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Kayden Phoenix says it’s past time for a Latina team of superheroes

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Her name may sound like a superhero’s secret identity, but Kayden Phoenix swears that none of the Latina superheroes in her A La Brava universe is based specifically on her.

“I’m not any of the characters, honestly,” she says. “I get asked that a lot. I think the base of them are little parts of me.”

More heroic to her fans than any single character is Phoenix’s creation of five Latina superheroes who will eventually join up, Avengers style, to form the comic book world’s first all-Latina superhero team. Introduced in separate graphic novels so far are Jalisco, a blade-wielding Mexican folklorico dancer, who fights pervasive femicide in Mexico; Santa, a brawler from the fictional Texas border town of Wexo, who takes down corrupt ICE detention centers; and Loquita, a Boriqua/Cubana teen detective from Miami, who battles suicide in the supernatural world. Ruca, whose story should hit comic book stores before the end of the year, is a vigilante from East L.A. dispensing justice against human traffickers. Coming in 2022 is the story of Bandita, a Dominican gunslinging cowgirl in modern-day New York who takes on domestic violence, followed by the A La Brava book that will bring the five heroes together.

Phoenix, a third-generation Chicana from Boyle Heights, came to comic books through her work as a director, which includes more than a dozen short films. “Taps,” a 2020 short that delves into PTSD and veteran suicide through the eyes of a grieving father, has started to make the festival rounds. Her film “Penance, which takes on religious intolerance against queer worshippers, won the LGBTQ film prize at the 2018 Los Angeles Film Awards and the breakthrough award for queer short at the Brazilian horror film festival Espantomania in 2019. It also screened at Outfest in Los Angeles and Northern California’s Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival. Gunpowder & Sky purchased the film in 2020.

Along with her own film work, Phoenix is founder of the nonprofit Chicana Director’s Initiative and recipient of Panavision’s New Filmmaker’s Program. For all of her initial success, however, she hit a roadblock that turned out to be a bridge to the world of graphic novels.

“When I was thinking of what I wanted to write as a screenplay and pretending that I can do anything I want, I was just like ‘Latina superhero.’ It was literally my first thought,” says Phoenix. “I wrote out the screenplay of my first superhero story, and then I showed people, and everyone asked me, ‘Where’s the comic book?’”

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Inquiry after inquiry led Phoenix on a path toward creating her own line of graphic novels. Rather than try to sell her stories to mainstream publishers, she works with an all-Latina staff of artists, including penciller Renata Garcia, inker Ari Navarrete, colorist Aislin Gry and letterist Sandra Romero. And since Phoenix has always fought to see better representation on the screen, she makes sure that her A La Brava characters and justice-focused missions go beyond the normal diversely drawn medleys present in many superhero comics.

Latina comic book creator Kayden Phoenix stands behind a doll based on the main character of her graphic novel
Latina comic book creator Kayden Phoenix stands behind a doll based on the main character of her graphic novel “Jalisco” at Comics Factory in Pasadena.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The approach seems to be gaining traction. Phoenix is in demand on the convention circuit and has heard from multiple Hollywood players looking to put the A La Brava characters onscreen. At San Diego’s Comic-Con International Special Edition, Phoenix sat on a Friday panel about stereotypes and Latina superheroes and will be on a Sunday panel about Latinx YA comics. Although she’s been to Comic-Con many times as a regular attendee, this was her first time participating as a professional/panelist. With very few major studio presentations or stars, many expect the gathering to have a pre-Hollywood (pre-1990s?) atmosphere, which means maybe more people going to the Dinosaurs vs. Unicorns panel (yes, this is a real 2021 panel).

“I just expect to be really happy honestly,” she says. “It’s the same reason why I always go to San Diego Comic-Con, but on the other side of the table.”

Phoenix will also be signing books at L.A. Comic-Con Dec. 3-5 and has appearances scheduled at comic book stores and conventions throughout December and January, including the Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach on Dec. 8, Chicano Con in Bell on Dec. 11, Golden Apple in Los Angeles on Dec. 18 and Pasadena Comic Con on Jan. 23.

“We always have superheroes that save the city, save the world. Metropolis. Gotham. And that’s fine,” says Phoenix when asked about the biggest motivator behind her A La Brava universe. “But we’ve seen those stories. We’ve never seen the female story. We’ve never seen the Latina story. We haven’t seen our version of it.

“So what do we need saving from? Social justice issues. Domestic violence. Trafficking. ICE, specifically the forced hysterectomies that they give when people are in their facilities. We do not get our justice. So I thought, ‘If I could save somebody, who would it be?’ I would save everybody, cause these issues are across the world.”


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