La Borinqueña is spotlighting Puerto Rico's social problems one issue at a time
Puerto Rico has a new superhero — and she’s about to return for her next adventure.
Marisol Rios De La Luz is La Borinqueña, the original superhero starring in a comic book of the same name, created by Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez (Guardians of the Galaxy). The series, which starts accepting preorders for its second issue on Wednesday, tells the story of the Brooklyn-based Columbia University student coming into her powers, and her journey to become a hero during her semester abroad in Puerto Rico.
“Her origin story taps into mythology from the Tainos, the indigenous people of the island,” explains Miranda-Rodriguez of the Marisol, who is AfroLatinx, an often underrepresented sector of the larger ethnic group. “As a hero, her name is derived from what the Tainos called their home, Borikén, also the name of the current national anthem ‘La Borinqueña,’ which means ‘the Puerto Rican woman.'”
Making the comic’s creation even more special is the fact Miranda-Rodriguez has recruited a whole roster of Puerto Rican artists to help him realize Marisol’s story, including Rags Morales (Wonder Woman), Mike Hawthorne (Queen and Country), Elliot Fernandez (Harley Quinn and Power Girl), and colorist Chris Sotomayor (Ms. Marvel), among others.
RELATED: The 7 Highest-Grossing Comic Book Movies of All Time
But it isn’t just Marisol’s origin story — both on and off the page — that makes her so special. It’s also her adventures, many of which see her learn more about her Puerto Rican heritage and about some of the social and environmental issues the island is dealing with. This, in particular, is highlighted by a variant cover (below) that the second issue will be printed with, created by Nik Virella (All-New Wolverine).
“This cover shows the nocturnal side of the tropical rainforest of El Yunque, which allows me to highlight its biodiversity and remind people of the beauty of this island and my people,” explains Miranda-Rodriguez. “Puerto Rico is facing a humanitarian crisis now, and it’ll take more than a superhero to save the day. It’ll take all of us to help raise awareness, get involved, and make a difference in the lives of these Americans.”
La Borinqueña has already been featured in the New York City Puerto Rican Day Parade and is now the recipient of her own mural in the South Bronx (which you can see below) at the Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education. But that isn’t the only honor the superhero has coming her way: the second issue will feature a cover by none other than Wonder Woman artist George Perez, which EW can exclusively reveal below. EW spoke to Miranda-Rodriguez about Perez’s upcoming cover, and what readers can expect next.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What were some of your inspirations or influences when creating this character? Was there something, in particular, you really wanted to incorporate or focus on?
EDGARDO MIRANDA-RODRIGUEZ: I have a background as a social activist in New York City. Much of my social justice work focused on cultural awareness and advocacy and I was mentored in turn by many inspiring and powerful women who helped shape me to become the man I am today. So I have always been aware of social issues affecting my homeland, Puerto Rico. Presently they owe $120 billion of debt and pension obligations and are currently in bankruptcy court. One-hundred eighty-four public schools closed in June, displacing 27,000 students. Hospitals are closing and leaving many with reduced health care. Upon learning the gravity and effects of the current debt crisis, it occurred to me that perhaps via a comic book I could help raise awareness to a larger audience about this real humanitarian issue affecting the over 3.5 million Americans living in Puerto Rico.
I turned to classic superhero imagery like a cape, costume, and patriotism to design and develop my character and decided to write the story from the perspective of a student. Most of us leave home to college without a specific political ideology and our minds are introduced to new concepts in classrooms and interactions with students. When some of us travel abroad, our perspective expands and we see the world and ourselves differently. Given the polarizing political debates in Puerto Rico, especially with the [upcoming] referendum on its political status, I wanted Marisol to see her people, her island, and herself for the first time. She’s discovering her powers, but she is also discovering her identity and her role as a hero.
La Borinqueña not only celebrates and features Puerto Rico’s culture, but it also focuses on environmental issues. What led you to incorporate that into the comic?
I live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn where I first moved after college to work as a community organizer at El Puente, a community youth, arts, and center dedicated to social and environmental justice work. Currently, El Puente has expanded their work to Puerto Rico to help raise awareness on the various environmental issues affecting the island and its people. One of these issues, which I incorporated into my story, was the dumping of toxic ashes in the small town of Peñuelas. This work put me in touch with other activist groups on the island like Vive Borikén, who have made me aware of Playuelas, the stretch of coastline that activists are fighting to have turned into a natural reserve instead of a hotel on the 121 acres of land, an effort that is very much like that of the Northeast Ecological Corridor Nature Reserve that is now protected and an important nesting site for the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle.
You also celebrate Marisol’s Afro-Latina heritage. Was that always a part of her character or is that something that came along in her development process?
What I love about being Puerto Rican is how diverse we are. As a Puerto Rican or Boricua, I am part of an ethnic group that comprises many different races. My family is Taino, African, European, Asian, and more. Mainstream media oftentimes portrays Latinx with one homogenous brown complexion. In La Borinqueña, you’ll find a racially diverse cast that is Latinx. Marisol’s mother is white, her father is black, and that is what makes Puerto Ricans who we are. We celebrate our diversity in our family. I also wanted to use my comic book to show our Africaness not only via Marisol’s complexion but via our music when she is dancing Bomba y Plena.
The comic is quite deliberately bilingual. How did you decide that was something you wanted to do instead of having an all-Spanish and all-English version?
Living in the United States I’ve learned that English is not our official language. Thirty-seven million Americans, and 400 million people in the world, speak Spanish. In 1993 both Spanish and English became official languages in Puerto Rico, with English taught as a compulsory subject and second language at all levels. Therefore, millennials and younger speak fluent English. Given that I self-published my own comic book, I wrote from a position of brown privilege. My life, my neighborhood, my city, and my Puerto Rico are bilingual.
What has the reception to the comic been like?
I’ve been on a national tour meeting with beautifully diverse readers and La Borinqueñahas been received incredibly well. I sold thousands of copies of the first printing in a month and am almost sold out of the second one. Fans, especially women, are thanking me at events and on social media for creating a hero that looks like them, from her hair to her complexion. And the comic hasn’t just received a positive response from Puerto Ricans alone. Many of the cultural institutions, like the Smithsonian Museum of American History, and universities I’ve spoken at represent a very diverse audience consisting of Asian, African-American, LGBTQ, white fans. Colgate University had four courses this semester teach the comic book. As a person of color, we enjoy stories and see ourselves in characters who mostly never look like us, so it’s very inspiring when so many people who aren’t Puerto Rican relate to Marisol because her story is that of a young woman finding herself and her place in the world, which is fundamentally a universal narrative. However, this one has a lot more ¡sabor!
What’s in store for Marisol in the next issue? Will she be going up against a more traditional villain?
I wanted readers to fall in love with Marisol. To not only see themselves as her but to care and worry for her. As she is learning about herself and her powers, she is also learning about the unique relationship that Puerto Rico has with the U.S. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Jones-Shafroth Act, which gave Puerto Ricans their American citizenship without representation in the U.S. government. As a territory of the United States, Puerto Rico does not have the same rights that it would have as a state nor as an independent nation. Superheroes with superhuman strength and abilities in the real world would be categorized as weapons of mass destruction. So she will then learn what impact her powers will not only have on her people but the world in the next issue. Also, as a young writer, I challenged myself to write a superhero story that didn’t have a traditional villain. In real life, no one is truly black or white, we all exist as shades of gray.
What does it mean to you to have George Perez (Wonder Woman) do this next cover for the comic?
I grew up reading The Avengers and The New Teen Titans. When I learned that George Perez was Puerto Rican and that he also grew up in the South Bronx, like me, I knew that I could accomplish my dreams one day of being a storyteller. In 2016 I was booked for my first appearance as a guest at a comic con for Puerto Rico’s Aguada Comic Fest. The organizers asked if I could help them book George as well. I had been introduced to him by my good friend Phil Jimenez (New X-Men, The Invisibles) many years ago and he and I had stayed connected via social media. So I approached George with the invitation from Puerto Rico and he gladly accepted it. When we were both in Puerto Rico, I gave him a copy of La Borinqueña. He shared with me that this event was his first trip ever to Puerto Rico as a professional comic book artist. He was so proud and happy. One day after breakfast at the hotel we were staying at, he told me how much he loved La Borinqueña’s costume design. He loved that it wasn’t asymmetrical. He then asked if I would consider accepting a cover from him for my second issue. He wouldn’t accept a fee for the cover either. I was beyond honored. We kept in touch over the next few months after our trip to Puerto Rico. He apologized for the delay on the cover artwork and shared that his eyesight was worsening and that he’d be going in for another surgery to care for his glaucoma. He finally sent to me the artwork and I teared up when I saw it. He created a cover for my book that gave it a classic feel. I felt like I finally made it! When I followed up with George to show him the final cover colored by Juan Fernandez, I learned that his health took a turn for the worst, he had just had a heart attack. Given the direction his health has taken, he has publicly said that he will most likely not be drawing for some time. This cover, therefore, may be one of the last published pieces that he created, which makes it all the more important for me.
La Borinqueña #2 is currently available for preorder here.