Superhero La Borinqueña’s Next Mission: A Solar-Powered Grid for Puerto Rico

Superhero La Borinqueña’s Next Mission: A Solar-Powered Grid for Puerto Rico
Image: © 2022 Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez

An exclusive preview of the graphic novel is available at the end of this story.

Creators of the superhero comic La Borinqueña are teaming up with National Resource Defence Council to bring solar power to communities in Puerto Rico. In La Borinqueña — named after the island’s original Taino name, Borinquen/ Borikén, or “land of the brave lord” — the Nuyorican character Marisol Rios de la Luz draws her power from nature and the island’s original inhabitants.

The upcoming graphic novel is a collaborative effort between Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, creator of the comic book series, a team of artists, and the Natural Resources Defence Council to support expanding solar energy for Puerto Rico. The book is the 5th release in the Borinqueña universe that debuted in 2016.

This graphic novel features actress Rosario Dawson, who, like La Borinqueña, is of Puerto Rican descent. Her character, a supernatural version of the real Dawson, is seen supporting La Borinqueña and the Nitainos — a superhero team that embodies different elements of Puerto Rico, like the iconic coqui frog, green parrots called iguacas, and a Transformers-meets-Gundam robot character that represents carnival vejigantes. They work alongside the main character to tackle issues like power equity and pollution presented throughout the graphic novel’s different storylines. Miranda-Rodriguez describes Dawson’s character as something like a “nexus being,” someone who can go in and out of different realities. She’s an ally to La Borinqueña and the Nitainos in their efforts to address problems related to climate change and adjacent social justice issues in Puerto Rico.

“Although the character is fictional, I see myself in her,” Dawson said in a statement provided to Earther. “I’m Afro-Latina with Puerto Rican and Cuban heritage, and I believe like La Borinqueña that Puerto Rico can be a model for a transition to renewable cleaner energy.”

The new book is a celebration of colour, culture, and Caribbean resilience. You won’t find the usual comic book onomatopoeia — there are no “kapows” or “bangs,” but there are a lot of “fuacatas” and “katapums” when a villain is kicked in the face. La Borinqueña, Dawson, and the Nitainos fight political corruption along with other problems facing island residents.

The comic is set to be released in early April and explores how climate change affects various parts of life for Puerto Ricans, including perhaps unexpected things like domestic violence, cultural preservation, and equitable access to energy. The aftermath of natural disasters often amplifies existing issues for vulnerable communities. Domestic violence has been reported to happen more often while communities struggle to recover from disasters like storms, especially as emergency services are overwhelmed and focused on reconstruction. An investigative report published in Medium’s GEN in 2020 outlined how the number of women murdered by their partners nearly doubled after Hurricane Maria. The report also noted that women’s rights organisations on the island called for a state of emergency over the spike in gender violence on the island, but elected officials declined to do so.

During Hurricane Maria in 2017, Puerto Rico experienced the largest blackout in U.S. history. It was almost a year before power was restored to most of the island, leaving millions with spotty phone and internet service. One study found that nearly 3,000 Puerto Ricans likely died due to post-storm difficulties in the six months after Maria hit. Emergency response systems were overwhelmed, and many people in remote areas went without necessary medical attention. Those who died were disproportionately poor or elderly, NPR reported.

Even before that hurricane, the island experienced regular blackouts, and the storm unveiled an ugly truth of neglect and bad colonial policy to the rest of the world.

In response to the infrastructural and resilience issues on the island, NRDC has worked with local organisations on expanding solar energy and preparing people for future storms. The upcoming La Borinqueña release will support NRDC in continuing to help more Puerto Ricans transition to solar energy through the La Borinqueña Grants Program.

Back cover art by Elena Casagrande (Illustration: © 2022 Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez)Back cover art by Elena Casagrande (Illustration: © 2022 Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez)

Miranda-Rodriguez organised artists and worked with organisations immediately after Hurricane Maria to release Ricanstruction: Reminiscing & Rebuilding Puerto Rico, a 2018 anthology of La Borinqueña that raised funds for the island’s recovery. The collaboration with NRDC is the graphic novel’s next philanthropic project. Miranda-Rodriguez recalled how cartoons like Captain Planet helped connect audiences to environmental concerns and wants La Borinqueña to be an updated, culturally relevant version of that.

“That was like in the 90s… [some kids] grew up with this blue skin, green haired character, right? But La Borinqueña — though she is a fictional character — was based on real people. She looked like a real person,” he said.

Luis Martínez, director of NRDC’s Southeast Energy, Climate, and Clean Energy Program, is excited that the organisation is part of the project. His family is from Puerto Rico, and he was on the phone with his parents right before the island was cut off from power. “I had been begging them to leave the island, ‘come stay with me’ and all that. And then the line went dead,” he recalled.

He and other climate activists want a new energy system, not repairs to the current centralised model that has repeatedly given out on Puerto Ricans. He argues that a decentralized grid made up of rooftop solar panels would help vulnerable communities become resilient to blackouts and other disasters. Puerto Rico is sunny most of the year, making it an excellent location for rooftop solar energy and battery storage, but only about 3% of the island’s power comes from renewable sources, a 2021 outline from the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported.

“Puerto Rico and [other] Caribbean islands are really the canary in the coal mine, and unless we get off coal, unless we get off fossil fuels, those places that we love are in really deep trouble,” Martínez said.

Like Martínez, some of the artists behind the comic series know firsthand the problems about which they’re creating art. Colorist Eliana Falcón-Dvorsky and illustrator Francisco Javier Rodríguez are both artists from Puerto Rico who have had to extend deadlines while working with Miranda-Rodriguez and the rest of the La Borinqueña comic team due to the fragile energy infrastructure. For Rodríguez, working on the series has been an avenue to validate his feelings about the island’s energy infrastructure and to support a transition to solar.

“After Maria I was so angry. I didn’t have light, I didn’t have any water… no one did,” he said in Spanish. “We have to go with renewable energy… I see it as an uphill battle, it’s not an impossible shift, but it has been hard [for Puerto Rico].”

Falcón-Dvorsky’s home is now powered by solar panels, and she offers room in her fridge so that neighbours don’t have to throw out their food when the power goes out. Her father has used solar energy for years and supported her in her own transition to solar.

Her mother tried to transition into solar through LUMA, the island’s current energy authority, but the system wasn’t set up correctly. It’s something she’s seen with other island residents who have tried to go solar on their own, and it’s why she’s supportive of NRDC helping more people transition to solar. “A lot of the installations in the inverter were wrong. It was connected to LUMA directly,” Falcón-Dvorsky explained. “A lot of the companies, mostly like a lot of the private companies… do not sell the appropriate equipment.”

Because she’s seen other Puerto Ricans near her working to find alternative ways to power their homes before the next big storm or blackout, Falcón-Dvorsky feels that there isn’t enough support and correct information that would make the transition easier for Puerto Ricans.

2018’s Ricanstruction was an extremely successful graphic novel in the ongoing La Borinqueña universe, and Miranda-Rodriguez hopes this new book will do even better. He especially wants readers to support a clean-energy transition in the island before the next big storm.

“[With] this comic book we can enter into conversation with media outlets, and fans and readers, and really boost the signal and hopefully… ‘si dios quiere’… the book can become a commercial success and that we continue what NRDC already started in Puerto Rico,” he said.

Image: © 2022 Edgardo Miranda-RodriguezImage: © 2022 Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez
Image: © 2022 Edgardo Miranda-RodriguezImage: © 2022 Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez
Image: © 2022 Edgardo Miranda-RodriguezImage: © 2022 Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez
Image: © 2022 Edgardo Miranda-RodriguezImage: © 2022 Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez

Pages illustrated by Will Rosado, coloured by Chris Sotomayor, with production assistance by Sabrina Cintrón, edited by Eliana Falcón, and art directed, lettered, and written by Edgardo Miranda-Rodiguez.