From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Top 12 Latin Superheroes

Victor Mancha#6 Victor Mancha (Runaways): Victor is a member of the very-cool Runaways created by Brian K Vaughn (Y: The Last Man) and later helmed by Joss Whedon. Victor’s origins were initially unclear, until it was discovered that he’s actually a cyborg created by the evil Ultron (with some help from his Mexican mother’s DNA). He gets major props for transcending his programming and being the only Latino robot to make the list. About time we saw more robots of color in science fiction!

The Question#5 The Question: The original Question was recently succeeded by Renee Montoya, a Gotham City cop turned vigilante. She’s Dominican and also an out lesbian, who’s been both lovers and crime-fighting partners with Batwoman. I don’t keep up with DC that well, but I’ve seen the Question in Final Crisis, and the little I know of her makes me want to read more.

Kyle Rayner#4 Kyle Rayner (Green Lantern): Kyle became the new Green Lantern after Hal Jordan had a Phoenix-like turning-evil-and-nearly-destroying-the-universe breakdown and died. (He’s back now and feeling much better.) I read the early issues that featured Kyle and enjoyed them. He was the first Green Lantern to discover that the color yellow was not actually a weakness of the ring’s power (which always seemed sort of silly), and the only real limitation of the ring was its wielder’s imagination. As a graphic artist, Kyle had plenty of imagination to spare. In the early stories, his ethnicity wasn’t featured prominently (and maybe not even mentioned). To be honest, it seems like his half-Mexican heritage was a bit of an afterthought, but he’s an interesting character, and it’s kinda cool having a Latino in the iconic role of a Green Lantern.

Spy Kids#3 Spy Kids: That’s right—the 2001 family action movie and subsequent sequel wins the #3 slot. Carmen and Juni Cortez are two ordinary kids until they discover their “boring” parents (played by Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) are actually spies. The brave Juni and Carmen unexpectedly have to rescue their kidnapped parents and save the world. It’s not just that all the protagonists are Latino–there’s also a uniquely Latino sensibility to the over-the-top sense of fun and unabashed fear of corniness in the Spy Kids movies, which were written, directed, and produced by Robert Rodriguez. (Note: The first two movies are pure fun, but Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over jumped the shark and, sadly, is barely watchable.)

Arana#2 Araña: Araña is a teenager in Brooklyn who discovers she has Spider-like powers and joins the mystical Spider Society to battle the would-be world-conquering Sisterhood of the Wasp. Sounds corny, but it’s very well executed, and just a good, fun read. Unlike some of the other characters on this list, Araña’s ethnicity is neither invisible nor rooted in stereotypes. She speaks Spanglish, struggles to balance her studies and social life with her battles against the evil Wasps, and has an interesting relationship with her Dad–a journalist who seems to have a lot of integrity (although he’s s a bit overprotective at times). Clearly a take-off on Spider-Man (who guest-starred in an early issue), Araña had the same entertaining contrast of high school blues and superhero battles as Ultimate Spider-Man or the early days of the classic 60s Spider-Man. Unfortunately, the series didn’t last long, but maybe she’ll make a comeback.

Zorro#1 Zorro: I’ve never been a huge Zorro fan, but there’s no doubt that he’s the most influential Hispanic character in the world of superheroes. Created in 1919, he was one of the major precursors to the modern superhero, and undoubtedly influenced later characters such as the Phantom, the Lone Ranger, and Batman. It would be interesting to go back and read some of his early pulp appearances and see how they hold up.

As you can see, this list has a slant toward the stuff I read more of–heavy on Marvel, light on DC and indies, and biased toward the time periods when I happened to be keeping up with comics. One thing that’s definitely missing is any of the characters from Milestone, a line of comics devoted to bringing more diversity to the world of superheroes. I’ve heard they were well-written, but that was in my brief I’m-in-college-and-don’t-have-time-for-comics phase. I’ve also heard that the new Blue Beetle is Latino, and that Marvel recently introduced an all-Latino team of heroes, Eleggua and the Santerians.

There are a few notable trends that stood out as I made this list. The big one is how recently most of these characters first appeared. The White Tiger, Rictor, and Zorro are the only ones that pre-date the 1990s, and the majority on the list appeared in the past ten years. I tried to think of other early heroes like the White Tiger, even if they were stereotypical, but the truth is all the ones that came to mind were villains. When I was a kid reading comics in the 80s, the main Latino characters I encountered were Spider-Man foes like the Tarantula or the Lobo brothers–villains with thick accents who specialized in gang wars and drug deals. There has definitely been a positive shift in the past ten years, with a new wave of Latino characters that are neither culturally whitewashed nor wholly dependent on stereotypes for their characterization and back-story. Perhaps in a sign of how depictions of Latinos in comics have begun to shift, Marvel recently re-invented the villainous Tarantula as a female superhero.

The most disturbing trend is the overwhelming dominance of white or light-skinned Latinos. On the one hand, it’s somewhat refreshing to see recognition that there are white Latinos; too often “Latino” is imagined incorrectly as a racial category rather than a very broadly defined cultural group, which is what it is. But it’s deeply disappointing that comic books, like so many other media, are largely failing to recognize the existence of Latinos who are Black or Brown. The invisibility of Black Latinos—who make up the majority of the population within some Latin American nationalities and countries—perpetuates racism in both the U.S. and Latin America.

Lastly, most of the superheroes on this list are supporting characters or members of a team. Attempts to place Latinas and Latinos in title roles of comic books—Araña, Spider-Man 2099, Green Lantern—have been fairly short-lived, usually lasting only a few years. With Joe Quesada at the helm of Marvel, and many other Latino creators in the business, I’m sure the interest and talent is there to put Latino characters in leading roles, but it’s hard to build a fan base for new heroes in an industry where most best-selling comics feature icons created 40-70 years ago. But perhaps we’ll see Araña, the Question, or the White Tiger in an ongoing series again some time soon.

That’s my list, but I’d love to hear who I may have missed, and to get a dialogue going about depictions of Latino superheroes in comics and other media.

Ben Francisco owns more than 3,000 comic books and writes fantasy, science fiction, and magic realism. His work has been published in the anthology Dreaming Again, edited by Jack Dann, and is forthcoming in Realms of Fantasy. He lives in Brooklyn with his partner, Hassan. Visit Ben at his blog, Bread and Magic.

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