Americatown #1 is impressive visually, but ultimately marred by its clunky, anachronistic, tone-deaf handling of the relationship between the United States and the issue of immigration. Here is one of those times where I wish publishers would go out on a limb and be more granular with their credits. Sure, experienced television screenwriters Winters & Cohen most likely put together a tighter script format than other creators not used to writing comics; but, I can't help but think Irizarri deserves a lion's share of the credit for composing these really solid page breakdowns.
Irizarri and Battaglia make one hell of a pair. If you peep Irizarri's inks, you see a sometimes dense, but always clean approach to characters and locales, frequently packed with just enough detail to make a page pop. Add in Battaglia's work, and you're riding a rollercoaster of colors. If you decide to pick up this comic (or already have picked it up), once you've finished reading, un-focus your eyes and just scan every page top-to-bottom, from start to finish.
I can't stress enough in my reviews how important it is to signal themes, characters, and locales with colors, and Battaglia does a great job of this. It doesn't hurt that within many panels Battaglia breathes a particular kind of life into Irizarri's otherwise stiff inks.
Nearly all of the credit I'm giving this comic is owed to the visuals, with some credit due to bare-bones script stuff like pacing (which is no surprise given the collective resumes of the writers). Unfortunately, as a comic book coming out in 2015 about immigration and tied explicitly to the United States, Americatown #1 falls flat on its face.
This is a book about a future in which America sucks, so some people immigrate to other countries, illegally, in order to find work and send money back to support their family. And the main characters are white.
Why? Is this a script that needs to be flipped? Here's an idea: make these characters Latino and you can tell a story about how after years of fighting for an opportunity to earn a living in America, the American Dream failed them and the struggle continues.
Here is where you say, "Austin, you can't criticize them for the story you wanted them to tell." That's true. But by making the family white, the writers have committed an error that makes it hard to absorb this story. The fact that this story reads like dystopic fiction at all is sort of disturbing specifically because this story is about America and centers on a white family. After all, what's so dystopic about other places in the world having opportunity besides America? The dystopic qualities of this world are awkwardly predicated on an American Exceptionalist streak the reader must bring to the table.
Thus, this comic comes off like a faux-patriot's tragic wet dream of the future. It at least sounds a little interesting to test the boundaries of the American Dream, but this comic opts to chauffeur a very stale 1950's Walt Disney conception of the American Dream over two decades into the future. Here is a quote from an interview the writers did at USA Today:
Winter says one question throughout informed the idea from the beginning: "Is the American Dream a portable one? Can it flourish abroad or must it reside within the borders of America proper?"
By asking the above question and having the family be white, the overall theme of this comic strikes uncomfortably close to, "oh my God are the white people going to be okay?" It is tremendously hard for me to suspend belief and enjoy this story in a bubble when my government--the government of the United States--is deporting record numbers of people and creating a massively racist shit-tsunami of fear and danger at the border and beyond.
I can't in good conscience sit and read a story that hypothetically asks "in the future, what if this was us?" when the subject matter--the animus, the racism, the violence, the death, the squalor, the unfairness--when all of this shit is real, I can't sit and enjoy some futuristic Think Piece about immigration that uses such an imposing, soul-crushing problem as a foundation to make people with brown skin the bad guys. That's fucked.
Americatown #1 Writer: Bradford Winters and Larry Cohen Artist: Daniel Irizarri Colorist: Marco Battaglia Publisher: BOOM! Studios Price: $3.99 Release Date: 8/12/15 Format: Mini-Series, Print/Digital