Kayden Phoenix was already established as a writer and director in the independent film industry when she came up with an entire superhero universe, unlike anything that has been produced under Marvel or DC.
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Looking forward to her next project, Phoenix asked herself what she wanted to write about and the answer came to her quickly: a Latina superhero. And if there was one Latina superhero, there would be others. Phoenix ended up with a feature-length script starring five Latina superheroes — a team called A La Brava.
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“Everybody I showed [the pitch] to asked me for the comic,” Phoenix explained to In The Know. “Eventually, I was just like, everybody thinks that there should be a comic book; that means there should be a comic book.”
Without any knowledge of comic books, Phoenix taught herself how to turn her script into a graphic novel — “graphic novels are a complete story, which is what my script was like, so that just translated easier for me” — and researched artists online.
“I searched everything,” she said. “You know, ‘What makes a good graphic novel?’ ‘How do you find the artist?’ I researched everything online.”
Through callouts on Twitter and searching the hashtag #womenwhodraw on Instagram, Phoenix found some artists to pitch to. It was crucial for Phoenix that the artists understood her vision, so she exclusively hired Latina illustrators and writers.
“I’m very proud of my team,” she added.
A La Brava is made up of Jalisco, a blade-wielding folklorico dancer who uses her culture as her weapon to protect other women; Santa, who dresses up in disguise to take down ICE detention centers; Loquita, a masked teen detective who interacts with the spiritual world; Ruca, who tackles Chicana stereotypes and serves justice throughout Los Angeles; and Bandita, a Dominican modern cowgirl in New York.
“Their themes are very dark because of social justice issues themselves, [but] that’s important to me because we don’t always get our justice as women,” Phoenix said.
Other Latina women in Phoenix’s life served as the inspiration for her characters. Whether it be where the character is based or a mentor who helps the hero in the story, parts of Phoenix’s family are integrated throughout the backstories of her all-female superhero team.
“When I was little [and asked], ‘Who’s your superhero?’ [It was] my mom,” she said. “There’s a lot of my family weaved into it.”
Phoenix’s grandmother served as the inspiration for Jalisco, while Santa’s focus on ICE detention centers stemmed from Phoenix traveling to visit her father in Texas when she was growing up.
“There’s a big dichotomy from here, from California to Texas,” she said. “It was like we were going to have a race war, there were really high racial tensions. And because I was there and because I grew up near Texas facilities, it just made sense [to include ICE centers] in that regard.”
Loquita’s spirituality was inspired by Phoenix’s mom’s side of the family always sharing scary stories at family dinners.
“They all believe it,” she said. “They’re not scared, they just really like the stories. So it is definitely a nod [to them] and an ode to my family.”
The character of Ruca, whose origin story comes out in December 2021, is a play on Phoenix’s own upbringing as a third-generation Chicana woman growing up in southern California.
“[We’re] so stereotyped,” Phoenix described, “you don’t think Cholas are superheroes. So, she literally does the typical things like check her hoop earrings or move her rings or raise her eyebrow, and that’s part of her powers. Whatever you do to her, she gives back to you and that’s very Chicana culture.”
Finally, Bandita came from Phoenix’s years growing up and watching cowboy movies with her grandparents. The graphic novel starring Bandita comes out in late winter 2022.
“My grandma is the best of the readers,” Phoenix said, in regards to who in her family keeps up with the A La Brava series. “She was highly supportive of me and my little crazy adventures that she doesn’t understand … She’s never read a comic in her life.”
While Phoenix has fleshed out A La Brava and plans to release more books in the coming years, her ultimate plan remains the same: she wants to see a Latina superhero on the big screen.
“I made five [characters] and hope one of the five will get on the big screen,” she said. “My original intention was, OK, make a superhero so I can see the movie of my life.”
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