DrunkWooky Comic Review: All-America Comix #1 (2020, Casey, Nguyen)

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Reader beware, there be spoilers ahead!

All-America Comix #1 is a frustrating book. It’s enjoyable in its own right, but frustrating. At first glance, you think this book is a standalone America Chavez book from Marvel. And you’d be half –er 33%– right. Upon closer inspection, the book is of course an Image comics release, but written by Joe Casey, America’s original creator from Marvel’s 2011 Vengeance.

So at the outset, the reader is a bit on their heels. This America is named America VASQUEZ, but this is the America we know. America in All-America Comix #1 has all the same powers as America Chavez from the Marvel universe and the attitude to boot. America can super punch like a kaiju, fly, and open dimensional portals. Satisfied? It’s America.

Probably more than half of issue 1 is spent with America mouthing off to the knock-off Avengers, complete with a Thor, a Cap look alike, a man in a metal suit (whether that be iron or otherwise), and a floating character who speaks “like siri”, Wraith. There’s even a mask-clad dictator of a small Eastern European country and bespectacled villain with four extra metal arms on his back. During these interactions, the parallels with Marvel characters are on the nose, but off-kilter enough to be a gentle nudge at those pop culture titans. If Marvel’s legal team isn’t happy with the contrasts, the reader can find them enjoyable enough. Throughout these introductory scenes you are led to believe, whether through our own implicit biases, or what we know about the meta universe in which this comic exists, that these characters can not play too big a part in this book and America must break away into her own storyline at some point. Yes, her meta origin is in “another universe”, maybe just a hop skip and jump through a dimensional portal away. However, she is now in her own Image universe and that’s where this story inevitable must take place if it is indeed to survive. While reading this issue, it seems unsustainable that America would continue interacting with these would-be Avengers for another issue, let alone multiple. Something big must happen to take us from one universe to the next.

Thankfully, it does! After about three pages of psychedelic, mind-bending illustration from Dustin Nguyen, we end up on the other side of a dimensional rift and America learns about the very nature of her reality itself!

At first, this is an exciting turn. However, the issue abruptly ends with an inconclusive discussion with America’s more mortal bff, interrupted by what is likely another Marvel knock-off character with whom I’m not familiar. The last substance of the issue is a small narrative box promising what is next for this adventure. That’s the problem, though. So far, no second issue has been solicited for All-America Comix, many retailers have the first issue listed as “one shot”, and much of the press leading up to this book indicated that it would be a self-contained issue that could stand on its own as a classic.

In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Joe Casey said the following:

“[I]f a reader is coming to this thing completely cold, what we’re hoping for is that they experience a superhero comicbook in a manner that’s become more and more rare. Look at something like Amazing Fantasy No. 15. It’s all there. A perfect superhero story told in only 11 pages. If the 50 years of Spider-Man stories that came after had never happened, that first comicbook would still be a classic.”

We’re lead to believe that this issue will be a self-contained classic of a super-hero story. It fails the Amazing Fantasy 15 test on many fronts, though.

First, Amazing Fantasy 15 has an origin story. It’s rudimentary, it’s not terribly fleshed out, but it’s there. Peter gets bitten by a radioactive spider, Bob’s you uncle, spider powers. Scene one of All-America Comix is America battling a shadow version of herself from an alternate dimension. Yes, we can pick up that she’s a super hero, but we don’t know how that came to be.

Second, Amazing Fantasy 15 has a moral. Peter Parker obtains a tragic flaw when he obtains spider powers. No longer powerless against the unfair and harsh world, he can now call the shots in a certain capacity in his own life. His agency has become a sort of brash callousness. This plays out in the familiar scene where Peter has the power to stop a thief, but doesn’t. Not his problem. In the now classic and unlikely twist of fate, that same thief ends up killing his Uncle Ben in another criminal act. Peter catches the perp and learns (say it with me) “With great power, comes great responsibility.” In All-America Comix, America also has a tragic flaw. She is a lone wolf, who doesn’t need the help of any “Boomer” super team. She can make it on her own and doesn’t need to ask for help. By the end of issue 1, the twist of fate that would teach America anything useful through her hubris has not come to pass. Yes, if the next sixty years of Spider-Man comics never happened, Amazing Fantasy 15 may very well still be a classic comic story. It’s self-contained, it has an origin, it has a moral, it has a resolution. All-America Comix does not meet Casey’s self-imposed AF15 test, though. I am not saying a comic book needs to have an origin, a moral, and a resolution in order to be a good issue. That is just the test Casey proposed.

So, what do we have? America learns the “nature of reality”. That’s an interesting premise. However, by the end of the issue, nothing is done with that premise. If this is some sort of meta commentary on the nature of work-for-hire, creative ownership of characters at Marvel and DC, and what happens when other writers and artists are tasked with writing your character, then it went well over my head. If that’s the point of the book, then I ask “why was this published?” If not to propel this alternate America into a new storyline, one that Casey always imagined for her, then why? As a catharsis for the writer? Couldn’t he just commission the book and keep a copy for himself then? What are we, the reader supposed to take away from this?

Dustin Nguyen’s art is fantastic. It rides the line between classic comic flair and realism that satisfies both itches us comic fans seem to have. “Yes that Alex Ross cover is ultra realistic, but where’s the classic comic pulp?” “Michael Allred’s pop style is real fun, but I wish there was more grit.” There’s the best of both worlds here and it really shines during the trippy extra-dimensional sequence. The narrative function of the social media commentary may take some out of the story, but it’s also a somewhat creative way to convey the inner workings of a “not millenial.”

So, at the end of the day, this issue was enjoyable, but it occupies a frustrating limbo of comic existentialism. If, in fact, more issues are planned, then all of these criticisms may fade away into obsolescence. If this issue is truly a one-shot, then unfortunately I think the same may be the fate of All-America Comix #1.

Official solicit:

Her last name is VASQUEZ! Her first name…says it all! And when confronted with the hidden secret of the universe, you won’t believe the cosmic truth she uncovers! Brought to you by the Wildcats Version 3.0 team of JOE CASEY and DUSTIN NGUYEN—reunited for the first time in fifteen years!

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