“You wanna be a major-leaguer? Then put on a swimsuit and punch a dinosaur!”
All Carly Vanders every wanted to do was to make cute clothes and get a little recognition for it. When she was young, her teacher tried to push her into athletics and breaking glass ceilings instead. Now that she’s grown up, Carly is a costume designer and dancer on a USO tour in a Central Asian country. One strange meteor strike and a coma later, she awakens in Area 51 with bioeletrical superpowers and a host of agencies and marketers trying to squeeze her into their often tone-deaf and heartless agendas. And when a simple act of kindness goes against her branding, Carly’s out on her own. Still wanting to do the right thing, she assumes the mantle of Kamen America, just in time to rescue captured overseas missionaries.
Part of the indie comics boom that got its start as a customer revolt against another of Marvel’s frequent attempts to reinvent itself for critical approval, Timothy Lim and Mark Pellgrini’s Kamen America mixes a little of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Captain Marvel and My Hero Academia. The result is an homage with heart that pokes fun at the often contradictory and hypocritical expectations and trends surrounding women in comic books and other media. It also means that there are plenty of reworked memes appearing for those have eyes to see. But the message and the memery take a back seat to Carly’s tale of how determination and doing the right thing win out in the end.
Even in the face of some serious “befriending” via superpowered blasts. Kamen America is a superhero book, after all. There’s no time for lengthy discussions between dodging radioactive meteors, dinosaur kaiju, slimy marketers, and superpowered rivals. So the message is simple, almost Saturday morning cartoon simple: be true to yourself. Sounds like a gross’s worth of current-year stories, but Kamen America avoids the subtext of rebellion and ironic conformity in most of them.
As for Carly’s penchant for posing, well, it is a superhero book. Lim and Pellegrini keep the fanservice to cute girl doing cute things without falling into the excesses of both American comics and Japanese manga when it comes to costuming and provocativeness. It’s a thin line between genre convention and excess, and Kamen America manages to skirt that difference adroitly.
Perhaps the most promising aspect of Kamen America is Lim and Pellegrini’s willingness to embrace digital distribution. Kamen America has been funded by Kickstarter campaigns. For most indies, that means that customers are out of luck if you miss the campaign. Part of this is by design, as indies are still stuck in 1990s speculative fantasies of $1,000,000 issues on the speculative market. By embracing digital distribution, Kamen America is constantly available to customers and becomes a friendlier series to readers looking for more issues.
Kamen America is a cute, clean-cut adventure that stands on its own despite the memery and criticism of comics’ current direction. And with a fourth issue on the horizon, there is more to come of this blend of American and Japanese superheroes.