Superhero comics, and Marvel Comics in particular, have been making strides in representation, featuring characters, like Ms. Marvel and Moon Girl, who are not excessively sexualized, and come from underrepresented segments of American culture. With America Chavez, aka Miss America, the Marvel Universe has dipped a little deeper into the American melting pot. This queer Latina hero has been present on various superhero teams since 2011, and shone in Kieron Gillen’s and Jamie McKelvie’s 2013 Young Avengers. In 2017 the hero received her first solo title, America. This book, collecting the series’ first six issues, is an upbeat and fun comic that mixes representation politics, satire, and charming characters to make an enjoyable—if sometimes chaotic—read.
The name “Miss America” has a bit of a comics pedigree. It dates back to 1943 and Marvel Comics’ predecessor Timely Comics, which included the hero in its Nazi battling team, the All-Winners Squad alongside the Sub-Mariner, Human Torch, Captain America and (yes) The Whizzer. Having a dark-skinned immigrant from another dimension take up this mantle is a clear political statement, but fortunately America doesn’t make the mistake of letting its politics interfere with its sense of fun. In terms of powers the character is basically a teen girl Superman—cosmically strong, unbreakable, flies—though her signature move of punching open star-shaped holes in reality belongs to exclusively to America herself.
The book’s plot centers around the newly unaffiliated America Chavez searching for an identity outside of her various super teams and recently ended relationship by—what else?—going to college. At the inter-dimensional Sotomayor University, America proves semi-resistant to new friendships, and is challenged both by invasions by prep school cyborgs and by her “History of Revolutions” professor. She seeks help from her super-genius former teammate, Prodigy, and starts to refine her power to travel in time and space. Along the way she bumps into various potential mentors, including the X-Men’s Storm and the Nazi fighting Agent Peggy Carter, while she is repeatedly asked to pledge in the super-powered sorority, Leelumultipass Phi Beta Theta. The jokes and references come fast and frequent, with a fair number of them on repeat.
Sound like a lot? This is a book that suffers from the serial superhero problem of requiring a graduate degree in the history of comics. It’ also not a tightly scripted book, more the kind of plot that works best if you let it wash over you and don’t think too hard about the details. America’s connections to her surrounding characters are impaired by her pin-balling around the multiverse—bad in a book that centers around family, found and otherwise. The comic’s story (stories?) gets bogged down too, both in America’s romantic relationships and in Marvel superhero history. While the threats that Chavez faces are plentiful and colorful, they don’t always make logical or logistical sense. For example, after fighting a bunch of helicopters, America and her allies get surprised by…a helicopter? Not a science fiction stealth helicopter, mind you, but the kind that you can and do hear from miles away. So yes, a lot of fun but also just…a lot. This book is at its best when expressing its hero’s joy at finding herself, her family, and her power rather than when it delves into details like its villains’ cliched actions and unclear motivations.
Different artists tackle the pencils in this collection. The art in general is unsurprising for a superhero book, but there are important differences in style. Joe Quinones takes on the early issues with a light touch, bright color palette, and manga-influenced faces; he also excels at dynamic action. Ramon Villalobos takes over the later issues with a more subdued color scheme, and lots of strong chins and muscles, giving the title character a butch-but-glamorous look that she wears well. Villalobos’ action sequences and storytelling are muddy compared to Quinones’, but his expressive characters and unique style help compensate for any deficits in this regard.
Fans of superhero books will likely enjoy this comic, and both POC and queer readers will likely appreciate the fact that this book is filled with characters that look like them and mirror their relationships in important ways. Teen readers in particular will likely be drawn to America’s contemporary sensibilities and sense of humor—though it should be said that the Buffy references feel dated. Librarians looking to reach out to underrepresented populations should consider this book an important addition. That said, it’s not a book that will endure more than a few years, and is unlikely to join the Important Comics Club. There should be room in most comics collections for light fun, though. While America could have been more, it’s still a book worth enjoying.
America, vol. 1: The Life and Times of America Chavez
by Gabby Rivera
Art by Joe Quinones and Ramon Villalobos
Character Traits: Latina, Queer