Although the tiny island territory faces a perilous tide of disastrous financial debt, Puerto Rico’s political saga is getting a new twist with an unconventional hero. She’s neither a bird nor a plane, but rather, a brilliant new comic icon for an embattled land who hopes to lead her people to victory with courage, street smarts, and an unshakeable belief in justice.
The Joan-of-Arc-like heroine is La Borinqueña. Like most comic heroes, she is a normal human being endowed with extraordinary powers, but in this case, her gifts and her plebian roots stem from the same source: the strength and spirit of a people who have battled for centuries against colonialism, militarism, and now, the imperial violence of unbridled capitalism.
Her creation myth begins in the heart of Gotham, or Williamsburg to be exact. Marisol Rios De La Luz is just another college student, and the biggest feat she’s accomplished to date is being one of the rare local Latina undergrads at Columbia University. But while that’s certainly no small achievement, her real coming-of-age emerges when she embarks on a pilgrimage to her ancestral motherland, to pursue a research project in her field of study, Earth and Environmental Sciences. Once she’s on the island, a magical encounter with the mother goddess of the Taino people inducts her into the constellations of the Caribbean spirit world, and she is gifted with Superhuman Strength and the power to conduct the storm cycle. And she trades in her bike for the power of flight, enabling her to soar above the island as a protector of the territory's embattled citizenry and a defender against ecological crisis.
As a radical social justice hero, La Borinqueña galvanizes the island’s struggle against climate change. But it takes more than sheer might--more than even the raw power of the natural elements--to beat back the eco-crimes raining down on her island. She draws from the grassroots power of mi gente, and rather than elevate her as a singular champion of the masses, La Borinqueña's fundamental narrative unfolds as a story about a collective movement for good triumphing over evil.
And in fact, as the reader follows her narrative, we begin to see strands of everyday heroism in Marisol’s ordinary life. She’s a local kid done good: she overcame a struggle with childhood asthma with the support of a loving family, she drew inspiration from a tight-knit urban community, she defies stereotypes as a young Afro-Latina in a cutting-edge science field, and she’s committed to helping her community as a climate justice activist.
Marisol's resilience shows when, during her semester studying abroad in Puerto Rico, she responds to the financial crisis--and the shuttering of her university as a result of austerity--by striking out with her own independent study project. And that brings her into the embrace of Atabex, who chooses her to fully embody her namesake of “sea and sun” (the patriotic moniker that honors the island’s long history of living in communion with nature).
Marisol’s destiny is crystallized when her higher power tells her, “My island is suffering...My island has been suffering for hundreds of years…and when my island suffers, my children suffer. They need hope, inspiration, a champion…You must use its light…You will know what to do when called upon.”
So Marisol is catapulted into the role of heroine as she fuses her activism and her scholarship into the physical embodiment of a defender of democracy. Atabex directs her to “Control my storms as your own.”
Those words resonate across the diaspora in many ways throughout the story. With each panel a conventional comic aesthetic--a muscular beauty emblazoned with the single star of her island's flag, looking very much like a boricua Wonder Woman--is rebranded to project a message of self-empowerment and creativity. Her story is not just about inserting a brown face in a standard comic fantasy mold: it’s about recasting what it means to be a real champion.
The comic's creator, Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, says Marisol is designed to inspire people to recognize the heroism of the quotidian in the lives of migrant diasporas and communities of color across the Americas. Miranda-Rodriguez, who has previously worked with Marvel Comics and various other commercial ventures as a designer and art director, has pioneered his own brand as as an artist-entrepreneur, Somos Arte. With La Borinqueña, he used his creative autonomy to seize on Puerto Rico’s current political crisis to both raise consciousness of the plight of the Puerto Rican people and to show people on the mainland that socially conscious, indigenously rooted innovation through art can be a platform for communities to, for once, tell their own stories.
As a veteran of mainstream commercial media, he explains, “too often as we see in the mainstream media, people of color are invisible." But with Marisol, “For women of color, particularly those of African descent, Latina descent, she is them. She is very familiar.”
Miranda-Rodriguez says he hopes La Borinqueña can show a kind of ethnic pride and solidarity that is struggling to stay alive as poverty, environmental disaster and corporate greed threaten to engulf the island. By launching the comic as an independent art venture, he adds, "I wanted to create a character that was not a corporate...I feel that she's the people's brand."
When Marisol works to control her spirit guide’s storms “as her own”, she’s owning her collective national memory. In a sense, she's expressing her own independence movement. In the comic frame, her islands’s fate lies in her hands, but her message to the reader is the true story inspiring Marisol’s: Puerto Rico’s future lies in the hands of the ordinary kid turning the page, and dreaming about what lies on the horizon.