Yara Flor and Brazilian Representation In American Comics by Guilherme Preusse

When Future State was announced back in November, I was excited. Everyone seemed excited. For two months DC would mostly pause their main books and jump forward in time as a way to introduce and highlight new characters, new creators and new ideas. Everything seemed really fresh.

Our first glimpse of FS was the promo image featuring Dan Mora’s art of the new characters and costumes, and one in particular raised above the rest: a new, younger Wonder Woman. This new Wonder Woman (or Wonder Girl, as she’s going to be called come April) was a Person of Color. 

I was born, raised and lived my whole life in Brazil, and the prospect of having such an important character come from the same country as myself was incredibly exciting. You might probably be aware of how Brazilians react to anything that is even tangentially related to the country; for some reason we have this deep need to be constantly acknowledged (“holy shit is that a mf Brazilian reference” and whatnot). If this new Wonder Woman was to be Brazilian, Indigenous Brazilian more specifically, that would lead to DC acknowledging the country and crafting stories and characters aimed directly at us, and the fact that she was Indigenous would force DC to do proper research in order to depict something so typically Brazilian in a way other characters never were. Although he is my favorite X-Man and Avenger, I don’t think there’s anything particularly Brazilian about Sunspot, even if I understand his nationality may be a factor in my liking of the character. 

The only thing we knew about Yara Flor was that she was an Amazon from the Amazon rainforest. This was all you could find about the character at first and I believe that is due to the fact that DC’s PR is probably not aware that the Amazon Rainforest is not limited to Brazilian borders. Just the fact that she comes from the Amazon is not evidence enough that she’s Brazilian. This should’ve been the first red flag regarding the depiction of her heritage and ethnicity. 

My initial response to Yara was, “this character looks amazing, she seems charming and charismatic and I hope she turns out to be a hit”. I maintain that it was a fair reaction to her at first, and I still think it is fair if you’re still excited. The character does look good, and she is charismatic, and I do believe that she has potential for greatness, but I don’t trust the current creative team or DC Comics in general to achieve that. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many conflicting thoughts regarding a character as I do for Yara, who was created by Joelle Jones, the writer and artist on titles such as Lady Killer and Catwoman. If it isn’t clear enough by now, Jones is not Brazilian; she’s a White American woman, and she writes Yara as a White American girl.

Now that Future State is almost done, Infinite Frontier approaches, and the character is making her way into the proper DC timeline, debuting with a solo comic in May. The fact that one of the main characters in the current DC Universe is an Indigenous Brazilian girl made me reflect on what Brazilian representation in American comics looks like in a way I had never done before. 

FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS 

The reaction to the first issue was divisive to say the least. Looking at Comics Twitter and people close to me and my bubble of friends, I saw excitement for the character and the comic, however when I looked at Indigenous people’s reactions, I found the exact opposite reaction. Wasn’t this character created for them? If so, why did it connect with mostly White American fans while Brazilians, and Indigenous Brazilians especially, felt the character was lacking in the way it portrayed a Latinx, Indigenous girl? It’s weird when the first dialogue Yara speaks doesn’t sound like her, when there’s literally no voice to get wrong up until that point, but nothing about her speech patterns sounds Indigenous and Brazilian. If Joelle Jones is going to be the defining voice of this character for the time being, especially during the character’s debut, it is surprising how she doesn’t do anything to define her in any meaningful or unique way for Brazilians and underrepresented people everywhere. 

Future State ended up being a way to try different concepts without making permanent changes to the line; to see what sticks and what doesn’t, to test new things without fully committing, to do New 52 by way of Convergence for two months. This ended up being a lackluster effort. Everything that seemed fresh at first was actually just half-baked ideas that were lacking the commitment or preparation necessary to make them work. The fresh characters weren’t really that fresh, the new creators weren’t really that new, they were just TV screenwriters that were making their debut in comics alongside the usual writers you’d expect from DC (e.g. Williamson doing the Justice League book).

A FLAWED CHARACTER 

Future State: Wonder Woman is written and drawn by Joelle Jones, colored by Jordie Bellaire and lettered by Clayton Cowles.

There’s a lot to be said about the way Future State: Wonder Woman #1 deals with Yara and the culture she should be representing. Proper Latinx representation is still not common for the Big Two (Marvel and DC), less so Brazilian representation, which is even more specific in regards to where the country is geographically and what sets it apart from every other country in Latin America, like being the only one to have Portuguese as its first language. Portuguese and Spanish are both Latin languages that share a lot of similarities but in the same way that French and Italian do. All that is to say that when you’re writing a character who’s supposed to be Brazilian you can’t just file off the serial numbers from a Spanish-speaking character, translate the words to Portuguese and expect it to work in any meaningful way. It’s going to sound fake, unbelievable and completely lacking to anyone who knows what she should sound like. 

Yara Flor is written either as a White Girl from the United States (as in Future State: Wonder Woman) or as a Spanish speaking Latina girl (as in Future State: Superman/Wonder Woman), but never as a Brazilian girl who grew up speaking Portuguese. She reminds me of early Chris Claremont New Mutants where Roberto da Costa (also known as Sunspot) a Black Brazilian boy who speaks using only Spanish words. I understand it was harder to get information in that pre-internet world, like the one Claremont lived in when he wrote New Mutants, but I still think it’s inexcusable that he had Sunspot saying Spanish words as though it was Portuguese. You either put in the work or let others who are more qualified do it instead. 

Future State’s Wonder Woman is the least self aware comic I’ve ever read. It’s a comic about an Indigenous character that deals with Greek mythology more than with material that should make her unique. Her background and cultural heritage should set her apart from every other character created for either Marvel or DC, but that never comes through. The character is shown poaching in her first appearance, which is ironic considering Jones and DC are poaching for indigenous stories themselves. “Reality is in the eye of the beholder” is something Jones wrote in the first issue, and the irony is completely lost on her. 

This is how I see Jones’ work with the character; lacking self awareness. Jones doesn’t realize the privileged position she’s in, being White. While women are not treated equally to men in this industry, and the misogyny is baked into the way everything works, it seems like just being White is enough to get you far in the Comic Book Industry. And this is the point where we have to look at Yara and consider that she would never have been created by anyone besides a White person. Without a White woman using ethnicity as aesthetics, we wouldn’t have this character, and at some point we have to put everything into perspective and try to figure it out if  it’s even worth it. Who is Yara for? 

Until now the specifics of Yara’s creation were unknown, but in a recent Polygon piece it was revealed that during a visit to Brazil for Comic Con Experience, former DC editor Dan Didio came up with the idea of an Amazon from the Amazon, a clear pun with no thought behind it, which Joelle Jones was chosen to flesh it out. Yara Flor was created to please the international market, and there’s no way to think this wasn’t the case or that it wasn’t even considered in the first place. In a recent interview, Jim Lee clearly states that the comics are being used as IP farms for Warner Bros since they’re cheaper and easier to do than actually committing to creating something original for a tv series or movie. Everything starts as a comic book by way of storyboards, or at least that’s how comics are perceived by the powers that be, low stakes, low expectations.

The character may have been created to please the international market, but her current depiction in comics is not. She’s still very much aimed at the predominantly White public who have access to the comic book Direct Market. If that’s the case, does it even matter that she doesn’t speak in a way that’s convincing to me? Is the fact that she just exists and girls are going to be able to identify with her enough to make it worth it that her identity and ethnicity are only being played for cheap aesthetics? Is having an Indigenous Brazilian Wonder Woman worth it when she sounds exactly like every other White character out there? There is a disconnect between who this character is and who she should be, and it’s reflected in who she’s primarily aimed at. When the first issue dropped people, namely People of Color, started realizing she sounded off, not even close to resembling the ethnicity the character should be conveying. The readers, Indigenous people specifically, started asking Jones if Yara really was supposed to be Indigenous. Her answer was that she was shocked that the character hadn’t resonated with them like she thought it would, especially considering the way she had been received at first and how she was being praised —by White people who had no idea what she should sound like anyway— and that they should wait for her origin to be revealed, where everything would be explained. If the character was so dependent on her origin, why didn’t it start there? 

THE GIRL FROM IDAHO

Why doesn’t she sound like a Brazilian girl? Because she’s from Idaho, the same state as Jones herself. Before that, the only real thing keeping the character from achieving greatness, in my opinion, was her voice. A skilled writer who knew how to write an Indigenous girl could turn her into one of the best and most culturally important characters DC has ever had. In the aforementioned piece run by Polygon, Joelle talks about how she felt an inaccessibility in relating to Diana as a character despite loving her, due to the fact that she’s a beautiful goddess. The irony of that is through creating Yara, Jones unintentionally translated that exact same feeling by creating a character who’s almost Brazilian and who Brazilian and Indigenous girls will ONLY almost be able to identify with. 

The name “Flor” is one of the many elements of the character’s creation where we can see the lack of commitment. Indigenous people take their surname from their fathers and it represents their ethnicity. Since they haven’t committed to any one ethnicity or one of the many Indigenous languages in Brazil, they had to give her a generic word in Portuguese. The bare minimum they could’ve done was give her a generic word in an Indigenous language as her surname, but they couldn’t even do that, because that would require some commitment. Her ethnicity is being treated as a mystery besides being played for aesthetics. Her mother is a Themysciran Amazon and her father is a “River God”, and she’s going to Brazil to rediscover her origins after growing up in Themyscira and Idaho. It’s infuriating how the character isn’t allowed to be herself, and how they’ll go as far as possible to make her relatable to the White audience instead of committing to what makes her unique. 

In the same piece, Jones mentions how difficult it is to do research on the book since all the information she finds is in Portuguese. It’s baffling how she never seems to realize the position of privilege she’s in, that this is not her story to tell, and that she’s the least capable person to tell this story. Again, it lacks self awareness. This isn’t new; it’s the industry norm. For non-white characters to exist, they have to be created by White creators, like how Miles Morales and Riri Williams were only created because Brian Michael Bendis chose to do so himself instead of giving the opportunity to a Black creator. For a new character to be frontlining a DC event, she had to be created by a White person or she probably wouldn’t exist. 

 While talking about inspirations, Jones mentions Beyoncé and Balenciaga as the main influences for Yara’s costume, which is fair. As far as influences go those are good ones, after all, Yara has a killer costume and visuals in general, but we do have to ask ourselves: Jones couldn’t find inspiration in anything even a little Brazilian? In all her research she couldn’t find anything that could inform the visuals of an Indigenous superhero’s costume? Even a generic stereotypical answer like Brazilian Carnival clothes would be better. Or she could’ve just mentioned that she looked at Indigenous clothes and that it informed the way Yara dresses even if it wasn’t the main inspiration.The lack of commitment is clear when we realize that saying Yara comes from the Amazon (which we now know is a lie since she comes from Idaho) is enough to inform her ethnicity, her heritage and her identity. Brazil is a huge country (it’s the fifth-largest country in the world!) and the Amazon rainforest occupies a huge portion of it. When you think about other characters you never say they’re just Americans; Superman is from Smallville and Spider-Man is from New York, and that informs so much of who they are as characters. Saying Yara is from the Amazon rainforest is just a terrible choice, not only for representation but also for her characterization.

Jones points out that she’s been “asking for a lot of help, reading a lot of books, and delving into some strange YouTube channels.” I should note that the strange YouTube channel she links to in the piece is solely about Southern Brazilian state culture, which is predominantly white. They have a history of flirting with secessionist ideas, and are the exact opposite of where the Amazon rainforest is, geographically speaking. In other words that’s as far from the Amazon as you can get without leaving Brazilian borders. This is the same as saying Taco Bell is traditional Mexican cuisine. So DC decided to create a character for its Brazilian audience and they assigned it to a White woman in America who’s sitting at home watching YouTube videos about a culture she doesn’t understand and I should recognize that as authentic? There are so many misconceptions about the country, the culture, and the language, and they never thought about bringing someone on to consult on the book?

Besides using boleadoras (a throwing weapon made with weight balls and cords) and a sword, Yara also has a Pegasus named Jerry. I can tell you “Jerry” is not a typical Brazilian name. So, why the name “Jerry”, you might ask? The reason as stated by Jones herself is this: “I had a real estate agent named Jerry, [..] I really liked saying his name, and I found myself saying his name to him all the time, like, ‘So how many bathrooms does it have, Jerry? Tell me more about this skylight, Jerry.’”…………….. I’m not trying to say that she’s not taking things seriously but I don’t think she quite understands what this character could mean for a lot of people. Brazil as the country we know it to be today is the result of genocide against Indigenous people. They’re still treated very poorly, especially since Bolsonaro took office. It’s not like she could single-handedly fix every terrible thing that was done to the Indigenous people of Brazil for the past 500 years, but this character could MEAN something to Indigenous and underrepresented people. Yes the character is the fruit of capitalism, yes DC/Warner is only interested in marketing it towards international audiences and profiting from it, but that’s the reason everything happens in the world we live in. Characters will always be treated like IPs, but they can still mean something more and transcend that. A good example of this is the cultural impact Black Panther had when the movie was released. The character and his world meant something to underrepresented and overlooked people because it was made by creators who believed and understood what they were doing. It was a movie made by Black creators for a Black audience and for that it became something more, something profound, something significant that will last.

THE CW EFFECT 

Before her comics debut, DC announced they had already optioned a Yara Flor series at CW. Going back to Sunspot, the character was recently played by a White Brazilian man in the terrible and long-delayed New Mutants movie. I should note that being a Black man is way more important to Bobby than just being Brazilian and so they should’ve obviously cast him with that in mind instead of whitewashing the character. The same can’t be said about Yara though, since she’s not only Brazilian, but is specifically Indigenous. You can’t just cast a Latinx actress from anywhere, you HAVE to cast a Brazilian Indigenous actress. 

Are they going to do that?  Well… no, they won’t. Three months after it was first announced, CW announced it’s not moving forward with the Wonder Girl series. Everything about this character and series was so poorly planned that I wasn’t exactly surprised when I saw it was canceled. But at the same time, they seemed commited to do something with the character, so much so that they ended up butchering it. For example, the Brazilian setting was substituted for Idaho as the perfect place for a Smallville type series with a character that doesn’t quite fit, as she’s yet unsure of her origins, which was just convenient when marketing it towards White audiences. When talking about Jerry the Pegasus, Jones said,”TV’s going to be a bit more prohibitive than comics, and one of my favorite things is problem-solving those little things”. Jerry the Pegasus aside, she was, and still is (since the comic is still happening), “problem solving” Yara’s identity and ethnicity, and she doesn’t realize how problematic that sounds. All this problem-solving reflects on how poorly everything was handled in the comics, perhaps thinking about ways to facilitate an adaptation, even if it only made things unnecessarily complicated. 

If her ethnicity is not the driving force behind the character, why market her like that (besides all the obvious reasons)? 

What differentiated Yara from almost every other new character in the comics industry was the fact that she had this (arguably) big tv show confirmed before her debut in comics, something that if proven successful would promulgate the character and make her stick. She was hyped as a big IP since her inception, but at some point they must’ve realized none of this could work (at least not in live action) in a way they could heavily market towards both an international market as well as a White American audience.  

At first I was pleasantly surprised that Caipora was a supporting character and that there were mentions of Boitatá – both are characters from the Brazilian folklore that originated from Indigenous myths- in that first issue, as I was expecting her to be dropped into a full-on Greek setting much like the one featured in early New Mutants with Nova Roma, a city created by descendants of the old Roman Empire in the middle of the Amazon forest (which could have a whole article written about that), but after reading both issues of FS’s Wonder Woman, it became clear that was the extent of the imagery they were willing to use in those issues. What we get after that is Cerberus, Charon, Hades and Persephone. This is the character’s introduction and she’s being sidelined by the same mythology being used in every Wonder Woman comic. What should set her apart is once again ignored for the sake of what’s recognizable for a White audience. 

The script that Joelle Jones wrote for Wonder Woman doesn’t deserve the gorgeous art she and colorist Jordie Bellaire produced for the book. There’s a huge gap between what’s written and what’s drawn. This is a visually stunning book that is lacking in the way it handles its characters, story and themes. Between references to poaching and mentions of how reality is in the eye of the beholder, Jones is punching way above her weight with this one. Every time she tries to make this comic about something (be it about Yara’s ethnicity, Brazilian Folklore etc) it instead becomes about how she’s incapable of making this work, and in turn is incapable of realizing that. 

THE BRAZILIAN WAY

In one part of the story within Future State: Wonder Woman, Yara needs a coin to pay Charon, but she states that she forgot her wallet. This leads to a page/gag where she tries to get someone else’s coin. Caipora ends up helping her steal it, which she uses to pay the Charon while the original owner is stuck behind, unable to pay for his trip to the Underworld. At no point does Yara try to ask for help to see if anyone has another coin they could lend her; she jumps to the conclusion that she needs to steal it from the get-go. This is called “the Brazilian Way” and it’s what gives Brazilians a bad reputation at Disneyland. I found this whole sequence to be baffling, as are a lot of things regarding Yara. It is a cultural thing in Brazil to take shortcuts, to always try to take advantage of every situation, to feel like the rules should apply to everyone except to yourself, but to say that Brazilian people are open, warm, expansive, joyful, happy is equally true, perhaps even more so. To focus solely on the “Brazilian Way” perpetuates a reductionist stereotype. 

I WISH ALL BRAZILIANS A VERY STUCK IN TRAFFIC – BUGS BUNNY

The other comic out now to feature Yara Flor in a prominent role is Future State: Superman/Wonder Woman, written by Dan Watters, drawn by Leila Del Duca, colored by Nick Filardi and lettered by Tom Napolitano

Yara is written as a better character here if only because it’s a better structured book, but she still doesn’t work here. At least not as someone I should recognize as Brazilian. She speaks in a way that’s very reminiscent of how Spanish-speaking characters are usually portrayed. I can see Sofia Vergara playing this specific version of Yara. American writers are still struggling with how to write Latinx characters and one thing they still haven’t learned is that Portuguese and Spanish are fundamentally different languages that are not interchangeable. That’s to say that you shouldn’t write a Brazilian character like a generic Latinx person and translate the words they’d be saying in Spanish to Portuguese and expect it to work. It sounds fake and lazy, and it’ll make me think you don’t care about what you’re writing enough to put in the work. And if you’re not going to do that, then maybe you shouldn’t be the one writing this to begin with.

All of this is primarily shown through  the usage of the word “Senhor”. This word in portuguese means the same as “Señor” in Spanish and “Sir” in English, but they can be used in different contexts and mean different things in different languages. This is often used as a shorthand for characterization when writing Latinx characters, and I don’t know how a Mexican person would feel about that, but I know that, with Yara being Brazilian, it doesn’t work. She’s portrayed as strong-willed, easily angered, and extremely snarky. In some ways, she is like an angrier version of Sunspot, who I’d define as more smug than her. These are not characters who are going to be saying the word “Senhor” to anyone. I know that because I’m smug and snarky, and I’m not going to say senhor to anyone.

The fact she didn’t grow up in Brazil recontextualizes the way she’s being written, but it also doesn’t make it any better, and it’s not like they’re writing her like that on purpose. She either says words in Portuguese because that’s her first language or she speaks fluently in English because she grew up in the United States, you can’t do both at the same time. The fact that she grew up in Idaho is an easy excuse to justify everything wrong being done with the character, but not even that they can write in a convincing way. 

There are also some words that are straight up written wrong. “São Paulo” is written incorrectly as “São Paolo” . For example, there’s another panel where Yara is trying to say an idiom similar to “watch your mouth” but it’s written as “baixar a bola”, which is in the wrong verbal tense besides not making any sense with what’s happening in the story. 

Another huge problem in this issue comes from a comment made by one of the Indigenous deities when he’s talking how the population started believing in him again because of Yara, referring to the Brazilian population. This comes from the absurd notion that at some point, Indigenous people abandoned their religion, as well as the fact that the creative team believed it was once the religion followed by the general Brazilian population (when that was never the case since Brazil has a history of being a largely Christian country). There’s no forgotten Brazilian religion analogous to Greek mythology. Besides Indigenous beliefs and the Christianity/Catholicism, lots of other religions are still being practiced to this day, mostly the Afro-Brazilian religions. This first issue could be so much better, but instead it chooses to focus on the weakest aspects of the book, mainly Kuat. As an antagonist he works just fine — not as good as Solaris, but it’s hard to beat the Tyrant Sun —. The idea of having a Sun deity be the Solaris equivalent for Yara is great, but it never works well enough. This is another instance where a consultant on the book could fix most problems, as it only needs small tweaks to some dialogue to make it work. These little details, however, add up to become a major issue.

One of the plot points in this issue is that a corrupt politician is pocketing the money that should be used for the city’s infrastructure, which results in massive traffic while the rich are flying above the poor in their helicopters. When I first saw that my reaction was “ah, finally, something truly Brazilian”. As some people mentioned on Twitter that’s not the worst problem she could’ve been shown solving, but it’s undeniable that traffic is a problem, especially in São Paulo. And look, you may not see it, but I assure you rich people are flying over from their beach houses while we’re stuck in traffic, and there’s nothing far-fetched about it. Yes, the way it’s portrayed here may be a little disproportionate, but it’s a caricature after all, everything is blown out of proportion in a comic with literal gods, sentient suns and actual superheroes. It is the one aspect of the book regarding representation that doesn’t bother me; it’s not amazing by any means, but it’s also not terrible and it works in the context of the book. It’s a good way to show what Yara’s everyday life is as a hero in Brazil, in contrast to Jon’s life in Metropolis. 

THE HEADLESS MULE

The Superman aspects of this book, however, are very good. The way it shows Jon’s total commitment to being a hero is endearing and charming. His rivalry with Solaris is super (pun intended) fun and is a great way to play with Superman’s legacy. This is what makes the second issue so much better than the first: it focuses on what works instead of what doesn’t. Unfortunately this means less Yara than in the previous issue, although her characterization is a little stronger here.  

This second issue is filled with good bits, but there’s still problems. I don’t think Yara says a single word in Portuguese in this second issue, which is honestly fine. I’d much rather have her speak like that than say random words in Portuguese that don’t mean anything. There’s one moment in particular I found very funny in which Yara refers to a mythical being by its translated name: The Headless Mule. This is the one instance where it would have made more sense to just have her say “Mula sem Cabeça”, which literally means… Well, “Headless Mule” in Portuguese. One thing that absolutely does not work about this moment is that Yara refers to the Mule as a he, which Jon corrects her that it’s actually a she. First of all, it’s A Mula sem cabeça, which is gendered female, and Yara would know that if she had a basic understanding of the Portuguese language (or if whoever was writing her knew that). Also, the Headless Mule is the spirit of a woman who commited the sin of having sexual relations with a priest, and is in turn cursed to assume the form of a Mule who has blazing fire instead of a head (hence the name). The Headless Mule is a creature from Brazilian Folklore and I think Yara should be aware of that, something so basic about her heritage that every Brazilian child knows. To have Superman teach her that is laughable and it makes absolutely no sense. 

This is another instance where the comic is clearly stating it was never made for me, a Brazilian man reading a comic with a Brazilian character about Brazilian culture. Superman/Wonder Woman is a well crafted, fun book that is unfortunately made by someone who’s ignorant about the culture and language it should be representing. 

Del Duca’s cartoony art is a great fit for this story and the tone of the book overall; it’s so expressive, which is perfect to show how different Jon and Yara are. Jon’s compassion and Yara’s snarky attitude are so well-represented and well-acted through Del Duca’s art. It’s just a shame that while Filardi’ coloring is good in general, the way he colors Yara is lacking, especially when compared to Bellaire’s coloring in Wonder Woman. Instead of being brown she looks grayish and pale, more so even in contrast to the way she’s colored in the first Superman/Wonder Woman, which was already washed-out in relation to her depictions elsewhere. It’s a shame and it’s inexcusable, something I hope doesn’t happen again. Don’t whitewash your only Indigenous character.

THIS IS BRAZIL

There are three ways to represent Brazil in an American comic: you either show the Amazon rainforest, a football game (soccer for the American audience) or the favelas in Rio. In some ways I prefer the route they went with in Superman/Wonder Woman with just showing traffic. It follows the same logic as the other examples but it isn’t as played out or stereotypical, like the others. In a way, showing the rainforest or the favelas has the same function as the Yellow Filter in movies used to depict the Middle East; it’s a shorthand to represent that this is a “third world country”. This is not Metropolis with its skyscrapers representing what progress looks like, this is an undeveloped country, drowning in poverty. I don’t hold this over the creators for utilizing these when trying to depict another country because it usually comes from just reproducing what you’re familiar without any critical thinking: Why is that country being depicted the way it is, why do we assimilate these ideas without ever questioning them, why is nature the opposite of progress and so on. Not to say that these things aren’t representative of Brazil, it’s just that for the most part, the country is very similar to the United States, for better or worse. To not show poverty present in Brazil would be to present a whitewashed gentrified view, but when you limit the country to just that, you’re not painting a clear picture. I get that when you’re showing it for just a couple of panels and your story isn’t about the country, there’s no reason to paint a clear picture.  But at that point you have to ask yourself: what are you trying to say when you feature another country in your comic? 

A good example of that to me is in House of X/Powers of X, when it’s mentioned in one of the data pages that Brazil was one of the few countries to not recognize the Mutant nation of Krakoa as a sovereign state. That is both believable to me as a Brazilian (god knows this country sucks a lot) and it’s in line with the cynical view of the human world as opposed to the mutant worldview Hickman and Co. are trying to convey with the comic (I should note that despite Brazil not appearing on the page and being limited to a single mention, RB Silva, the artist on PoX, is Brazilian.)

Another comic published by Marvel that I feel has a good representation of Brazil that resonated with me is Immortal Hulk, written by Al Ewing and drawn by known bigot Joe Bennett. Despite working on a comic that features a trans character in a significant role, pits Hulk against capitalism and sets him on a path to destroy the human world for enabling the same kind of bigotry Bennett’s known to support, Bennett doesn’t seem to understand the book he’s working on or the story he’s helping to create. Until November 2019, when he cheered on the assault of journalist Glenn Greenwald by a Bolsonaro supporter, I had no idea he was such a bigot who believed in everything I’m personally against. Until then, I felt that the fact that he was Brazilian helped with my appreciation of the book. The character’s anger — mainly Hulk and Jackie, a journalist herself ironically — was similar to the rage I felt for everything Bolsonaro was and still is doing in Brazil.

In Immortal Hulk #15 there’s a double page splash in which Hulk talks about his anger for the human world, the fact that human cruelty is causing Armageddon, that we’re destroying our planet for profit while there’s still people living in unacceptable conditions and how we can’t change that. This pretty much defined what I was feeling at the time regarding Brazil, it’s how I still am feeling regarding the whole world, and the fact that Bennett was Brazilian was something that pulled me closer into the book. In that double splash page he depicted Brazil powerfully: a child murdered in the streets, a forest burning and the Tietê River (one of the more recognizable aspects of São Paulo to anyone that lives here for being absurdly polluted). 

I had planned to write about the book and this page anyway, but after Immortal Hulk #43, featuring anti Semitic imagery drawn by Joe Bennett, I feel obliged to state here that what he did was vile, inexcusable, and something that shouldn’t be allowed in comics or otherwise. His bigotry was known, but this was the first time (to my knowledge) that it made its way into the pages of the book itself. Bennett betrayed every reader who supported his work, especially considering he was working with characters who were created by Jewish writers and artists. I don’t believe this was in line with what Ewing believes — while he had the help of sensitivity readers when writing the character of Doctor Charlene McGowan, Bennett was laughing at and enabling transphobic jokes — but it doesn’t change the fact that it passed through two inkers, a colorist, multiple editors and was still printed like that. Brazil is an ultra-conservative right wing country, and being Brazilian and writing about the country, especially in relation to superhero comics, I felt morally obligated to denounce this in this piece. It’s enough that I feel conniving and complicit by supporting the book despite knowing he was a bigot. I don’t believe that’s the case for everyone that bought and followed the book, just how I felt when I saw what he had drawn. Bennett represents a huge part of Brazil: the ignorant, hateful, vile xenophobes that elected Bolsonaro. But he’s not representative of the whole Brazilian population; there are still good people who fight against everything this government stands for, people who won’t let us forget the military coup of ’64, people who understand the country was built on miscegenation and immigration and the need for equality. A country with such a complex history that can’t be reduced to only one thing. It’s not just favelas or Carnival, soccer or Samba, happiness or sorrow. It’s all of these at the same time.

There are lots of interesting ways to represent the country, its culture and its complexity; you just need to put in the work, do the proper research, find a new angle, and try to understand the country’s history and how it affects us to this day. I don’t need to see another generic forest with a caption that says “Brazil” if you don’t have anything to say with it. 

TO LIVE AND DIE IN BRAZIL 

Being born in Brazil in the nineties (even at the tail end of the decade like I was) felt like growing up in a new country. It wasn’t historically new, as Indigenous societies had already established themselves in Brazil hundreds of years before the Portuguese arrived here to colonize it. The natives were massacred and enslaved while the region was butchered and shared among European countries that felt like they had the right to do so.  They felt they owned this land, and so they stripped it of its natural resources. They weren’t even interested in living here; they just wanted what this land had, what wasn’t theirs to take. A country built on genocide. A continent built on genocide. 

I have never felt any kind of national pride. Brazil was just the place you were born, lived and died. The remaining Indigenous people ere still living in horrible conditions, the White population identifies themselves simply as descendents of the Europeans that either colonized Brazil or migrated later, while the majority of the population is Non-White and systemic racism doesn’t let them thrive. A huge part of them identifies as White, because they’re stripped of their whole identities. 

After the First World War, the United States saw an opportunity to become an empire.  Here’s where the USA differs from other countries in America: the colonizers were settlers. They were looking to create a great new nation. Portugal had no fucking interest in a “Nation”, only the bare minimum to establish their ownership of the land and its resources. With the American empire in place, the United States started exporting everything, including their culture and their idea of democracy. During the Cold War, the CIA helped establish dictatorships in almost every country in South America, including Brazil. In 1964, a military coup happened, aided by the CIA, and was one of the worst events that ever happened to this country. People were persecuted, tortured and killed. The country still lives in the shadows of those 21 years in which it was ruled by the military, and it’s what led to the rule of Bolsonaro, an admirer of the monsters that came before him. This is the United States’ fault.

 Let’s take a second and tie this back into comics. When reading Fury: My War Gone By — a comic that never mentions Brazil — I felt like I was reading about my country, or about the American interference in its democracy at least. Ennis has a tendency to write war comics but they’re never explicitly pro-war. He may have a romanticized view of soldiers, but he doesn’t believe in the system that uses or creates them. Fury: My War Gone By (by Ennis and Goran Parlov) is about Fury slowly realizing that the last justifiable war was WWII, and how he’s just being used by politicians and warmongers who use people as pawns, never fighting the wars themselves. Throughout the comic, Fury goes to Indochina (Southeast Asia) Cuba, Vietnam and Nicaragua to fight for a cause he is never fully made aware of. He’s told he’s fighting the good fight, and that’s all that matters to him; that’s what a soldier is for. Is the comic trying to make me sympathize with a war criminal? Maybe, but it communicates that the system that created him is still bad. It’s still saying that war — especially as a business— is bad, that American interference is bad. Again, this book never explicitly mentions Brazil, but to me it was a deeply formative book in how I saw the country’s representation, and was (in a way) what first made me start thinking about writing this piece. 

The fact that cinema, comics and videogames are synonymous of American movies, American comics and American games is a symptom of the cultural dominance exercised by the country. Creators like Claremont and Jones will never understand what it is to feel like you have to learn another language in order to fully appreciate what you love, to feel like another country’s culture is better, to wish you were born in another country. I’m still coming to terms with this myself, and if I’m being honest, I don’t think this is something I’ll ever be fully comfortable with about myself or my nationality. It’s not just comics, although that’s certainly a huge part of it. It’s living in a world where everything you love and care about is created to tell you that this other country is better. I know America is not better. The United States is just another country after all. 

The industry does not care. The Direct Market is still mostly aimed at White men and representation still needs to be fought for. Real representation will never happen until the companies start hiring more than just White writers, artists, editors… When the right creators are brought to a project they believe in and can identify with such as Milestone Comics in the ’90s and more recently with Future State’s Swamp Thing, which is the first Indian lead in a DC comic and was created by Ram V who is from Mumbai, India himself. Joelle Jones created a character from Idaho because she needed something to identify with when writing Yara Flor. Jones doesn’t need this character, she should’ve created her own Idaho Woman and let Yara Flor be for Brazilian creators. Although the character was created during a trip to a Brazilian Comic Con, she was never truly meant for Brazilians. It’s just the bare minimum to appeal to a population who’s always seeking validation from its cultural overlords. Meanwhile for Americans, Yara is just a new Wonder Woman who comes from an exotic culture. 

“They were like, We’re interested in this character, and we definitely want to have something for a Brazilian audience,” Jones says.

(Thanks to Lan M., Dave Shevlin and the rest of the CFC Fam for additional edits in this piece.)

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