My spoiler review of Home #1, released back on April 14th, along with my non spoiler advance review of #2, out May 19th.
So let's just get this out of the way first. Home #1 is absolutely heart wrenching. If you're not in the mood for a comic that's going to make you cry then come back to it later, but let's be honest we're never quite emotionally ready to be broken by a comic.
Final spoiler warning for #1.
Ready? Okay then, let's start at the beginning.
The first few pages are probably the most striking of the whole issue and immediately sets the tone of the book. You have mother and son Mercedes and Juan Gomez setting off from their home in Guatemala City to cross the American border and seek asylum. Then from this very first panel you have that contrast of the caption box announcing the "zero tolerance policy for illegal entries on our southwest border."
It has to be said how perfect the art and colours by Anna Wieszczyk and Bryan Valenza is. It's got a very soft feel to it, I can't explain how but something about it I just find so soothing. To me anyway, it's this effect that captures all the emotions and facial expressions on the character's faces. In this panel it's that look on Juan's face, staring right at you, juxtaposed with the language like "scourge", and describing them as "criminals" that apparently want to "prey on the innocent". Even the use of the word "stream" just shows how all these people are grouped together so easily in some people's minds. Not even seen as individuals just inhuman troublemakers in the eyes of some people. Then you look into Juan's eyes and just how can you believe any of that rubbish?!
I'm already getting emotional and this is just the first damn page! Which is just a testament to how everything (writing by Julio Anta, art by Anna Wieszczyk, colours by Bryan Valenza and lettering by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou) comes together to instantly make you connect with these characters and what they're going through.
As you can probably tell by now, there are a lot of feelings that come out reading this. But there are some points in this book where along with the anger it's just sickening. Reading "go back to where you came from" just makes me feel sick. What's truly awful is not just how they are again described here as "cold-blooded criminals" but how coldly they speak about separating children from their parents, like are you sure they are the cold ones. Spoke about generalisation in the last paragraph, which is just so eloquently shown in three words. "It's that simple." No grey areas apparently, just all grouped together and judged as one. Remember, this is all before any dialogue from any actual characters in the story! This is just a real speech overlayed onto panels showing Mercedes and Juan's journey and I'm afraid to say if you found that emotional then it only gets worse for them unfortunately.
We're several pages in now and this is another particular point in the issue where the emotive artwork continues to shine. At first Mercedes is just relieved she can talk to someone who speaks Spanish, and then the worried look on her face as she explains everything is so well illustrated. But don't worry, apparently "everything is going to be okay". This is when it gets truly heartbreaking. The sheer relief on her face down to the tear and even a smile, she's so grateful for his apparent kindness and the hope that their journey paid off.
Is it too good to be true?
Horrifically, yes it seems so. I'm seriously running out of ways to describe how perfect the artwork is. I mean the stark white tones against what colour there still is in that scene just eminates the cold and you feel a sense of hopelessness looking at that page. As if at one glance this was heartbreaking enough, that child just staring right at you just breaks your damn heart even more. The contrast with the fencing up like they're animals or something and then that just one innocent child, relatively bold purple surrounded by mostly just white or grey and you start to run out of adjectives describing how awful this all is.
Did I mention it gets worse? Because AGAIN WITH THE EXPRESSIVE FACES! A moment ago she was deflated but trying to make the best of a bad situation, especially to try and stay strong for Juan. But then when she talks to someone called Felipe in "the Icebox" and it hits her. The lines around her head showing the shock, thanks to the amazing artwork you can really see the worry in her eyes and just the sudden horrible realisation of what's going to happen when Felipe explains it to her. What makes it even worse (yes I know I keep saying that, it's really *that* bad) is that it's not like she knew what would happen and is giving it a chance anyway. She had no idea! She's had a friend come through the same way the previous year without any problems!
But then, if you're not already heartbroken and crying then a few pages later, Mercedes starts crying at the horror of it all. The pain and the sadness on their faces, both trying to comfort each other but neither actually believing everything's going to be okay. Just worrying and trying to hold it together before the worst they both fear happens...
The use of the yellow/black/white background with all the lines just excellently creates that sense of motion and distance and you can basically feel Juan getting ripped away from his mother. The capital letters, the exclamation marks, the terrified looks on their faces as tears stream down their faces. It all comes together into a HEART WRENCHING crescendo as Juan CRIES OUT and you really start crying as your heart emotionally just gets shattered, because in the whole issue leading up to this point the creative team does a a perfect job getting you invested in these characters to the point that when this happens, you really feel it. I mentioned near the beginning all the emotions that this comic brings up. It's not an easy read. But then, it should make you uncomfortable. It should rip your heart in two. It should make you angry, should make you feel sick at times, the way every single panel of this issue is emotionally charged and that's what makes it such a compelling story.
But it's not always the obvious things. It's also the little details. The uneasy pangs in the heart like when you see that one of the children is asking what day it is. Juan's frightful face in the next panel just entirely sums it up. Just the sort of thing that sticks in your head while you carrying on reading that just completely chills you. Supplemented by the bleak greys and darkness used, and just another example of truly powerful imagery in this comic.
Oh, you're already emotionally wrecked and crying and you hope that it can't get any worse for Mercedes and Juan? Well if there was any page to perfectly show the juxtaposition of the innocence of Juan, just trying to get on with it all, against the harshness of the system that put him in that situation, it would be this one. He just wants to eat his damn orange, but "no food in the pens" and suddenly he's "going to isolation". He even exclaims asking what's happening! You can practically hear his cries as he tries to explain he was just hungry, I MEAN SERIOUSLY IS THERE ANY REASON THEY CAN'T HAVE FOOD IN THE PENS OTHER THAN JUST TO BE CRUEL? Somehow your heart just gets SHATTERED even further, mixed with pure rage THAT THIS IS EVEN HAPPENING! Poor Juan literally gets thrown into the dark, which might as well be a perfect metaphor for his circumstances. He's in this strange new country that he doesn't understand, lost and separated from his mother, with people in charge of him that have absolutely zero respect for him whatsoever.
Oh, and guess what? Whilst he's trapped and lost in both the metaphorical and physical dark, he gets a talking to by the most despicable character in this issue (which is saying something). There have been some sickening moments in this issue, but the dialogue that comes out of his mouth here physically made me gag. It's just how blatant he is about it that is so disgusting, actually taking the time and breath to say "Whatever shithole country you came from" and "We're taking it back from you people" LIKE WHAT THE ACTUAL F***. The way Juan is huddled up in the corner, the guy being physically imposing towards him, towering over him just representing the power dynamic in the room even more. The absolutely petrified look on Juan's face as just tears come readily flowing out. Like I said everything about this scene just physically makes me gag, it's absolutely beyond disgusting and just like I said downright despicable.
But then! Something good finally happens to Juan? Does he finally catch a break? His hands start glowing (more on that in a bit) and the power dynamic immediately shifts. Again the art is just amazing, it's incredibly satisfying how quickly the guy's face changes. Suddenly he's the one who's worried and confused and it's just perfect.
The guy shouts louder as Juan's fists glow more and more until boom! Blows a hole in the wall and escapes.
Now one final thing I did want to mention before moving onto issue #2 is the layout of the pages. You may have noticed the black outline of white space around the panels I posted through this review. Like the one directly above! Why didn't I just crop it in and use the actual panels? Well, since the art doesn't go to the edge of page I think that might have a deeper meaning. I'm not saying the comic wasn't immersive, but maybe if the art went all the way to the edge of the page it would be more immersive, and the way it doesn't represents how easy it is to distance ourselves from awful things like this happening. Like it's just "happening elsewhere", outside of the panelling you would think none of these characters exist, it's a story right? Whilst that's technically true, it's needs to be remembered this is based on real experiences people had and unfortunately continue to have! This shouldn't and can't be ignored, this is such an important comic and everyone needs to read this compelling, emotional story that the whole brilliant team is crafting together, so if you haven't already, buy it!!
Which brings us onto issue two! So, whether you clicked on this article for the #2 advance review, and read my thoughts on #1 anyway or vice versa, time for my advance (spoiler free, naturally) review of #2!
First of all, it has to be said this cover is just gorgeous. The colours are so vibrant, especially with the contrast between the bright oranges of the lights & Juan's fists and the dark night time blues and purples of the background. With some books these days the cover doesn't always reflect the contents, but this is just perfect.
Speaking of Juan's glowing fists, what was that about at