Writer: Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez /Artist: Will Rosado and Manuel Preitano/ /Somos Arte
Bring out the güiros and get the congos! La Borinqueña is back for the sequel familia, and she is not playing games! Especially after teaming up with some of the most badass superheroes in the DC universe! We talking the HEAVY HITTERS, including one famous Amazon, but that’s another review.
Since the release of La Borinqueña #1, Miranda-Rodriguez has become an abuela’s favorite nieto in the comic book world, traveling around the country and engaging with the community so much I bet dude wishes he could teleport. It should then come as no surprise that while Issue #1 was 40 pages, Issue #2 comes in at a beautiful 63 and fills us with that delicious Puerto Rican goodness.
I won’t lie to you. I struggled with La Borinqueña’s previous outings, because I felt Miranda-Rodriguez was packing this narrative a little too tight, sacrificing character depth for fast-paced storytelling that moved a little too “coincidentally” and unnaturally. While that problem still persists, the move to a longer page length definitely gave this issue a lot more room to breath especially considering that FUEGO ending!
Marisol “Mari” Rios De La Luz is caught in the age-old superhero question: Now that I have my superpowers, what are they and how should I use them? Miranda-Rodriguez covers the usual narrative steps but as always flavors them with the Puerto Rican nuance that hits right at the heart of our conflicted identity.
You gotta appreciate Miranda-Rodriguez staying close to his New York roots by starting in Brooklyn. As we see Mari fly overhead, she reflects on the gentrification hitting the borough, specifically brought on by a company called Dulcinea. She also reminisces on her father reading her a bedtime story about Cacique Mabodamaca. Both characters who are named for a reason.
But let’s take a second to revel in the details and cue the waterworks. If you’re a POC from New York City, then you probably recognized the retrofit 1990s nebulizer on young Mari’s face. We talking MC Wheezy and the Phlegms, we talking highest counts of asthma in the country right here. Miranda-Rodriguez hits us with the subtleties once again, reminding us that while the focus is on Puerto Rico, we can’t forget the problems hitting us in the States either.
Mari then returns to Luquillo, Puerto Rico on some “Welcome to AirWepa, our flight is arriving in 0.6 seconds” shit and still wakes up early to go for a morning run. Who is this woman? Oh right, she got that literal Café Bustelo energy running through her veins. But I digress because we get introduced to my personal FAVORITE superpower of Mari’s: an ancestral connection to the Tainos, the indigenous people of Puerto Rico.
YES! T’Challa ain’t the only one. Mari touches the Ceiba tree, a tree species believed to contain the spirits of all the Taino ancestors who were killed when Puerto Rico was colonized, and there they are. And guess who else?!?! The one and only Atabex. Atabex, for those who always be like why the hell does Latinx have an “x” but also for those who don’t know anything about indigenous spirituality, is the supreme goddess of the Tainos and also the one who granted Mari her superpowers. While Mari doesn’t know what Atabex means when she says “Be ready […] your next test will come when you least expect it,” we can guess something is about to go down.
Here is where the plot’s heavy-handedness and the comic’s running theme of “everything is connected” come into conflict for me. Through a very “coincidental” connection between Mari and her best friend, La La, find out that their co-worker has an uncle who is studying the exact same tree species that Mari is studying. They connect in Playuelas where they run into a group of people protesting the deforestation of their community for luxury condominiums by none other than Dulcinea. How? When? Where? What? Ok, I guess. The truth is that I am willing to believe in the connections on the island more than I need to question how Mari keeps being in the right place at the right time.
Regardless, this is where Miranda-Rodriguez really puts Mari through the ringer, having her uncontrollably cause an earthquake that then puts civilians in danger. Mari is going through the superhero origin gauntlet here, questioning the extent of her powers and just how well she knows how to use them. Cue a return to my favorite superpower: the ancestors. Cuz when you’re a POC and don’t know what to do, you call your abuelos, in this case, your abuelo’s Great Great Greatx10 abuelo.
Mari now has a history in this comic of touching Taino (Miranda-Rodriguez has touched upon too in another comic endeavor) artifacts and instantly inviting their spirits into visibility but never has she transported completely to their time period (500 years ago to be exact) like what happens after she touches Cacique Mabodamaca’s statue.
What I love about this moment in the comic is that it serves multiple purposes. Not only is Puerto Rican history uplifted and given a beautiful rendition, we are also paying homage to the origins of Mari’s power. So often, we are told in comics to just believe that the artifacts bestowed on our superheroes are meant for them. Yet, we rarely have superheroes who share the background of the power they possess (I’m looking at you Iron Fist). Mari is invited into this ancestral vision because she belongs there. This is a learning moment for her and for the audience, but it has an extra weight because she is an offspring of what occurs in a way we rarely see. Finally, we are left with a question before she is transported back that I won’t spoil here but definitely leaves me wanting to know more.
The story definitely picks up speed in its second half with Miranda-Rodriguez doing what he does best: bringing the current state of Puerto Rico to the forefront. He wonderfully juxtaposes Mari’s conflict with her superpowers to Mari’s conflict as a Nuyorican in Puerto Rico. While this distinction was alleviated through dance in Issue #1, it is alleviated so much more powerfully in this Issue. Dulcinea’s insidious plans, the recent protests and police response after Hurricane Maria, and Mari’s heroic decisions put everything into question. While the first 30 pages were setting up the pieces, Miranda-Rodriguez brings the conflict to a peak you definitely want to experience yourself.
La Borinqueña #2 definitely stumbled a bit in its first act, bringing together narratives and characters in heavy-handed ways, but it manages to set the stage for a gripping and realistic end. Not to mention a crazy cliffhanger! get your copy ahora!