Latinx superheroes were not a reality for several decades in American comic books. The earliest fictional Latinx heroes were set in 19th century Mexico or the American Southwest. The Cisco Kid and Zorro were introduced in short stories in 1907 and 1919 respectively. Both characters were popular in movies but arrived rather late into comic books. The Cisco Kid managed a one-shot comic book in 1944, only receiving a regular comic book series in 1950. Zorro received his own comic book in 1949.
The Whip, who appeared in Flash Comics #1 in 1941, is sometimes referenced as the first Latinx superhero but far from it. The Whip was actually an Anglo posing as a Mexican to help poor Mexican people. He was a very unfortunate example of the White savior motif.
Latinx characters were rarely portrayed as even supporting characters. One exception was Tim Holt’s longtime sidekick, Chito Rafferty. Rafferty was Holt’s sidekick in movies, a half Mexican, half Irish cowboy who was fond of saying his Irish half was for fighting and his Mexican half for loving. Played by an actor who was neither, Rafferty was at least good in a fight, if he decided to participate that is. In the comic books, Rafferty was primarily portrayed as Mexican with a heavy accent. But he was handsome, slender and a decent fighter. As in the movies, Rafferty in the comic books was a ladies man. So was the Cisco Kid. It was all part of a predominant Latin lover stereotype. Chito Rafferty appeared in over thirty issues of Tim Holt and continued for a few issues after Holt became a costumed hero named Red Mask. As a sidekick, Chito was far less embarrassing than the paunchy Pancho, Cisco Kid’s comic relief.
The only bright spot in the 1940s for Latinx characters was Senorita Rio. Senorita Rio was a longstanding character in Fiction House’s Fight Comics beginning in 1942. She was frequently featured on its covers. Originally Rita Farrar, a Brazilian movie star, she faked her own suicide after her American fiance was killed in Pearl Harbor. After that she was only known as Senorita Rio, a secret agent for the American government. Rio was competent, smart and capable of ruthless action if necessary. Her jiu jitsu skills made her formidable in a fight as well. While she was often shown in cheesecake poses, that was true of all Fiction House heroines. The fact that one of her primary artists was a woman (Lily Renee) seemed to moderate that tendency to some degree. As a character, Senorita Rio is long overdue for a reprint collection.
Sad to say, that’s about it until the 1970s for Latinx characters, let alone superheroes. Cisco Kid and Zorro continued to be published in the 1950s, but even they disappeared in the 1960s. 1955 saw the introduction of Gaucho, “the Batman of Argentina,” in a story devoted to various foreign versions of the Caped Crusader. It was a good enough gimmick for Gaucho to appear a second time, but that was it for decades. Western comic books were no longer popular, supplanted by the superhero revival of the sixties. Writers seemed to have a hard time conceiving of Latinx characters as anything other than 19th century figures or, in the case of Senorita Rio, as an exotic beauty.
Latinx Superheroes Begin to Appear
With the 1970s, some Latinx superheroes began to appear, though their origins were often associated with street life. White Tiger, however, was a fully realized character from his debut as a kung fu master in 1975. Intelligent, grounded in his New York Puerto Rican ethnicity, he should have gotten a bigger push by Marvel. All that said, it was something that he existed and was featured for a number of years.
DC took less of a chance, introducing to Latinx characters in the their more juvenile marketed Super Friends title in the late seventies. Still, E. Nelson Bridwell gets credit for introducing a cadre of international heroes for his Global Guardians concept. Bushmaster (from Venezeula) and Green Fury (from Brazil) are welcome additions. As the first Latina superhero, Green Fury ultimately gets renamed Fire and earns a longer run by teaming with the Norwegian Ice in many stories in DC’s Justice League International title.
While not a superhero comic book, no article about Latinx characters in comics would be complete without a reference to Love and Rockets, which alternated between slice of life stories, action/adventure and humor. First self-published in 1981 and picked up by Fantagraphics Press the following year, the Hernandez brothers brought authentic voices to their storylines. The most popular characters to emerge from the title were Maggie and Hopey, best friends and occasional lovers. Maggie was also unique for gradually becoming increasingly plumb, challenging the dominant Anglo standard for svelte heroines.
With 1985, a new approach for diversifying DC and later Marvel’s superhero line-up, recasting an established hero or heroine with a new ethnicity. When the golden-age Wildcat (a white hero) retires, he chooses a Latina Wildcat to replace. Latinx versions of Blue Beetle, Ghost Rider, Green Lantern, and even Spider-Man will follow.
A number of other firsts gradually emerge. Extrano was an incredibly queeny Latin American hero, the first queer figure of that ethnicity debuting in 1988. Milestone was a comic book company whose mission was to feature ethnically diverse heroes. In 1993, one of their titles, Blood Syndicate, featured a superhero gang, a number of whose members were Latinx. Aztek was a generally unsuccessful Grant Morrison character. He was nonetheless the first Latinx superhero in 1996 to be solo featured in his own comic book.
While initially not a super-heroine, the introduction of Renee Montoya in DC’s Batman titles in 1992 was one of the more successful Latinx characters introduced ever. A brooding Gotham City detective, Renee Montoya was also secretly a lesbian. Later she would become a new ethnically identified version of an established character, the Question.
White fanboys often complained about these new versions of old characters. It does seem like a viable way to give an ethnic character a better shot at enduring popularity. New characters of any ethnicity struggle to gain traction in an overly crowded superhero market. Yet new characters like the Latinx versions of Ghost Rider, Blue Beetle and Green Lantern all seem to have established a degree of success in recent years.
Latinx Characters of the 1940s
THE WHIP (Anglo character who poses as a Mexican)
CHITO RAFFERTY from Tim Holt
Latinx Characters of the the 1950s
As Western characters fade in popularity, Latino character are largely invisible.
Latinx Superheroes of the 1970s
TARANTULA, a Spider-man villain
BUSHMASTER of the Global Guardians
EL AQUILA, aka The Eagle
FIRE of the Global Guardians
Latinx Superheroes of the 1980s
MAGGIE and HOPEY of Love and Rockets
SUNSPOT of the New Mutants
VIBE of the Justice League
Yolanda Montez, WILDCAT II
EXTRANO of the New Guardians
EL DIABLO II
Latinx Superheroes of the 1990s
PANTHA of the Teen Titans
RENEE MONTOYA, later The Question
HERO CRUZ of Superboy and the Ravers
Dr. CECILIA REYES
Latinx Superheroes of the 2000s
Also IMAN and El MUERTO
Kyle Rayner, GREEN LANTERN
Lorena Marquez, AQUAGIRL
MILES MORALES, Spider-Man
VICTOR MANCHA of the Runaways
Jaime Reyes, BLUE BEETLE
Chato Santana, EL DIABLO III
INK of the Young X-Men
REPTIL of Avengers Academy
Latinx Superheroes of the 2010s
BUNKER of the Teen Titans
Jessica Cruz, GREEN LANTERN
Robbie Reyes, GHOST RIDER
Joaquin Torres, FALCON II