Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews—now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘Morning in America’ #1, out March 6 from Oni Press.
THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘MORNING IN AMERICA’ CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Brendan Hodgdon. “It’s morning again in America. Today more men and women will go to work than ever before in our country’s history… they can look forward with confidence to the future. It’s morning again in America… our country is prouder and stronger and better. Why would we ever want to return to where we were…?” – Ronald Reagan campaign ad, 1984.
While Reagan may have sold himself as a new dawn for the United States, we now know that a lot of his sunlight was reserved only for the rich, white, and straight, and it cast dark shadows that linger to this day. Reagan’s renewal left many a disaffected youth out in the world, and a creeping sense of oppression in our society. And that is what lies at the center of Morning in America, as told by Magdalene Visaggio, Claudia Aguirre, and Zakk Saam. Their new Oni Press series springs right out of the street-level pressures of the Reagan era, while still, unfortunately, feeling right at home in the age of Trump.
The creative team’s 80s cues don’t just come from the social atmosphere of the period, as they also riff on the same kid adventure structure that gave us E.T., Monster Squad, and Stranger Things. However, the story that it most resembles is Paper Girls, in that Visaggio and Aguirre give the book a more raw and uncensored energy than those other stories have. Given the direct political allegory packed into the title, this makes sense. But unlike Paper Girls, Morning in America is in no rush to dig into the fantasy just yet, opting instead to explore the characters and their world and leaving the monster action for later.
Both Visaggio and Aguirre do a great job of establishing their core group of protagonists, charmingly dubbed the Sick Sisters. Nancy, Ashley, Veronica and Ellen are all given distinct personalities and looks, and as a group they complement each other in a very satisfying way. That Visaggio further contextualizes them in captions with their (misdemeanor) criminal records furthers the antagonistic, rebellious attitude that the group embodies in this story. But what really makes the Sick Sisters pop on the page is what they seem to represent in the world of the story.
There is a cathartic mood established in this first issue, in the way that the gang is drawn into the larger supernatural mystery of the series. It’s made clear that the systems of power in this town are disinterested in actually helping people; the police are discouraged from looking for missing kids and the new factory doesn’t seem to actually be hiring anyone who needs work. So it’s left to delinquents like the Sick Sisters to save the day, a fact that other kids in the town recognize and pursue. Visaggio and Aguirre are very blunt and unapologetic on this point, and in doing so spit directly in the face of the conservative ethos that looms over the setting of their story.
In crafting a series like this, it’s necessary for the art to capture both the comfortable familiarity of 80s small-town Americana and the creeping danger within it. Aguirre is up to the task. Handling full art duties on her own for the first time, she builds a world that is just as tangible as her characters. One great element at play here is the looming presence of the factory in the background of so many panels; without much being said about it, Aguirre drives home its dreadful significance. Meanwhile, Zakk Saam holds it down on letters and does a solid job; one interesting touch is the number of times he uses bolding for emphasis, which gives the dialogue a very clear and deliberate sense of tone and flow.
Morning in America uses the quiet oppression of the Reagan years to reflect the loud antagonism of the Trump years, of that there is no doubt. But what makes Visaggio, Aguirre, and Saam’s work so effective is its celebration of rebellion in the face of such opposition. They’ve crafted a group of characters that embody the “fuck you” mentality that is needed just as much now as it was then. There might be a lot of fantastical derring-do in future chapters, but this debut has already given us great new standard bearers for today’s culture clash.
Oni Press / $3.99
Written by Magdalene Visaggio.
Art by Claudia Aguirre.
Letters by Zakk Saam.
8.5 out of 10
‘Morning in America’ #1 hit stores March 6.
Check out this variant cover by Elizabeth Beals, courtesy of Oni Press!