DC Vertigo’s Border Town has been an action-packed and funny series that has drawn on Mexican folklore and current racial tensions in America. Writer Eric M. Esquivel has shown no fear when dealing with the delicate subject, but has also handled it with as much subtlety as possible. Issue #3 addresses the issue head on. Does the more straightforward approach work or will it turn readers away?
Esquivel has handled the issue of racism deftly, but this is a comic called Border Town about racial tensions in small town Arizona. No matter how nimbly a writer tries to talk about the subject, it will still be in the reader’s face. Somehow, Esquivel has managed to write a story that is all about race be about more than just race.
The main charm to Border Town are its many characters. The book’s heroes are obnoxious, fun, and a little annoying. Basically, they are like every teenager ever. Readers will immediately be able to identify with the characters. They talk bad behind each others’ backs, have crushes they refuse to admit to, and talk about how much they hate their lives. The down to earth writing makes the cast even more likable.
The main human antagonist, Blake, is a racist douchebag who is impossible to like, just as it should be with any well written bully. The monsters in the book are downright frightening. Taking inspiration from Mexican folklore, artist Ramon Villalobos has come up with monster designs that would impress and scare anybody. Racism may be the worst villain in Border Town, but Villalobos’s creations try their best to keep pace.
Border Town #3strays from its character-driven formula to discuss racism and instead heads straight into the teeth of the monster. From the very first panel it is clear that Esquivel is taking a more direct approach. In previous issues, comments and actions from characters clue readers in as to what the town of Devil’s Forks is like. The little town is obviously racist, but it is almost an understood racism — an entire township taking part in their own racist version of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
In issue #3, Esquivel does away with even the most racist characters simply making comments about making America great again and instead goes all in with hate speech. Racist and homophobic slurs can be found in the book. It is in your face and uncomfortable, but if you are going to have a serious discussion about racism then it is inevitably going to get ugly.
The surprising bluntness is juxtaposed with some of the more darkly comedic and biting commentary Esquivel has used in previous issues. Two police officers dealing with their biggest fear is a great example. The scene is would be laugh out loud funny if it was not so sad since it’s based on such ugly truths.
The closing scene in the third issue of Border Town is easily the best in the series. A discussion between Aimi Ramirez and the vice principal put on full display the amazing work Esquivel and Villalobos can put together when they are working in perfect harmony. The frightening encounter plays out over a few pages and is a great mix of dialogue and panel placement. It is a scene that is going in one direction, but still has a strong tension to it. The art is especially great and for all the awesome monsters Villalobos has created, nothing in the series may be more terrifying than an apple.
Border Town #3 is another great addition to the series. The issue takes a no holds barred look at how racism can affect a whole town while also keeping in mind the protagonists of the story are just teenagers. Border Town mixes reality and fiction in an entertaining story that is depressingly real.