ADVANCED REVIEW: Border Town #1 by Eric M. Esquivel, Roman Villalobos, Tamra Bonvillain, & Deron Bennett

Border Town #1 is available Sept. 5, 2018.

By Zack Quaintance — Border Town #1 is the first new comic launching as part of DC’s reinvigorated Vertigo imprint, the main idea of which seems to be let’s run headlong through polarizing and important societal issues with some of the most exciting creators in comics leading the way (Bryan Edward Hill, Mark Russell, and Mirka Andolfo, among others).  

The ultimate goal, of course, is engaging readers with stories equal parts entertaining and personal (that magic narrative combo), and Border Town #1 certainly does that. At its heart, it’s a coming-of-age drama about a new kid in school. That school, however, is located in fictional Devil’s Fork, Arizona on the U.S. border with Mexico. This setting is vital for a comic called Border Town, which examines how borders divide us, and not just borders between countries but also between perception, opinions, reality and mythos...even the two sides of multicultural households.

It’s poignant and relevant territory. Not to make this about me, but after college I spent five years as a reporter in a border town (McAllen, Texas); I’m also from Chicago. Through my disparate lenses, I saw that the U.S.-Mexico border is massively misunderstood, especially by those who’ve never visited, yet it’s a region many have strong opinions about. What writer Eric M. Esquivel—who grew up in Tucson—does so well is draw from personal experience to depict real border life, stuff like cliques at school, family dynamics, etc.

Come for the Degrassi-esque teen drama, stay for the terrifying depictions of Mexican/Chicano mythos and folklore.

This is just one of Border Town’s strengths. Another is, simply put, monsters. Border Town is a horror story that in the tradition of the genre blends teen drama with dark and scary violence. I can think of no better team to bring this to life than artist Ramon Villalobos and colorist Tamra Bonvillain. Their work is uniformly excellent (as it was in the tragically-cancelled Nighthawk), and the monster designs here are intricate and grotesque (perfect). Villalobos is also a great choice to draw teenagers, given his vocal appreciation of things like Degrassi and sneakers. The art is killer, but that's expected.

What caught me a bit off guard was how well Esquivel grasps the genre. I haven’t read his other work, but I could tell he has a deep knowledge of horror movies, comics, and TV. You can also tell Mexican/Chicano folklore is an interest. Essentially, Esquivel’s script expertly takes the usual horror conventions and creates something new by infusing fresh monster mythology many readers haven’t been terrified by...yet.

Overall: Border Town #1 is a strong start for a reinvigorated Vertigo imprint, a relatable coming-of-age teen drama in one of the least understood yet most argued about parts of the country. The art is terrifyingly detailed, and the story leans enthusiastically into time-tested horror tropes while also finding new ground by adding Mexican/Chicano folklore and mythos. 9.0/10

Border Town #1 is available Sept. 05, 2018.

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Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.