents eventually emigrate to the U.S. But we also start with Julietta because she is thus undocumented, and we focus on her life from that point of view. She can’t get on the neighbor’s wi-fi anymore and she’s fighting with Aimi right now, so she can’t use her computer. Her family cannot get wi-fi. Her mother suggests the library, but she cannot even use that without a library card, which requires proof of residence and a photo I.D. So many of us can take things like that for granted – can you imagine trying to live without them? The truly sad part is that Julietta, when she was younger, looked like she was going to have opportunities. The city newspaper wanted her to write a column for them. But she couldn’t apply because she was undocumented, and that’s the point at which she started leaving teams, school activities, anything that might raise her profile.

The next scene is at the high school gym where there is a school safety rally, led by Sherriff Arnie Hernandez. His introduction is all about the bad hombres coming across the border, which (somehow) makes the kids vulnerable, but luckily the Sherriff is an “honest-to-God superhero!” The over-the-top (but frighteningly real) Sherriff Hernandez claims that safety and rules are not political, but somebody has to be in charge. Under the bleachers, Julietta is with Quinteh and Frank, and she knows something about the Sherriff’s history. He was the son of immigrants – Mexican and Italian – and he made a name for himself out east by taking down other Italian Americans. When his reputation for violence got him ousted, he moved west. He’s also the guy they can trot out whenever the department is accused of being racist. She also gives some examples of his policies, which she finds reprehensible, and I don’t blame her.

Aimi texts Julietta, and despite their differences, and everyone saying that they didn’t want to get involved with the supernatural stuff, they all find their way to La Botanica. Aimi’s face is bandaged. She’s been reading, and shares what she has learned about Mictlantecutli – the Lord of the Border between our world and the Aztec Hell. The only way they can find out what is going on is to find that border and see for themselves.

They aren’t the only characters involved. Blake walks across the desert to the border. Santa Muerte – Death – is driving him on, whispering to him, telling him what she sees in his heart, which is actually quite interesting. He’s consumed with hate, which doesn’t surprise us, but it isn’t hate for other races. His hate is more for the system, being judged for things his ancestors did, the expectations piled up on him because of these. He wants to bring the whole thing crashing down so it can start over. Santa Muerte uses this desire to make him open the border.

Suddenly, a lot of things happen. Frank gets a nosebleed. Mictlantecutli appears. Julietta shoots him. Franks faints. Blake is upset. And Santa Muerte laughs and laughs. The Guardian is dead; nothing holds the gate any longer. The monsters of the Aztec underworld start coming through. And Sherriff Hernandez gets his troops together for fending off a “full-blown Mexican invasion!”

THE MANY FACES OF HORROR

There is so much going on in Border Town #4. This is another issue with a lot of words, but the history is important, and especially the history of the individuals. This is coupled with the lovely artwork we’ve come to know. It is so well drawn that when we see Julietta’s parents, we can see bits of them in Julietta herself.  Some of the facial expressions are almost heartbreaking.

At the assembly, one of the techniques used in portraying the Sherriff in close focus. We hear his words, and we see the various reactions from the students – those who agree with him and those who do not. But of him, we see his mouth. We see his hands. We would see his eyes, if it weren’t for his mirrored sunglasses. (And that’s why one wears mirrored sunglasses – it is intimidating when people cannot see your eyes.) The use of color around him is interesting as well. While the young people have sepia-toned pasts, Sherriff Hernandez’ past is heavy in red tones (dare I say – blood red?).

The details in this book are incredible. The scene with Blake is a great example. Santa Muerte wears a crown of red roses. When we first see Blake, he is walking across the desert at night, and around him is a swirl of red petals. It is not until we see more of her whispering to him that we finally see the image of her behind him. At the border fence, when she is making him open the border, she is a swirl of darkness with the petals around her, but in close-ups we see her skeletal face right next to Blake’s own. The art is rich with symbolism.

BOTTOM LINE: RICH WITH TENSION

Oh my gosh, Border Town #4 is terrific. It made me stop and think about some things – living an undocumented life – in a way I haven’t not before. I love the mix of supernatural horror with the more mundane evils of 21st century life, which can be horrors in themselves. This story is building tension steadily and inexorably which is great for a horror title.

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About Author

By day, she’s a mild-mannered bureaucrat and Ms. Know-It-All. By night, she’s a dance teacher and RPG player (although admittedly not on the same nights). On the weekends, she may be found judging Magic, playing Guild Wars 2 (badly), or following other creative pursuits. Holy Lack of Copious Free Time, Batman! While she’s always wished she had teleportation as her superpower, she suspects that super-speed would be much more practical because then she’d have time to finish up those steampunk costumes she’s also working on.

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