The Golden Age of comic books introduced the first wave of superheroes to American audiences: DC Comics’ Superman, Batman, and Marvel’s Captain America to name a few. Those 1940s and ‘50s heroes were succeeded by the Silver Age’s Spider-Man and The Flash, then by the X-Men and the Teen Titans in the Bronze Age, each successive generation symbolically representing a change in the outlook and demographics of their readership. Now Marvel has a superhero fit for the diversity of the modern age: America Chavez, a six-foot Spanish-speaking teenager who traveled from the Utopian Parallel to make a name for herself in New York City.
America Chavez isn’t the first “Miss America” in the Marvel world, having adopted the name from a character first introduced in 1943, but she’s certainly the most progressive. Born to two mothers on – of course – the fourth of July, she fled home after the “Amerimoms” sacrificed themselves to save Utopia and wound up on Earth. In various storylines, she has been affiliated with the Ultimates, the Teen Brigade, the Young Avengers, and the A-Force. While an early storyline showed America engaging in a relationship with her male co-leader of the Teen Brigade, she later identified as a lesbian, with canon depictions leaving open the possibility of a romantic relationship with her friend and fellow Young Avenger Kate Bishop. Her powers include superhuman speed, strength, and invulnerability to bullets and fire, as well as flight and the ability to create portals to alternate dimensions of reality. She has been called “a nearly indestructible superwoman,” whose youth doesn’t prevent her from presenting as an unambiguous symbol of female empowerment.
While Ms. America first made her debut as a secondary character in 2011, a new standalone series will see her fully come into her own as a modern-day heroine who disdains the traditional model of superheroism. Although the first issue of the new comic series isn’t scheduled for release until March 2017, multiple variants of its covers have been released so far, each attracting its own share of buzz. The first set of covers released features work by series artist Joe Quinones, cover artist Marguerite Sauvage, and Jamie McKelvie, each depicting the dark-skinned, curly-haired Latina heroine in various red, white, and blue outfits that prove two things: America Chavez can kick any villain’s ass, and she can do it without sacrificing her sense of cool, urban style. Never mind Wonder Woman’s outdated, impractical leotard and high-heeled boots; Ms. America’s here to save the day in a cropped hoodie and high-tops.
Series writer Gabby Rivera, herself a queer Latina New Yorker, featured the second variant cover on Instagram, an appropriate choice given its homage to social media superstar Beyoncé. Decked out in a star-spangled version of the outfit Queen Bey wears in her Grammy-winning video for “Formation,” America is flanked on the cover by fellow female superheroes Captain Marvel and Spectrum. The cover’s bold visual depiction of the three women – black, white, and Latina, standing shoulder-to-shoulder and staring determinedly forward – sends a wordless message about the power of intersectional cooperation, both for superpowered women and human ones. It’s yet another step Marvel is making in committing to more diverse representation in its comics, reflecting a changing world in which “super” means more than just bulked-up white guys.
The most recent of the variant covers takes a subtler, but no less radical approach to embracing changes in the comic book landscape. Nearly anyone who was alive and the least bit engaged in the pop culture landscape of 2016 will recognize the iconic imagery of breakout musical Hamilton: a silhouetted figure atop a star, standing with a defiant fist in the air. The cover is simply labeled America: A 21st Century Hero. She is shown on the cover with just two accessories: a patriotic star across her chest and a set of hoop earrings. In keeping with the musical’s revolutionary casting of black, Latino, and Asian actors to play the roles of white Founding Fathers and revolutionaries, America Chavez is depicted as a heroine whose identity is integral to her value as a modern superhero. In today’s divided United States, increasingly torn by the government’s determination to trample the rights of immigrants, women, the LGBTQ+ community, and other marginalized populations, Ms. America represents the kind of change that could save the world.