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.”
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
City Life

Kayden Phoenix champions Latina superheroes: ‘We haven’t seen our version of it’

Kayden Phoenix, an award-winning Chicana writer and director from Boyle Heights, discusses her A La Brava universe of Latina comic book characters.

Kayden Phoenix, though her name sounds like a superhero’s secret identity, swears that her A La Brava universe of Latina comic book characters is not based specifically on her.

“I’m not any of the characters honestly. I get asked that a lot. I think the base of them are little parts of me, but none of them are me,” says Phoenix. But the genesis of her comic universe of characters — Latinas who fight against villains that embody many of the societal ills plaguing their communities — makes what she is doing essentially heroic.

Phoenix is an award-winning Chicana writer and director from Boyle Heights. Her most recent film, “Penance,” won honors at the Los Angeles Film Awards and Espantomania (Brazilian horror festival) and was shown at Cinequest and Outfest. Gun Powder & Sky purchased the film in 2020. Along with her film work, Kayden is the founder of nonprofit Chicana Director’s Initiative and recipient of Panavision’s New Filmmaker Program. So it was film that steered her toward the comic book industry.

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“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?’ ”

Jalisco, a blade-wielding Mexican folklorico dancer fighting Mexico’s femicide.
Jalisco, a blade-wielding Mexican folklorico dancer fighting Mexico’s femicide.
(Via Phoenix Studios)

Inquiry after inquiry led Phoenix on a path toward creating her line of graphic novels. Jalisco, a blade-wielding Mexican folklorico dancer fighting against Mexico’s femicide; Santa, a brawler from the fictional Texas border town of Wexo who takes down corrupt ICE detention centers; Loquita, the Boriqua/Cubana teen detective from Miami who battles suicide in the supernatural world; Ruca, a vigilante dispensing justice from East L.A. and fighting human trafficking; and Bandita, the Dominican gunslinging cowgirl in modern-day New York who takes on domestic violence, make up A La Brava, an all-Latina superteam.

Phoenix and her books have been receiving a lot of attention lately. A self-published creator, she is in demand on the convention circuit and has received some notice from multiple Hollywood players looking to put the A La Brava characters on screen. Phoenix will be heading to San Diego’s Comic-Con International Special Edition as a professional/panelist (she’s been to the usual Con many times as a regular attendee). 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). Phoenix was in one panel Friday and will be on another on Sunday, and though she doesn’t know what to expect, it’s the experience that counts.

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

Individual books for Jalisco, Santa, Loquita and Ruca have been published, while Bandito and the A La Brava book that will bring them together will arrive in 2022. Phoenix has always fought to see better representation on the screen, but with these characters and their missions, she and the Latina artists that she works with go beyond the normal diversely drawn melees present in many superhero comics.

“We always have superheroes that save the city, save the world. Metropolis. Gotham. And that’s fine, 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,” says Phoenix. “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.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.