Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico last September, causing untold damage that has claimed hundreds of lives and created a still ongoing crisis of electricity, communication, and health on the island. Just a few weeks later, comic creator Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez was at New York Comic Con, running his own table for the first time, there to promote his creator-owned comics, such as his Puerto Rican superhero La Borinqueña. But with everyone still reeling from the hurricane, and many mainlanders still unable to contact their family on the island, Miranda-Rodriguez watched as his table became a space for people to console each other.
“Because of my character’s patriotism and colors and connection to Puerto Rico, people opened up,” Miranda-Rodriguez tells EW. “They were crying and talking about how they hadn’t heard from their families. I became emotional as well, since I hadn’t heard from my own family either. It became more than just an opportunity to promote my own book, it became a safe space.”
One of the people who came up to Miranda-Rodriguez’s table was DC co-publisher Dan Didio. As Didio looked through the first issue of La Borinqueña, Miranda-Rodriguez suggested they collaborate on a comic to do something for Puerto Rico. Thus began the process that has now culminated in Ricanstruction: Reminiscing & Rebuilding Puerto Rico, an anthology comic that features La Borinqueña teaming up with iconic DC heroes like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman (licensed to Miranda-Rodriguez’s studio Somos Arte for this project) to help rebuild the island in the wake of a devastating hurricane.
In addition to the legendary characters, Ricanstruction also features an all-star lineup of comics talent. Frank Miller contributed a page featuring La Borinqueña flying through a storm alongside Wonder Woman and his Dark Knight III: Master Race character Lara. Actress Rosario Dawson co-wrote a story with her uncle Gustavo Vazquez. Wonder Woman: Earth One artist Yanick Paquette illustrated a story about Wonder Woman teaming up with La Borinqueña to protect a rare species of Puerto Rican birds known as, fittingly, “amazons.” Other contributors include Gail Simone, Greg Pak, Reginald Hudlin, Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Gabby Rivera, among others. Many of them expressed their interest in contributing right at that fateful New York Comic Con, but others joined over subsequent months as word of the project spread throughout the comic community.
As these creators united to tell superheroic stories about Puerto Rico, Miranda-Rodriguez says they were all very cognizant of not letting their fantastic characters and powers overshadow the very real suffering and solidarity taking place on the island in the wake of the storm (a new Harvard study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that as many as 4,645 Puerto Rican deaths may have been a direct result of the storm and its damage to infrastructure). The first story in the collection, for instance, features no superheroes at all. Titled “144 Days,” it was created by Puerto Ricans (writer Ivelisse Rivera, illustrator Francisco Javier Rodriguez, colorist Eliana Falcon, letterer Adrian Martinez) who were on the island during the hurricane and its aftermath, and tells the story of what it was like for people to go about their lives in wake of the storm, without power and other modern amenities.
“That’s the real goal of what this anthology is about,” Miranda-Rodriguez says. “La Borinqueña was the conduit that brought DC heroes into the book so you could be introduced to Puerto Rico. But then there are additional narratives, like ‘144 Days,’ which I intentionally put in to start the book, because it’s a stark reminder of what people went through with this tragedy, this longing for normalcy. The ability to create a series of stories that are truly respectful of the humanity involved in this was important.”
As a way of highlighting that humanity, 100 percent of the proceeds from Ricanstruction will go toward recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, such as helping supply inhabitants with solar-powered lamps, food, and clothing.
EW first interviewed Miranda-Rodriguez last summer, shortly after he had first created La Borinqueña. Back then, Miranda-Rodriguez discussed why this new Puerto Rican superhero was important, given the many crises faced by the island: “Presently they owe $120 billion of debt and pension obligations and are currently in bankruptcy court. 184 public schools closed in June, displacing 27,000 students. Hospitals are closing and leaving many with reduced health care.”
Unfortunately, in the wake of Hurricane Maria, these long-standing issues of debt and hardship have only intensified. There are still stories to be told about Puerto Rico. In the wake of Ricanstruction, Miranda-Rodriguez has returned to his flagship La Borinqueña comic. The second issue, out this month after a long delay, features the titular hero participating in a massive youth march against austerity measures on the island.
“La Borinqueña #2 really goes into what’s happening on the island, this massive displacement,” Miranda-Rodriguez says. “On both sides of the island there are young people involved in social movements to try to raise awareness about the economic development displacing so many homes, the job loss, the austerity measures completely destroying public education and higher learning institutions in Puerto Rico. I thought to myself, I created a character who is a college student, so she’s the perfect vehicle to talk about what young people are facing on the island. Even in the midst of the recovery efforts, there is still a lot of work that has to be done beyond that because of the debt crisis.”
Miranda-Rodriguez also notes one major feature that distinguishes La Borinqueña from her new DC friends: Since she’s facing real-life problems and struggles, he doesn’t bother giving her fictional villains to fight.
“When I write my books for La Borinqueña, I don’t write a supervillain,” Miranda-Rodriguez says. “I grew up loving Batman and thinking that a great hero is defined by rogues’ gallery. But I think my hero should be defined by her heritage, her life, the society that she lives a part of. There’s such a rich history in Puerto Rico alone, you’d think it came out of a comic book.”
Ricanstruction is available now. Order it here.