Jason Segarra over at Adventures in Poor Taste has reviewed the first trade of Gabby Rivera’s ‘America Chavez’ and he had high expectations. Unfortunately, Rivera fialed to meet them and he found serious issues with the book’s protagonist. He outlines these in his review at The Perils of Being Woke where he concludes that ‘America’ is not for everyone, which he finds “sadly ironic.” Here are some excerpts.
In recent years, Marvel Comics has put forward a serious commitment toward diversity in its publications, especially in the introduction of a more ethnically diverse lineup of legacy characters like Kamala Khan and Miles Morales. These new characters are the company’s way of reaching out to certain demographics that have historically gone underrepresented by the largest publisher in the comics world, which would be a commendable endeavor if it didn’t often feel more like a commercially mandated effort than a genuine attempt at inclusivity. Naturally this has led to a pretty contentious nerd community, with some embracing these characters as important pieces of representation for people who have never had a hero who looks like them, while others decry the publisher diverting its attention from familiar faces for these new heroes with the same super identity. Though Kamala and Miles have managed to break through due to the strength of their solo series and place in the larger 616 universe, few characters in this newest crop of non-binary, multi-ethnic personalities are quite as contentious as America Chavez.
First introduced as part of the short lived Vengeance series, but really fleshed out as part of Kieron Gillen’s 2013 run on Young Avengers, America (Miss America if you’re nasty) is a Latina powerhouse who has super strength and invulnerability, can fly, and can create cross dimensional star portals with her punches and kicks. She’s also a lesbian alien from an alternate dimension dubbed the Utopian Parallel who manages to be both the product of two loving mothers (who sacrificed themselves to save the universe and give America the requisite ‘Mommy issues‘ that all superheroes seem to have) and a biracial woman, seemingly claiming half a dozen nationalities in the third issue of the five collected in this trade. Indeed, America seems to be the very personification (as far as a fictional character can be, I suppose) of Marvel’s diversity efforts. She’s a non-binary woman of color in a field predominantly centered around straight white men of power — and I think that is an important thing to have in this world. Representation is incredibly powerful, especially in a highly visual medium like comic books. As such I support the character of America and her continued importance in the Marvel Universe as leader of the latest incarnation of The Ultimates. Personally, I think Monica Rambeau should be leader, but I won’t make that fuss here.
The point being, I really like America Chavez conceptually…I just think her solo series is sort of ‘meh.’
Now for personal context, I am of Puerto Rican descent but very pale-skinned and, thus, experience all the privilege that comes with being a straight white cisgendered male. I recognize 100% that despite a shared connection to the endemic Puerto Rican culture of the Bronx, I don’t really fit the demographic that America’s background is meant to empower. I further accept that series scribe Gabby Rivera brings a unique perspective to the character whose age demographic and lifestyle are at least somewhat foreign to me. I think it’s excellent that a queer latin woman is the pen behind this series, as it allows for a level of insight into a community that not just any writer can claim. I just feel that the series, much like the creation of the character, feels a bit too all over the place and incoherent to tell stories that feel consequential and fully formed. It feels like Rivera is expecting to be cancelled after every issue so she tries to cram everything she can think of in each chapter, then end on a cliffhanger to encourage readers to come back for the next outing.
It’s probably because of that concern, then, that it seems like the author wants to make sure every issue is more ‘woke’ than the last. I’m fairly far left on the political spectrum (100% supportive of gay rights; voted for Hillary, Obama, Kerry and Nader in reverse order; an ally in the advancement for women’s rights; marched in a few Black Lives Matter rallies, etc.) and even I had to roll my eyes at some of the things said and done in this book. It works in spurts: like the fact that America is an extra-dimensional alien with two moms that still somehow claims like 10 nationalities is progressive and interesting, but combine that with the fact all characters in the book are either gay or not in a relationship, little witticisms like “holy menstruation” are peppered throughout the series, the constant ostentatious use of non-binary pronouns and spelling, and the “gay best friend” cliche’ that is Prodigy (a character I actually like) among others, and the book feels more like an agenda than a proper story.
The premise of this arc sees America enroll in Sotomayor University, a unique sort of super person college for people without the proper genetic makeup to enroll at Xavier’s School for the Gifted. Naturally, hijinks ensue — and America is at the center of it, whether that be an attack from prep-school cyborgs or a time-hopping class assignment that never gets resolved. The school (named after real life Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, in the kind of nod toward the real world that always feels out of place in Marvel books) is home to a colorful and diverse cast of characters — including the biggest stumbling block to my acceptance of America‘s supporting cast — the Leelumultipass Phi Theta Betas. This seemingly all-Latina sorority is far and away the most obnoxious element of this book, and it’s only partly due to the sole semblance of character development for the entire squad being their leader, Xandria’s changing hair styles.
Jason is very fair in his review, and also very frank. Read the whole thing here… it’s worth your time.