ADVANCED REVIEW: ‘Border Town’ #1

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Border Town is a new on-going series created by Eric M. Esquivel (story) and Ramon Villalobos (art) for the 25th anniversary of the DC imprint Vertigo Comics. I have read issue number one about four times now since receiving my copy and it lives up to every expectation that I had for it. In an earlier piece, I explained how important Border Town #1 is to me as a Chicana (Mexican-American) comic reader since there are few Latinx heroes and even fewer of those characters are ever created or written by the Latinx talent in the industry.

Centered around the fictional town of Devil’s Fork, Arizona, and its new resident, high-schooler Frank Dominguez. This comic is strongly rooted in Mexican folklore and experiences. The series revolves around the border between this reality and another opening. The latter of which is inhabited by all the stories your abuelita told you to make sure you didn’t play outside past dark. As we follow Frank through his first day of school we see an exploration of his life as a Mexican-American in a city where racism is common and how he deals with both the human and supernatural monsters.

Beyond Frank, we also meet Julietta, an Afro-Latina, and Quinteh, a friendly giant in a luchador mask. With a multitude of Latinx identities set up in these characters, I’m excited to see where they go and how they showcase everyone’s latinidad in unique ways. Not only does this story showcase Latinx characters, but as stated above it is grounded in Mexican folklore through the creatures of the scary stories we were told after coming inside too late. Esquivel and Villalobos are able to address current fears and anxieties faced by Latinx in the United States. With a monster from my childhood and the characters themselves, this issue hits my Mexican heart with reality, fantasy, and horror in a way no comic has.

This issue encompasses the dangers of crossing the US-Mexico border, the rising tide of neo-nazis in the open, fear of deportation, and struggling to be seen as Latinx when you don’t fit a preconceived notion of being Latin while playing with reality and the supernatural. Not only does Esquivel’s dialogue hit me, but it also delights me. The humor is dark and perfectly timed even when it comes to the backgrounds of the panel and the easter eggs of my culture that I can spot on rereadings. While the exchanges between characters remind me of both conversations I’ve had with my own friends and racism that has been directed towards me.

The theme of this book is borders. Things being separated and moving between them isn’t just relegated to the title or the geography of this Arizona town. Instead, we see it in the otherworldly creature that changes its form to embody fears of those around it, and in protagonist Frank Dominguez. The lines between countries and realities are easy to grasp and to visualize. These are realms that our media and narratives have taught us to understand. But for Frank, he lives in two worlds. The son of a Mexican father and a white American mother, and being white passing himself, Frank is pushed into both of these worlds and pulled from them too.

Being a Mexican-American often means living your life being told to leave a country that belonged to your ancestors long before it became the US. It means being expected to perform an American identity. This looks different for every person, but it can include things like losing an accent, ignoring Mexican media, or even anglicizing your name — becoming John instead of Juan. But this isn’t the only burden, you must also conform to ideas of a Latin identity that is formed by your community both in the US and outside of it.

You must keep away an accent while also speaking Spanish fluently. You must be a part of the US while also visiting Mexico frequently. You must be a citizen, but no more than a first-generation kid. You must live on the border of identities, questioning whether you’re enough for either world. This isn’t unique to Mexican-American communities, Latin communities, or even just immigrant communities, this is what is felt by everyone living in this country who are deemed “others.” The choice to make Frank a mixed kid who presents as white is a choice that I admire from the standpoint of explaining the idea of moving between worlds. Not only does his identity as a Mexican American put on the border of both cultures, his mixed heritage builds that wall higher. Leaving even more people questioning where Frank belongs.

When Frank arrives at his high school, the resident neo-nazi befriends him. He doesn’t know this. To him, it was just a guy he met. But when he told this in class and Julietta tells him to prove he isn’t a racist, he exclaims that he is Mexican, as if you have to prove you’re identity. To that, the skinhead kid feels betrayed, saying Frank has lied, but all Frank did was exist.  This goes further when they fight, and when the creators set the scenes of racial tension in the small town. I won’t say any more beyond this, but I can’t wait to see how Esquivel and Villalobos navigate the reality of borders in regards to their characters.

All in all, in one issue, the creators have set the path forward to explore latinidad in a real and supernatural way and as a woman who’s idol is Guillermo del Toro, I am excited to see where it goes.

Border Town #1 releases September 5th from DC Vertigo with issue #2 available for pre-order from First Legacy Comics now.

Border Town #1
5

TL;DR

All in all, in one issue, the creators have set the path forward to explore latinidad in a real and supernatural way and as a woman who’s idol is Guillermo del Toro, I am excited to see where it goes.