Puerto Rican superhero comic book launches national tour in Philadelphia

 Somos Arte Studios, © 2016.

Somos Arte Studios, © 2016.

Look! Up in the sky!

It’s a bird! It’s a plane!

It’s La Borinqueña!

She’s the world’s first Puerto Rican comic book superhero. This weekend her Brooklyn-based creator, Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, will launch a national tour at Taller Puertorriqueño, a Latin community support organization in North Philadelphia.

Normally a mild-mannered grad student in Brooklyn, a young woman name Marisol goes to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico — her ancestral homeland — to do some geological research.

Marisol accidentally stumbles on some magic crystals that not only grant her the ability to control wind and tide, but to do it while wearing tights and a cape the colors of the Puerto Rican flag.

“She only saw Puerto Rico as an extended laboratory or a study abroad, but while she’s there she is embraced by this magical mystery that is her actual heritage,” said Miranda-Rodriguez.

Describing himself as a graphic designer, comic book writer, and activist, Miranda-Rodriguez wanted to not just create a different kind of superhero, but a different kind of comic book heroism.

A big influence was his wife.

“She kept telling me over and over again, ‘If you’re going to write this, just don’t make it corny,” he said. “I felt I would be able to tell a better story if I pulled away from the traditional storytelling techniques. If I don’t have a villain, that will force me to tell a better story about this character,” he said. 

Instead of an arch nemesis, La Borinqueña’s enemies are natural disasters, environmental hazards, and perhaps her most overwhelming foe: the Puerto Rican debt crisis.

La Borinqueña has to learn how to use the powers she suddenly gained. It’s awkward. Having grown up in Williamsburg with American pop culture, she takes cues from superhero TV shows she has watched, like Supergirl. It gets awkward.

She looks different from other female super heroes, who tend to be drawn like supermodels (or porn stars) wearing capes. Miranda-Rodriguez was going for a girl-next-door look, a hero with more typical curves: a little thicker in the thighs and rear, with thick lustrous hair once she takes it out of her braids.

“I visualize her being 5’5”, 130 pounds, naturally curvy and very athletic. She rides a bike,” he said. “It was a challenge for me, as a man producing this book with a roster of mostly male talent — in the industry there is not a strong representation of professional women artists — I was reminding them of her body type, of her hair texture, of her skin color.”

“La Borinqueña” was released exclusively through Miranda-Rodriguez’s website in December. The first print run of 2,000 copies sold out in two months, mostly by word of mouth: Miranda Rodriguez does not have a distributor. He’s doing it all himself.

Mirando-Rodriguez sees a need in the comic book market for more cultural heroes.

“Oftentimes, mainstream media misses how to directly relate to us with a character. We’re such a diverse group of people: we’re Mexican, Columbian, Venezuelan, Puerto Rican, Cuban,” he said. “I did not want to make her a very generic, across-the-board Latina. I wanted her to be, very specifically, Puerto Rican.”

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