Kayden Phoenix Reveals the Story Behind A La Brava, the First Latina Superhero Universe
It's a very powerful thing to see a superhero that looks like you and instantly relate to them.
That's one reason why it's so important that comics are becoming more inclusive and diverse, and there are few better examples out there today than Kayden Phoenix's Latina superhero universe A La Brava, the first of its kind. The first book, Jalisco, was published in 2019, and two more books, Santa and Loquita are out now, while Ruca and Bandita, as well as the sixth book where they all become a team, are on the way. The books focus on five Latina superheroines addressing real-life issues in their own ways, with gripping writing and beautiful illustrations to pull in any reader.
Yesterday, July 23, Kayden and penciller Amanda Julina Gonzalez were part of the ComicCon@Home panel titled "Abolishing Traditional Ideas of Latinas through Latina Superheroes," where they discussed why stories like those told in A La Brava are so critical, and we got the chance to chat with Kayden to find out even more.
Sweety High: Why do you think it's taken so long for there to be a Latina superhero universe? When did you realize you needed to take it upon yourself to create one?
Kayden Phoenix: Art reflects democracy. Equality's very slowly moving in real life, but it's still moving. One day I hope to not have the hashtag #LatinaEqualPay or have a month to celebrate my existence—because the rest of the year means oppression. I've never been one to wait or to ask for permission so the "I took it upon myself" didn't require much thought. I wanted it and so I did it.
SH: Was there any specific turning point that inspired A La Brava?
KP: I come from screenwriting and when I was thinking "what do I want to see on the big screen?" my first thought was a Latina superhero movie. So I created a superhero. Then I thought, if I make five superheroes, it increases my chances to get one in the movies. If there are five, they may as well be a team, thus a universe. It came very easily for me but the basis was drawn out of desire.
SH: How did you decide upon the name "A La Brava"? What are all of the meanings that confers upon the group?
KP: "A la brava" means without hesitation. I learned it as a slang word during boxing. If two fighters are going all out (without hesitation) until one of them hits the floor, that's a la brava. And that's every female, every Latine, every marginalized person in this white heteronormative patriarchal society. Our existence is a resistance already. So, like the Latina superheroes, they have no choice but to go, live and fight without hesitation and that's why they have that name.
SH: Who are the heroines of A La Brava? What are their backgrounds and their specialties? Is there one hero in particular that you relate to most?
KP: The heroines all fight for social justice causes, they're all my heroes. Jalisco is Mexican and uses her culture as her weapon. She dances folklorico, Mexican traditional dance and the blades come out below her dress. Santa is my first generation brawler in the bordertown of Texas. She has divine strength and déjà vu. Loquita is my Cuban/Puerto Rican from Miami. She can see the supernatural and ends up fighting demons and is a detective for ghosts. Ruca is my Chicana from East Los Angeles. She has instant karma. Bandita is my Dominican gunslinger in modern-day New York. She's a gunslinger and can ricochet bullets.
I think they're all amazing—all very different facets of what I grew up with. My mom danced folklorico, my grandma is from Jalisco and every person's name in Jalisco is a family member of mine, so my answer is Jalisco.
SH: What kinds of evils and injustices do A La Brava typically face off against?
KP: Social justice issues. Femicide, ICE, teen suicide, trafficking, and domestic violence. They're grounded evils because this is real life for females and we don't get our justice—so at least in the books, I can save girls.
SH: Are there any Latina superhero stereotypes you hope you dispel with these stories? What kind of stories have you set out to tell?
KP: All of them! No Latina superhero is a maid, a prisoner, a stripper, etc. These are real people with real hearts—something I've always seen in the Latine community.
I'm not sure there are Latina superhero stereotypes because I haven't really seen Latina superheroes in general. My stories are all origin stories, even the sixth book when they become a team, it's their origin story.
SH: Tell me a little bit about your artists, Eva Cabrera and Amanda Julina Gonzalez. What are their art backgrounds, and what do you feel they each contribute to the work as a whole?
KP: I'm extremely fortunate to have such amazing artists on my team. Eva Cabrera, illustrator for Santa and Ruca, worked on the Archie comics, Betty & Veronica: Vixens. She's an industry pro and is quick! She's an all-star and great person to collaborate with. Amanda Julina Gonzalez, penciller on Jalisco and the upcoming Ruca, is newer in comics, like myself. Amanda comes from animation and so she and I understand the same language when we break down scripts to storyboards, angles and character features. She sees things from a different POV and it's nice to see how the art side of it improves the written words.
SH: What would it have meant to you to be able to see Latina superheroes in comic books in your own youth?
KP: I didn't read comics growing up so it's not a fair question. I grew up watching features and TV, which is why I lean into that more so. I think comics are great though—just another form of storytelling. You'd have to ask the Latina girls that smile when they see the comics at my table during signings.
SH: Is there anything else you wished we would have asked?
I do hope that others are inspired—because if I can do it, most definitely anyone else can do it. I'd love to see a universe of all Native Americans, or all Asians, etc. There's a world of people out there that's waiting to see equality.
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