DC Comics Covers Continue History of Latinx Misrepresentation

Spider-Man can swing from skyscrapers and detect trouble with his Spidey sense. Superman, the Man of Steel, hails from the planet Krypton, can fly at supersonic speeds, and is powerful at lifting the planet.

But for Hispanic and Latino superheroes in traditional comic book universes, their powers are usually vague at best — and their origin stories? Often filled with stereotypes, lack of nuance, and misinterpreted motivations, said comic book artist and writer J. Gonzo.

That’s part of why Gonzo wasn’t terribly surprised when he saw recent DC Comics covers “honoring” Hispanic Heritage Month with superheroes holding tamales, tacos and a flag with bad luck. Spanish grammar.

At this point, expecting accurate or thoughtful portrayals from these comic book publishers, he said, is like “going to the hardware store for some milk” or “to McDonald’s for a salad.”

“This is yet another example of a kind of whiteness that erases our histories and our meaningful presence in shaping the cultural fabric of the United States,” said University of Texas humanities professor Frederick Luis Aldama. and author of “Latinx Superheroes in Mainstream Comics”. .”

This is especially important to address in an increasingly diverse country, with a Latin American population that is one of the fastest growing groups in the United States, said Alex Grand, the founder of Comic Book Historians. . “To reflect the changing demographics of the United States, if 40% of the country is Caucasian, we probably shouldn’t continue to make 90% Caucasian superheroes.”

The “one step forward, two steps back” depiction in mainstream American comics is common, Aldama said, separating Hispanic and Latino characters, artists and readers. With great power comes great responsibility – and major publishers have repeatedly failed to hold their end of the bargain.

Vague powers have long been common for Hispanic and Latino superheroes in mainstream comics

There’s a trend, Gonzo said, of Latino superheroes often having unclear superabilities in DC and Marvel comics.

“I never really think of them as having a set of powers, so much so that they can do a bunch of things,” he said. “They have all these general powers, like energy powers, zapping powers, which doesn’t make me feel good about Latino superheroes.”

America Chavez, a Marvel character introduced in 2011, for example, travels the multiverse creating portals with ambiguously defined energy blasts. When Marvel’s Miles Morales, one of Spider-Man’s newest and most popular alter-egos, was created in 2011, he was given – unlike the Peter Parkers who came before him – blasting abilities from electric venom. El Dorado, a Mexican superhero who appeared on Hanna-Barbera’s “Super Friends” TV show in the 1980s, had particularly vague powers, among which, according to Gonzo, was a “zappy energy thing.” .

The mostly white male heroes created in the 1950s and 1960s got “all the right things”, Gonzo said – super genius, flight, agility, shapeshifting, etc., which became intrinsically attached to their personality – so that when new Latino or Hispanic characters are created or take on the mantle of an older identity, there is a sense of lack of originality lurking.

Stereotyped frameworks and misunderstood motivations

Marvel’s first Hispanic superhero, introduced in 1975, was White Tiger, aka Puerto Rican Hector Ayala.

The introduction of White Tiger was significant as one of the first deeply complex Hispanic characters, Aldama said. But as his journey as the first Latino hero in American comics continued, he became an example of how these heroes would become “slipstreamed, not integrated,” said Aldama – relegated to punctual appearances and having only one title in six issues. the comics run (“White Tiger” 2006-2007).

Gonzo said that a key guideline of almost all Hispanic, Latino, and/or Chicano superheroes in American comics, which is often misunderstood, is character motivation. DC’s Batman, for example, is relentlessly driven to seek revenge for the murder of his parents. Marvel’s Hulk is driven solely by uncontrollable rage.

Gonzo, who is Chicano, said character motivations driven by an aspect of cultural heritage should be treated with respect.

“Our culture is mostly mestizo – we’re a mixture of Spaniards and natives. And so a lot of the heroes that we have don’t rely on some sort of inherent ego-based identity.

This is different from many popular western archetypes. King Arthur, as the “chosen one”, took the sword from the stone. Thor, a god, is (mostly) the only one who can lift his hammer, because only he is worthy of it. “It’s about who they are,” Gonzo said. “Not necessarily on what they do.”

According to Gonzo, Chicano culture celebrates those who “fight and win” and act physically – “machismo”. But the community is also a community of resistance and movement, and has experienced disenfranchisement, particularly in the United States.

Superheroes who represent these communities should contain this complex balance, Gonzo said, between identities of both “conquistador and conquered, victim and aggressor.” But that fine line is almost never explored among American comic book heroes. Instead, Hispanic and Latino heroes, like all others, are celebrated for having a mark of banditry or machismo that lacks tact or internal nuance.

And, in the world of comics, where the universe of a myriad of characters is, by default, divided into different categories – those who travel in space, those who have mystical and magical abilities, and those who operate at “street level” (in the everyday world) – Hispanic and Latino characters, in DC and Marvel, almost always fall into the latter category.

Existing in this street-level identity, Gonzo said, it’s easy to get caught up in stories or settings that, while depicting important aspects of culture — family, food — are exaggerated, lack depth and quickly become stereotyped.

“Multiple generations all living together, slightly poorer families, trying to get by. A lot of [Latino] the heroes will eschew any form of inherent identity, and then take on an action role,” he said.

Another model: Latino legacy characters who were “the brown version” of an established character, Gonzo said. Morales as Spider-Man; Robbie Reyes as Marvel’s Ghost Rider; Jaime Reyes as DC’s Blue Beetle; Kyle Rayner as DC’s Green Lantern; the white tiger avatar being taken over by Hector’s younger sister, Ava Ayala.

And even when backstories and origin stories are flushed out, they tend to be co-opted or erased, especially in theaters.

Aldama mentioned El Diablo, a DC character with pyrokinetic powers who first appeared in 1970. In the comics, his origin is complex – a woven story of gang violence, mysticism and Indigenous stories in the American West and Mexico. But when adapted for the 2016 film “Suicide Squad”, El Diablo was portrayed on screen as irreconcilably angry and unable to control his powers, which led to him killing his own family – a plot point that does not appear in the comics.

According to Aldama, this erasure of character and culture is most prevalent on the big screen — a contradiction, he said, because Latinos make up most moviegoers in the United States.

“As we see with Hollywood, the more money involved in producing a story, the more fear intrudes into that space,” Aldama said. “And the more the result is constrained and straitjacketed. It is always a very deep prejudice that operates in the heart of those who occupy the seats of power.

The most authentic representations of Hispanic and Latin American cultures live in independent comics

What’s frustrating for Aldama and Gonzo is that DC and Marvel have the resources and the exposure to comic book writers and artists to produce true and authentic Hispanic and Latino stories.

“Off the top of my head, I could name at least 100 to 150 Latino creatives who have and continue to create truly engaging superheroes and stories,” Aldama said. “And I don’t see any of them being asked to come to the [mainstream comic book] table.”

Instead, the indie comics scene — those titles created, self-funded, or produced in small batches — is where truer cultural stories thrive. Some qualities of those titles, Gonzo said, include issues printed in English and Spanish and feature all-Hispanic and/or Latino creative teams: “Love and Rockets” by the Hernandez brothers, “Sonambulo” and “El Peso” by Rafael Navarro. Hero” by Hector Rodriguez, among many others.

When you have comics written in Latino, the results are comedic worlds with “a core sensibility and ethos that is Latino” with the necessary nuances that all cultures deserve, Gonzo said.

Thanks to Lillian Barkley for writing this article.

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