Borinqueña: Puerto Rico’s new superhero fights crime – and a political crisis

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Artist Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez has designed a comic book character who combines superpowers and activism on the troubled island, Alan Yuhas reports for London’s Guardian.

Tides are rising and a hurricane is due. Crime is growing, families are fleeing and hundreds of thousands are out of work. At best, they are forced to follow men and women who cannot even agree to fight a virus that harms infants. At worst, their leaders are corrupt.

More than 1,600 miles from the island of Puerto Rico, Marisol Rios De La Luz is at Columbia University, with a long commute from Williamsburg. She majors in environmental studies and has an interest in activism. She recently visited family back in Puerto Rico, where a Taino goddess, Atabey, and her twin sons granted her superpowers over flight and weather.

Marisol doesn’t exist, but her creator hopes her story could do something to resolve the problems that do.

“It isn’t that she’ll storm Wall Street and knock out hedge funds holding Puerto Rico’s debt,” the artist Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez told the Guardian. “That’s fantasy.”

Instead, Puerto Rico’s new heroine will do the usual superhero things – fight crime, save lives, defeat villains. But she will also inject the messy work of politics into the clean, brightly lined world of comics.

“It’s not just she can fly, she can control the weather, and her costume looks like the flag,” Miranda-Rodriguez said. “The mere fact that you’ve created la Borinqueña makes her political.”

Named after Puerto Rico’s anthem, the character was created to “represent the real face of diversity”, Miranda-Rodriguez said, noting that people of color and women are still underrepresented in comics, especially in the mainstream that is usually relied on by Hollywood.

Studios did recently announced three major comic book movies – Black Panther, Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman – in which a white man will not play the lead. In such spirit, Miranda-Rodriguez said he drew La Borinqueña to be “not oversexualized, respectfully designed, a woman who looks like your sister, your daughter, your wife – someone who looks like you”.

He also contrasted the character with the origin stories of her more famous peers.

“Comic book stories always towed from a male perspective,” he said, “where, at the height of their powers, something tragic happens that makes that character become an altruistic hero. But she didn’t have to have some tragedy to wake up to her sense of civic responsibility – she just wanted to lead. She’s one of many who’s always been there, serving and being part of the community.”

Comics have always taken on politics, usually without much nuance. Superman, the immigrant extraordinaire, fought Nazis. Batman the billionaire fought the communist KGBeast. the X-Men weremarginalized and the Avengers surveilled. Captain America facedRonald Reagan, the snake man.

Miranda-Rodriguez has taken a slightly different tack, filling La Borinqueña’s world with political problems that her superpowers alone cannot solve.

On Friday, Puerto Rico defaulted on $779m in bonds, despite a last-minute rescue effort passed by Congress. The island was already crippled. Schools and hospitals have closed down, doctors have left en masse, and the population has dwindled as hundreds of thousands have fled to the mainland. Industry abandoned the island after tax breaks expired: 12.2% of the people who remain are unemployed and 45% live in poverty. On top of all this, the Zika virus hasswept on to the island with mosquito season.

Miranda-Rodriguez has painted the sprawling crisis into his characters’ stories.

“It’s affecting real lives,” he said. “Can one person change it? No. But we’re aware of it and we can do things to make others aware.”

Marisol begins as an activist in her community, organizing for common causes such as voter rights, climate change and police accountability.

Miranda-Rodriguez said: “She may realize, ‘My superpowers can’t change this but I can help people who are here and inspire them to help themselves.’”

And though Marisol is literally empowered by a pilgrimage to her family’s ancestral home, the Puerto Ricans who remain there are disempowered by the federal government, as American citizens who cannot vote for president and have no power in Congress.

“It’s actually Puerto Ricans in the diaspora that really need to be the ones to step up and speak out,” Miranda-Rodriguez said, noting that those who live in the states can vote. “If we don’t like you, we can vote you out, and that’s the real power.

“We’re a growing demographic as a voting bloc and as consumers. How much more powerful would we feel if we were consuming products that look like us, pursuing candidates that look like us and speak like us?”

Through pop culture, Miranda-Rodriguez said he hoped to get a message out about a current crisis and a long history of unspoken abuse.

“Real truths are finally being exposed, coming into the mainstream,” he said, before alluding to a recent supreme court case that struck a blow to the island’s limited self-governance by saying it must abide by a federal double jeopardy rule.

He said: “The supreme court just said, ‘Let’s be real, this concept of a commonwealth is a fraud. It’s a colony.’”

The artist said he did not know whether independence or statehood would be best for Puerto Rico, but he was heartened that at least one member of Congress,Nydia M Velázquez of New York, had noticed his work, which is slated to debut this fall through a studio run by Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC.

“This is a comic book, yo. Nobody’s wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt in Congress. But it’s what she represents.”

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