Reviewed by Wendyliz Martínez
While the complete Borinqueña comic series imagines a possibility and future that is both novel yet already a reality, a black woman as a superhero, there are some moments within Borinqueña that could be unpacked and revisited. The comic does many things well. Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez’s comic series Borinqueña, features an Afro-Indigenous Latina that is selected by the indigenous spirits of Puerto Rico to defend Borinkén. The series is reminiscent of the superhero comic tradition with familiar panel styles and sequencing of the story. In issue one, we are introduced to Marisol Rio De La Luz, a college student from New York with Puerto Rican heritage. Within the opening pages, Marisol exclaims boldly that she is pura negra. Her father’s name is Changó and there is often mention of Yemayá throughout the series. These names stand out because these are Orishas, what could be described as a deity from Yoruba culture. Including these names breaks the mold of mainstream storytelling where there are not many stories that center blackness. This decenters standard Christianity that permeates popular culture. The series does include a lot of references to afro-spirituality, gentrification in Puerto Rican communities in NYC, as well as colonialism on the island. Additionally, the series delves into the indigenous history of Puerto Rico and references indigenous spirituality. There are even explicit mentions of calling Puerto Rico, Borinkén – the Taino name for Puerto Rico.
The series attempts to bridge the various histories that exist in Puerto Rico within the character Marisol Rio De La Luz. She, a black woman, is tasked with watching over and protecting her people – which is what historically black women have done. She was chosen by Taino ancestors to become the protector of Puerto Rico. Marisol’s best friend, La La, is an Asian Dominican – which also highlights the Caribbean’s overall complex racial history. Miranda-Rodriguez does make careful and interesting choices within this comic series. He makes sure the villains within the story are not unfathomable. The villains that Marisol fights are men that are complicit in transporting toxic chemicals to Puerto Rico or a group of homophobic and racist men that are attacking a Puerto Rican gay couple. In these moments, he is sending out a message that Puerto Rico has a long way to go when it comes to dealing with its “relationship” with the United States. Not only does Marisol fight against people but she also saves Puerto Rican people from natural disasters, which are often implied to be caused by colonialism.
The third issue of the series is an anthology that features La Borinqueña in different scenarios all with the theme of Ricanstruction, a play on the word reconstruction. This issue is collaborative in that many different artists and writers come together to create the comics within the issue. It also features other characters from the DC universe such as Wonder Woman, Catwoman, and Static Shock. All of the stories emphasize the need to help Puerto Rico heal after Hurricane Maria and this still applies as this past year has been just as difficult for Puerto Rico, politically as well as with natural disasters. While the collaborative nature of the third issue does not just come through aesthetically (all of the comics are drawn in a variety of styles), it also comes through in the content – the emphasis on everyone doing their part to help Puerto Rico. A moment early on in the comic is very memorable because of Wonder Woman’s statement that “Yo soy Puerto Rico” (I am Puerto Rico). While this may not actually be the case, it affirms that everyone is responsible to help “reconstruct” Puerto Rico.
Yet, while there are many things done well there are parts of the comic that can be improved. Most of what can be improved is the dialogue -which often feel disingenuous. Sometimes the characters mention popular culture references that may feel forced or dated – like with some of the slang that is sprinkled in. While the message of the series is commendable – Puerto Rico libre! – sometimes the series is very dependent on the dialogue making the panels very word heavy. While the illustrations are well done, they often look simple compared to all of the details the dialogue expressed. For example, in the second issue, Marisol argues with a student protestor in Puerto Rico about the complexities of being Nuyorican versus being “authentically” Puerto Rican. This a great moment in the comic but relies heavily on the words rather than on the image on the page. The juxtapositions between what a Nuyorican and a Puerto Rican looks like would be a great visual to further explore the issue of authenticity. It would be great to see this story unfold slowly through its images rather than have a dialogue that “tells’’ rather than “show.” There are also a few moments within the comic series that could be unpacked further when it comes to race. There are mentions of African Spirituality, such as Marisol’s dad name being Chango, or explicit mentions of Marisol being black, but it is often left there. Within the third issue when Static Shock implies that Puerto Ricans are black, Marisol responds that it is a lot to unpack and never mentions it again. Static Shock is embarrassed and apologizes for simplifying the issue and Marisol continues to emphasize the need to help build the island after the Hurricane. This was a great opening to discuss the complex racial history of Puerto Rico that could include the indigenous and black culture, yet it is left unexplored. Yes, rebuilding Puerto Rico is important but speaking about the racial history of the island is not mutually exclusive with Ricanstruction. Additionally, in the second issue there is an explicit comment that “we are Americans” and it is a sentiment that is underscored in the series. The “we” refers to Puerto Ricans. However, this concept should be further explored considering Puerto Rico’s status as a colony. What does it mean to be considered American if you are not treated as such because your country is a colony? What could Borinqueña be if the narrative decenters the United States? Despite these moments, Borinqueña is still a view of what could be possible in the comic world if the industry opens up to having more superheroes of color.