Get familiar with America Chavez, Marvel Comics’ latest character who is busting through the superhero stereotype and bringing some much-needed diversity and color to the comic book world. In fact, America Chavez is one of 23 female-driven titles Marvel is currently working on, more than any other comic book company. Good to know an industry leader knows how to lead by example (thanks to MANY fans raising their voices and expressing the need for more diverse fictional characters).
America is a queer Latina who puts the “exclamation point on on the rich and diverse characters within the Marvel Universe”, according to Axel Alonso, Marvel’s editor-in-chief.
“In America, the former Young Avenger stands resolute against an oncoming alien horde all while managing her social life and trying to attend various classes on other worlds,” he told Mic.com’s Jamilah King.
The comic series hit shelves on March 1st, and was written by queer author Gabby Rivera, best known for novel ‘Juliet Takes a Breath’ which is a coming-of-age YA novel about a Puerto Rican lesbian. Illustrations are created by series artist Joe Quinones, and cover by artist Marguerite Sauvage. It is Gabby’s first foray into writing comic books, and America Chavez is Marvel’s first gay Latina superhero, making this a perfect match.
The comic series comes at a cultural juncture in America where minorities are being demonized by the President, and violence against minority groups are on the rise thanks to Donald Trump openly demonizing immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, women and many others openly. He gave an unofficial signal to hate groups to be loud and aggressive with their ill-informed bigotry, but what they didn’t count on was the resistance against fear and hatred being a much louder and powerful force to be reckoned with.
When we see entertainment story lines and creative content paying attention to what is happening politically, and offering audiences a sense of empowerment and hope, it cannot be underestimated. Which is why Marvel’s focus on diverse female characters is going to have a major impact in the comics universe.
In an interview with Refinery29 about her new venture writing for Marvel, Gabby Rivera explained how Wil Moss, her editor at Marvel, reached our to her via email after searching for writers in the Young Adult novel space. She freaked out, called her mom at work (she is a youth programs manager at an LGBTQ non-profit called GLSEN), and couldn’t believe she was chosen to work for Marvel given that she wasn’t a comics fan previously.
She learned about the Young Avengers character America Chavez not just through her new Marvel bosses, but through another community.
“What I also found really helpful was that there’s a huge queer women and trans women comic book online community. And one of my friends is Mey Rude — she’s a queer trans Latina, and she writes about comics for Autostraddle. And so before anything was signed, I was like, ‘Hey, have you heard about this America Chavez character?’ And Mey was like, ‘Oh my God yes.’ And so through her I was able to get an idea of what fans of America would want, her stellar moments and where there was excitement around her character,” she said.
One of the pieces of advice she was given was not to set out to write a “superhero book”, but simply to use the same creative process she did with her own novel, and create an America Chavez storyline that ordinary fans would be able to connect with, outside of her superpower attributes.
The story will follow America while she is still taking classes and balancing being an ordinary girl with her transition into finding out how she will use her superhero powers in the world for good. Think of it as a coming-of-age story, but about a young woman who happens to have superhero powers. Putting her in an education setting made the most sense as there are direct parallels to what college students go through in real life.
“What’s more American than trying to go to college and trying to find yourself?…So America is gonna be going to class, but her class will be in Earth-616 [the main Marvel universe] and then she’ll also go to other dimensions. So she gets to punch into her Women in Power class; and she gets to punch into Tribal Ancestry and You 101. Just like rad classes that I would want to take in the university of my dreams,” said Gabby.
Some of the more well-known Marvel characters who will appear in America’s story are Captain America and X-MEN’s Storm, coming alongside her at a point when she starts to discover her power.
“They are going to be able to help America on her journey. And teach her things about her powers or lead her along the way. Her ancestors will aid in the development of her powers as well…America doesn’t know how powerful she is, but she’s gonna find out. And the powers she does have are going to be expanded upon and she’s going to learn how to control and develop them,” said Gabby.
America comes from a Utopian universe made up of all women. She had two moms who sacrificed themselves to protect their world and their daughter’s future. America’s discovery of her own identity will include a family origin aspect to it.
When Gabby was asked whether she was worried about the reaction from internet trolls to her new comic, given the increased volatility toward minorities online and around the country, her response was awesome.
“It’s a little bit terrifying and intimidating to be a queer woman entering the Marvel universe. Internally I’ve been like, man are people gonna read this and tear me apart because of my identities?…Am I worried about the trolls? No. I’m worried about not telling the story. I’m worried about little kids out there who wouldn’t get the story because we would be afraid of trolls,” she said.
Gabby even admits that she was an internet troll herself as a teen, because she was too afraid to come out and instead took out her pain and anger on other people.
“I was so scared of who I was that I would go into lesbian AOL chat rooms and be like, ‘The lord hates you.’ And then this one Lesbian from a chat room wrote me back and was like, ‘Let’s talk; are you okay? What do you need? I want to understand you.’ And that was the first person that made that connection with me. And it changed my whole life. And it put me on the path to find out who I am and why I was channeling my frustrations that way,” she said.
Aside from America Chavez, Gabby was asked whether the comic will represent women of different shapes and sizes.
“People assume I’m a masculine kind of person because I wear hats or boots. And to me, womanhood is so flexible and so ever-expanding and how beautiful is it to show all the ways that it manifests? And especially when it comes to Latinas and Black women. Our bodies’ shapes and sizes vary, and are equally supported by the community and equally loved. And so, yes. Yes to that question,” she responded.
Seeing the rise in stories representing people from a number of different background, increasing the representation of people of color, different genders, age groups, the LGBTQ community and even religions, is a good thing. Props to Marvel for characters such as NJ Muslim girl Kamala Khan as the new Ms. Marvel, Syrian refugee mother Madaya Mom, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, ‘Thor’ being reinvented as a woman who battles breast cancer, and World of Wakanda written by feminist author Roxane Gay which revolves around two queer black women. Now we can add the badass America Chavez to this list.