It was entirely based on my enjoyment of Magdalene Visaggio’s Eternity Girl for DC that I decided to give Morning In America a look, as well as the title’s direct reference to the Reagan slogan that promised a bright, new, prosperous country should he be elected. As it turned out, he wasn’t the end of our problems, but pretty much the beginning, and we are still in a direct line of social and economic destruction that began in with him. Given that succinct evocation of everything that has degraded in our country over the last several decades, I was curious how Visaggio would tie it into a comic that I understood to be about a group of bad-ass teenage girls.
The basics of the general premise bear resemblance to Stranger Things, but Morning In America thankfully rejects the cloying ‘80s fetishism that too often made Stranger Things feel like a marketing plan built around pop culture references. Visaggio’s lens is more of a political and cultural one that focuses the reaction of a working-class community to several teen disappearances in a struggling Ohio industrial town in 1983. Our group of bad-ass teenage girls, known collectively as the Sick Sisters, spend their time hanging out and posturing with each other, lashing out at school, and getting into altercations with jerky guys. But the multiple vanishings haven’t escaped their attention, particularly our main hero, Nancy Salazar, who for various reasons becomes convinced that the Sick Sisters need to solve the mystery, not the least of which is probably another chance to escape from home and her battling parents, who take out the joblessness born from Republican economic policies on each other, as Nancy slips through the cracks of their concern unless she’s in some kind of trouble.
The very first page of the book gives some hints about where the kids are going, but given the backdrop of economic destruction, impending poverty, dysfunctional families, and marginalized kids, as well as Visaggio’s inventive mythology in Eternity Girl, I’m guessing there’s a lot more to the initial mystery than I perceive from that intro. Visaggio’s characterizations of the girls start out in typical wise-ass mode but by the end have softened into characters you want to know once you get past the blockades they put up.
And getting to know the Sick Sisters seems as much a reason for the comic to exist as finding out who is stealing the kids, particularly Nancy’s buddy Veronica who, in the actual vernacular of 1983 would’ve have been characterized as a “tomboy,” but here stands as another direct line from the past to our society’s current gender dialogue. And while no gender identity information is revealed, and sexuality is only really hinted at in a toss-off line meant as a barb between the Sick Sisters, I’m guessing these aspects will become more clear as the series progresses. Veronica is obviously an outsider in the Ohio town, and Vissagio gives her the central role in one of the most stirring moments in the book, in which she assures Nancy that their inability to fit into one set system of norms does not impede their success as inhabiting their own system, with its own rules and goals.
This is all matched by Clauida Aguirre’s artistic challenge, to offer a rendering of a crumbling midwestern, working-class-dominated town that is evocative but also simultaneously not gloomy. She succeeds, and every abandoned lot, dying downtown, derelict factory building, or lifeless suburban house is counteracted by the vibrancy of her characters and a general sense of optimism despite it all. Who really knows where this is all going, but it’s amiable and provides enough interesting subtext that I plan to keep my eye on it.