Welcome to #1 Comic of the Week, a series where our comics editor, Susana Polo, tips you off to a neat new story or series that kicked off in comics this week — just in time for some weekend reading.
Sometimes, a comic is so good that you feel like the best way to explain how good it is is just to show people panels from it. Unfortunately, I am writer, and so I’m left with (mostly) my impotent words.
Border Town is a new series from DC Comics’ recently rebranded DC Vertigo imprint, the first in a new lineup of envelope-pushing stories. At San Diego Comic-Con this summer, writer Eric M. Esquivel and artist Ramon Villalobos talked about growing up Mexican American in the Southwest, wanting to explore the experience of being read as one thing when you are many things, and the larger, cultural effects of borders.
That all sounds very serious, and Border Town #1 certainly has serious stuff in it: vigilante white supremacists patrolling the Mexico-Arizona border with guns; refugee corpses devoured by javelinas; high school age neo-Nazis. It’s the story of Francisco (he goes by Frank) the new kid in Devil’s Fork, Arizona, a town on the border of Mexico and the United States — and, as we find out, on the border between reality and Mictlan, the Aztec underworld. Frank’s first act as a new student is to accidentally befriend a neo-Nazi who has mistaken him for a white kid, making everyone in school immediately hate him, and putting him in the path of said neo-Nazi’s rage when the guy realizes he was seen shaking hands with somebody of mixed-race.
But Esquivel and Villalobos also called Border Town “Scooby Doo, but Mexican;” a fusion of Archie, Lucha Libre and Supernatural. What’s easy to miss in isolated panels from the book is the “What else can you do about this but laugh at it?” humor of it all, like in a scene where the new kid challenges a neo-Nazi to a fight behind the Jack in the Box after school, then then sheepishly asks where that is.
What isn’t hard to miss in individual panels is Villalobo’s organic art, expressive characters and eye for amusing details, like a throwaway panel of a Brujería store that’s full of secret references to DC and Vertigo comics characters. Same with Tamra Bonvillain’s brilliant colors as they depict everything from desert sunsets, lucha masks and portals between this world and the next.
In combination, Esquivel, Villalobos and Bonvillain have crafted a single issue sock in the jaw, capping the whole thing off with a full page spread of Mictlāntēcutli — the levitating, skeletal, multi-faced Aztec god of the dead — bellowing ...
“El Chupacabra ... YOU. FUCKED. UP.”
In 22 pages, Border Town shows that its creators know how to get from a bunch of big ideas to a story that makes you want to turn pages until you find one that you just can’t look away from. And it’s the best #1 comic to come out this week.