The first issue of a new Marvel series aims to focus on the powerful, rich and uplifting stories of a largely overlooked and diverse cast of Latino superheroes.
"This book is a gateway through which you could find your way to all the comics that have been building stories around the Latinx community," author and comic book scholar Frederick Luis Aldama said about the first print and digital issue of "Marvel's Voices: Comunidades" (Spanish for "communities"), released on Wednesday.
"Comunidades" assembles a compendium of Latino heroes created by Latino writers and artists.
While Latino superheroes have been part of the Marvel universe for decades, without continuity, many of them are often overlooked, said Aldama, best known for his award-winning book, “Latinx Superheroes in Mainstream Comics” and the director of the Latin X Pop Lab at the University of Texas at Austin.
“I knew personally from reading comics that we had an abundance of Latinx superheroes," said Aldama, who wrote the "Comunidades" forward. "But the Marvel encyclopedia didn’t even mention them. So there is a story that has been almost willfully ignored, or a history that we need to tell."
One of the Latino characters featured in the first issue of "Comunidades" is Ghost Rider — a student mechanic-turned-superhero who drives a muscle car with his skull lit on fire. Karla Pacheco, the Latina and Native American Marvel writer who wrote the one-page story of the demonic superhero, says that she wanted to base it on a personal story about her father teaching her how to make tortillas.
“It’s a short story about growing up and learning how to make something,” Pacheco said. “It’s about remembering not to use measuring cups because your cupped hand makes a measuring cup for the flour, and you pinch your fingers just right to get the amount of salt, and then you flip it without a spatula off the cast iron really fast because you can’t be afraid of fire.”
For Pacheco, being able to bring her personal story to a Latino superhero is a significant step forward, because, she said, many diverse characters have not been written by writers of color before.
For Mexican Marvel writer Juan Ponce — who wrote a "Comunidades" story about a Brazilian sorcerer from the 1950s named Nina the Conjuror — discovering a character like Superman who came from another place and was adopted by a new family was enough to resonate with his own immigrant story.
“Obviously, he was a Caucasian man, but he was an alien. And his values and family really spoke to me,” he said. “I never really saw Superman different from my dad. They were both these men who really put a lot of emphasis on doing the right thing for the family and grew up in a farm. And that was the moment where I wanted to write stories about someone like that and carry my values to the page.”
Terry Blas, a Mexican American who wrote a "Comunidades" story about a young magician named Eva (she’s also the cousin of Reptil — a superhero who can turn into a dinosaur), was driven to tell stories for readers who shared common values.
“I wanted to do something for someone who may have felt like me when I was younger so they wouldn’t have to search so hard to find themselves in a book,” he said.
But Blas also wanted to bring visibility to others who are still underrepresented.
“Part of the creation of Eva’s character was that one of the fastest-growing demographics in the United States is the college-educated Latina," he said. "And it’s important to help with that representation."
Other Latino creators say they have difficulty bringing more diversity to mainstream media because different racial and ethnic groups are often reduced to a simplified story.
“I think the idea of one story is something that plagues every group in the country,” said Cuban Colombian Marvel writer Julio Anta. “The Latinx community comes from so many different places. And they have so many different stories that are not only about being undocumented immigrants or building a life for themselves out of nothing. I think we are still viewed in a certain way, which a lot of times on screen is generally a caricature.”
Anta wrote a "Comunidades" story featuring Miles Morales (Spider-Man) and Anya Corazón (Spider-Girl) having a conversation about the term "Latinx" and what it means to identify that way.
In this sense, "Comunidades" offers a snapshot of the conversations that some Hispanic families are having, and how language changes and evolves from generation to generation. And for another creator in the series, this is exactly what comics should be doing.
'Many different kinds of Latinx people'
“Our job as storytellers is to represent the world that we live in. But as a whole, mass media has failed to do that,” said Marvel writer Daniel José Older, who is Cuban and Jewish. “It’s really about telling the truth, not about having a political agenda. The world is very diverse. There are many different groups. And many different kinds of Latinx people.”
Older wrote a "Comunidades" story about White Tiger, whom he describes as an ordinary Puerto Rican man in Harlem who unexpectedly gets superhero powers in the 1970s.
For some Latino creators, this quality of being both ordinary and extraordinary is what makes superheroes relatable.
“Heroes are born everywhere,” said Mexican comic book artist Enid Balám, who worked as a penciller — an artist who focuses on the first stage of comic book drawings — in Anta’s "Comunidades" story and the Reptil miniseries written by Blas. Using Reptil as an example, Balám said, “what makes him a hero is not only the strength or special ability, but the will to stand for others.”