Latin Americans Turned Off by DC’s Hispanic Heritage Comics


 

Grid News wrote an item for Hispanic Heritage Month about the portrayal of Latino characters in mainstream comicdom, and the interviewees consider it otherwise disappointing:

 

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

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

This is part of why Gonzo wasn’t much surprised when he saw DC Comics’ recent covers “honoring” Hispanic Heritage Month with superheroes holding tamales, tacos and a flag with bad 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 milk” or “to McDonald’s for a salad.”

“It’s yet another example of a kind of whiteness that obliterates our histories and significant presence in shaping the cultural fabric of the United States,” said Frederick Luis Aldama, a humanities professor at the University of Texas and author of “Latinx Superheroes in Mainstream Comics.”

 

Well, what could you honestly expect from the Big Two, when all they’re truly interested in doing is virtue-signaling, under the laughable notion people of Black/Latino/Asian descent are instantly going to care based on the character’s background alone? A few decades ago, most realists would’ve made clear entertainment merit matters, today, they don’t. As for what the covers DC published put on display, that’s bound to sum up the problem: they believe what you see on the cover will actually prove this is worth buying, but the inside’s sure to prove otherwise. However, I find it troubling the professor interviewed apparently titled his book with a word that again, is unpopular with the Latino community, and rarely in use.

And I don’t think the following interviewee should be making such a fuss over how much representation should be given in quotas if entertainment value’s not being considered:

 

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

The “one step forward, two steps back” representation in mainstream American comic books is common, Aldama said, disservicing Hispanic and Latino characters, artists and readers alike. With great power comes great responsibility — and big-time publishers have repeatedly failed to hold up their end of the bargain.

 

What about their failure to rely on story merit instead of PC agendas, like changing Superman’s son to bisexual, or entirely homosexual? In fact, to my knowledge, there’s a considerable amount of Latin Americans whose values are conservative, and don’t subscribe to the kind of social justice wokeness DC/Marvel are espousing these days. Assuming these folks don’t buy into such PC propaganda either, this is exactly why I believe it does little good to expect the Big Two to adhere to an extreme social justice agenda, let alone give them the dignity of being in discussion, when they’ve become so increasingly irrelevant. And it’s decidedly insulting the interviewee suggested mainstream superhero casts should almost literally be changed to reflect his beliefs, and his alone. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, in example, worked hard to create Superman, and if he’s implying Clark Kent and Lois Lane’s whiteness is a problem, that’s insulting. The interviewee proceeds to discuss superpowers:

 

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

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

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

The mainly white, male heroes created in the 1950s and ’60s got “all the good stuff,” Gonzo said — super genius, flight, agility, shapeshifting, etc., which became intrinsically attached to their personas — such that when newer Latino or Hispanic characters are created, or take up the mantle of an older identity, there’s a lurking sense of unoriginality.

 

But weren’t Black Lightning and Storm created with electrical powers? And wasn’t Firebird/Bonita Juarez, a creation of Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema, created as a pyrokinetic? I think it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say all Latino superheroes have mainly electrical/energy powers, rather than more clearly cite those whose powers are otherwise. But above all, I think it’s become laughable at this point to make superhero stories the main discussion above all else, and not promote original stories that could put more emphasis on adventure themes as a general topic.

 

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

White Tiger’s introduction was significant as one of the first deeply complex Hispanic characters, Aldama said. But as his adventure as the first Latin American hero in American comics continued, he became an example of how these heroes would become “slipstreamed, not mainstreamed,” said Aldama — relegated to one-off appearances and owning only a single six-issue titular comics run (”White Tiger” 2006-2007).

 

Something to consider here is that not all characters can be expected to gain stratospheric recognition. Even white characters can fall by the wayside (Cannonball/Sam Guthrie from New Mutants could be one example), and nobody makes much of a fuss about that. The Falcon/Sam Wilson, who’d been prominent in Capt. America during the 70s, most faded by the mid-80s, and was that considered a grand emergency? Nope. But, if the interviewee does care, what does he think of Vibe, a Puerto Rican hero introduced in the Justice League of America during 1984, getting killed off by the end of the volume’s run just 3 years later, instead of receiving better writing? Vibe’s not even mentioned in this item, and nobody argues it’s cheap to just kill off a fictional character who’s not at fault for what questionable characteristics the writer (Gerry Conway) ascribes to him, instead of putting the character in limbo until they can think of a better way to portray the man or woman they’ve created.

 

Gonzo said a key throughline of almost all Hispanic, Latino and/or Chicano superheroes in American comics, which often gets misunderstood, is characters’ motivation. DC’s Batman, for example, is relentlessly driven by seeking vengeance for his parents’ murder. Marvel’s Hulk is driven solely by uncontrollable rage.

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

“Our culture is primarily mestizos — we’re a blend of Spanish and Indigenous peoples. And so a lot of the heroes that we have don’t rely on some kind of ego-based, inherent identity.”

 

It’s fine in itself to argue in favor of respecting certain cultural heritages. But again, that’s why story merit and entertainment value are vital for all this to work. Otherwise, who’ll care, even among Latinos? Most sales receipts available today should make this clear.

 

According to Gonzo, the Chicano culture celebrates those who “fight and win” and take physical action — “machismo.” But the community is also one of resistance and movement, and has experienced disenfranchisement, especially in the United States.

 

Really? What about in communist run countries like Nicaragua? Or, better yet, if you believe the USA’s led to disenfranchisement, how come leftists aren’t held accountable for any harm their policies have caused? This is the problem with articles like these – they never ask if liberal politics have any accountability for harming anybody’s livelihood and welfare.

 

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

 

And this sounds like it’s teetering on overtly political propaganda. Again, no argument in favor of entertainment value here. Or, why must superheroes be the main concern, rather than civilian co-stars who could surely represent the balances better? Or, why must it always be superheroes-all-the-time, instead of emphasizing adventurers in a general sense? Again, I’m stumped.

 

And, in the comics world, wherein the universe of myriad characters are, by default, split into different categories — those who travel through space, those with mystical and magical abilities, and those who operate on the “street-level” (in the everyday world) — Hispanic and Latino characters, in DC and Marvel, are almost always in the latter category.

Existing in this street-level identity, Gonzo said, it’s easy to get tied up in storylines or contexts that, while representing significant aspects of the culture — family, food — are overdone, lack depth and quickly become stereotypical.

“Multi-generations all living together, slightly poorer, trying-to-make-it families. A lot of [Latino] heroes will eschew any kind of inherent identity, to then take on a role of action,” he said.

 

Well if so, then that’s why maybe it’d be far better not to put such a heavy emphasis on cultural identity all the time? Doesn’t that risk what’s called “identity politics”? At the same time, if French would be proud of seeing meals like quiche and spicy mustard emphasized in a story, Bulgarians the kashkeval pane (fried cheese), Romanians the zama soup, and Armenians the harrisa (chicken porridge made with wheat), so let’s not think something’s inherently wrong with emphasizing meals originally developed in Latin America in the pages of a comic.

 

Another pattern: Latino legacy characters that 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 avatar of the White Tiger being taken up by Hector’s younger sister, Ava Ayala.

 

Interesting they should bring this up. What do they think of the lengths DC went to in order to replace Ted Kord with Reyes in the mid-2000s, depicting Max Lord coldly murdering Kord in Countdown to Infinite Crisis? Can anyone envision the justified offense that would’ve occurred if a Latino character had undergone such a horrific storyline? As for Rayner, I think it was only established several years after his creation that he was half-Latino, in another PC attempt to give him validity through racial background only. But even that doesn’t excuse how badly mishandled the whole Emerald Twilight fiasco was involving Hal Jordan.

But this does allude to the laughable idea of creating a new character of different racial background solely for the purpose of forcibly replacing a white protagonist who gets no respect on his/her way out, as again, was the case with Kord, the 2nd Blue Beetle. The tactics DC began, before Marvel took similar steps, really hurt their products considerably.

 

And even when back stories 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 knotted back story of gang violence, mysticisms and Indigenous histories in the American West and Mexico. But when adapted for the 2016 “Suicide Squad” film, 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 that is involved in the production of a story, the more fear intrudes into that space,” Aldama said. “And the more constrained and straitjacketed the result is. It’s still a very deep prejudice operating at the core of those who are in chairs of power.”

 

And here, most intriguing they cite El Diablo, because, what version of the character are they alluding to? If it turns out it’s actually the character the disgraced Gerard Jones created in 1989 in a direct-sales series that only ran 16 issues, and was built on very noticeable leftist politics, then they chose a very poor source to draw from. That aside, no argument made here whether Hollywood’s leftism has anything to do with this contemptible characterization they speak of applied to characters adapted in live action. Yet what’s cited here could explain why the 2016 movie won’t age well.

 

What is frustrating to both Aldama and Gonzo is that both DC and Marvel have the resources and exposure to comic book authors and artists to produce true, authentic Hispanic and Latino stories.

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

 

But why should they, if in the end, the books they work in mainstream turn out badly? Above all, let’s not forget the Big Two could be on their way out of publishing any day now, as Ethan Van Sciver has estimated will be the case, sooner or later. I just don’t understand what’s so unique about DC/Marvel that they, above all, must serve to represent every element possible from an ideological perspective, yet story merit is excluded. The above also ignores that in the past, you had guys like George Perez who both drew and wrote significant superhero fare, ditto Mike Deodato. Today, it’s not just Latinos who aren’t being asked to work for mainstream, but also conservatives like van Sciver, along with anybody else disagrees with the far-left agenda now being pushed in mainstream. There’s honestly no good reason to bother about corporate owned products at this point. But, here’s where we get to something much more ideal:

 

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

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

 

Well now we’re getting somewhere. This is what should be a leading focus for comicdom, not corporate-owned superhero fare, which has been run into the ground over time by PC mentality. Anybody who’s going obsess that heavily over one mere theme like superheroes will end up only caring about just that and nothing else. I’d strongly recommend concentrating on what’s bound to be the focus of comicdom going forward, and in addition, it’d be greatly appreciated if, when it comes to science fantasy, these would-be experts would kindly put more emphasis on adventure themes in general, not just superhero fare. Unless maybe they’d like to stress how corporatism’s ruined Marvel/DC with so much wokeness, and as a result, that’s why they can never expect anything seen in modern mainstream to work effectively. As I’ve said, this is exactly why Marvel/DC publishing arms have to be bought by smaller businesses with better understanding of how to develop entertainment value. Without it, no wonder even portrayals of Latinos won’t work.

 

Originally published here.


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Avi Green

Avi Green was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. He enjoyed reading comics when he was young, the first being Fantastic Four. He maintains a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy of facts. He considers himself a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. Follow him on his blog at Four Color Media Monitor or on Twitter at @avigreen1

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