***This is an exclusive review, this issue will be available on 12/5/18***
writer: Eric M Esquivel / artists: Ramon Villalobos & Tamra Bonvillain / DC / Vertigo Comics
WHO TELLS YOUR STORY
In previous reviews, I’ve remarked that if this series was in lesser hands, the symbolism and language invoked here would be cause for concern. For example, the final line of the latest issue – “It’s a goddamn full-blown Mexican invasion!” – could be read as a provocatively worded stunt.
Stripped of any frame of reference, this pull quote might seed reasonable doubt as to whether the team on this book knows what they’re doing. In this case I’m speaking hypothetically, because anyone who’s read this far in Vertigo’s highly-acclaimed new series has no doubt in Team Border Town’s control of their narrative.
At every turn, the aforementioned union of Ramon Villalobos, Eriq Esquivel, and Tamra Bonvillain reject leaving the heavy lifting of their story to easy archetypes. In addition to having to develop a cast of characters from the ground up at the speed of a monthly comic schedule, they’ve made sure that none of the prime movers and shakers in this tale are two-dimensional.
Consider the reductive phrase ‘Mexican invasion’ – meant to diminish human beings into ‘The Other’. Frank, Aimi, and Quinteh’s ‘origin stories’ so far have shown the limits of that lie. This issue, the fourth member of the group gets her spotlight to do the same.
Ximena de Mercado & Jose Quevado crossed the border into America seeking opportunities to provide for their growing family. Unfortunately, as a child of undocumented immigrants Julietta Quevado lives a life of restrictions. Any opportunity she’s eligible for could potentially endanger her entire family’s status in America….and that was before she shot a cop.
By opening on this story, Border Town yet again puts a human face – and cost – on the rhetoric surrounding immigration. Even for those who make it in, what awaits them? Blending in without being accepted? Suppressing your full potential in order to remain safe? Our Afro-Latino heroine finds a kindred spirit in classmate Aimi Ramirez, but Julietta is under the kind of stress that often results in supervillains.
Speaking of supervillains, a mandatory school assembly for our protagonists introduces a self-styled antagonist. It will surprise no one that he speaks the inflammatory final line of this issue, but Julietta provides revealing commentary beneath his rhetoric. Neo-Nazi Blake has also been weaponized by hate. In the wake of his last encounter with our heroes, his poisonous ideology has been stripped to the bone…along with his dermal layer.
Through all this, Border Town manages to give faces and focus to its villains without ever stooping to ‘both sides’ arguments or ‘whataboutism’. The antagonists have their own flaws, but sought power as a solution to their problems.
BEYOND THE BORDER
Readers can probably guess at what happens when Blake and the gang cross paths again. Border Town promised teenagers versus a supernatural incursion and here’s where it begins to deliver in bulk. So much the better — Villalobos and Bonvillain continue to flex their artistic muscle, and the final act points in a curious direction concerning Frank’s origin. Also Julietta has had it with borders and restrictions and I can’t wait for you to see how that is conveyed.
As a comic fan on a budget, I empathize with those who are waiting out a proper collection of Border Town. ‘Trade-wait’ or issue by issue, show up and show out for this book however you’re able. It’s a testament that even when the series signals what direction it’s headed in, that the route its creative staff take to get there is a breath of fresh air. The only reason I find myself giving this installment less than a perfect score is it does its job too well. I’ve been rereading in the deluded hope that somehow the book will have grown more pages since the last time I flipped through them.