Comic book fans have known the scene for decades: A sinewy masked figure, dressed like a spider, spinning webs in hot pursuit of a super-villain.
The chase, as always, is fast-paced. But in a sign of the times, the villain – in this story, Screwball – has a mini-camera attached to a helmet so that an ever-curious public can watch a live stream of the chase online.
Our hero, of course, tweets the action in play-by-play fashion, as if announcing a basketball game.
Ultimately, the hero catches and subdues Screwball with a dazzling display of trash-talk, arachnid-like agility, speed and a right hook that would make Manny Pacquiao proud. But the arresting police officer is astonished for another reason.
“Hey, you’re just a kid…just a girl,” he says.
“I’m not just a girl,” our heroine responds. “I’m Spider-Girl!”
So, while all eyes are on the very much-anticipated – not to mention delayed and mocked – official Broadway opening of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” on Tuesday, the wall crawler’s mythology has found girl power in a big way in Marvel’s “Spider-Girl.”
But there’s still more to this crime fighter than meets the eye. Take the aftermath of exploits with Screwball, for instance: Spider-Girl web-slings away frantically, muttering to herself – “I am so late for school.”
Thirty minutes later, after changing out of her costume and barely making class, she gets a text:
“Anya, are you in school?”
“In history class, Dad. SO glad we had Captain America.”
Meet Anya Corazón, aka Marvel’s Spider-Girl, and native New Yorker of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent. She is one of many Latino superheroes that have tried to rise to forefront of the comic book industry in the last 10 years while the Hispanic community, as indicated by the 2010 U.S. Census, has become both the largest minority and fastest-growing population in the United States.
Anya is not the first Latino superhero – she’s following a path paved long ago by the legendary Zorro. But Spider-Girl, who made her debut in Marvel in 2004 as Araña (Spider), and other costumed Latino heroes have yet to achieve the fame enjoyed by her sword-wielding forefather and iconic characters like Spider-Man, Superman, and Batman. Why?
“It hasn’t been for lack of interest,” said Axel Alonso, editor-in-chief of Marvel Entertainment. “Both Joe Quesada, the previous editor-in-chief [and Marvel’s current chief creative officer] are Hispanic and have had this conversation at length. You don’t go in and say, ‘I’m going to create a Mexican superhero.’
"Believe me, I’ve tried," he added. "What you find is that you have characters evolve out of storylines in comic books. …With Araña, we had a character that evolved naturally out of the Spider-Man storyline at the time that involved a group called the Spider Society. Araña was tapped by the Society; it was an urban setting and we found an opportunity to create a Latino superhero of Mexican-Puerto Rican descent who could wear the tights proudly.
“As a Hispanic, I must say I have been frustrated by the lack of Hispanic characters out there, but it hasn’t been for a lack of trying,” Alonso continued. “They’re out there.”
Marvel, DC and various independent comic book publishers have created various supporting Latino characters over the years. Aficionados may remember White Tiger, who often appeared in Daredevil and Spider-Man books and fought alongside his more famous costumed vigilantes against common enemies like the Tarantula, a high-powered South American terrorist.
(Various characters in Marvel have carried White Tiger and Tarantula moniker and, both in recent years, have been re-imagined as lethal Latina agents.)
Alonso created the Zapata Brothers, two Mexican mercenaries who dress as masked luchadores who have appeared in Marvel’s “Moon Knight” and “Deadpool” comics.
Even legends have found a new life in Latino heritage, even if only briefly. In 1992, Marvel launched a series of “2099” comics that took a futuristic look at some of its staple characters. In “Spider-Man 2099,” the Web-Slinger was a brilliant geneticist named Miguel O’Hara. In the last 10 years, traditionally white characters such as Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern and Dan Garret’s Blue Beetle have been reinvented with Hispanic alter egos Kyle Raynor donning the green and Jaime Reyes the blue.
In looking at Anya Corazón’s Spider-Girl and Kyle Raynor’s Green Lantern, their characters don’t seem “overtly” Latino. Kyle Raynor almost seems as interchangeable as Hal Jordan, his half-Mexican roots an afterthought. Anya is Hispanic in name, but there doesn’t seem to be any remnant of her Latino heritage that pops off the comic page. There is no Spanish dialogue.
So, are these characters “authentically” Latino – or whitewashed?
“When Spanish or slang is even used on a page, you have to remember there are certain phrases and words that are unique to certain Spanish cultures,” said Alonso. “With Joe [Quesada], who’s Cuban and me, who’s half-Mexican, we joke about this all the time. There’s no one kind of Spanish. Some of us are aware of these distinctions.”
Still, new visions for traditional characters are not necessarily formulas for long-term success. The most legendary of heroes have had complex back stories and are underdogs.
“What it comes down to, and let’s be honest, it’s difficult to create anyone new who has long-term length. That’s just a fact,” Alonso said. “You don’t just create lightning in a bottle. When you create a character that’s of different ethnicity than your standard characters, there are a lot of challenges. One is authenticity. Another is that they’re interesting. We’re a diverse staff, starting at the top with Joe and myself, and we have no interest in reifying any of the ethnic stereotypes out there.
"By the same token, we think people tend to rally around characters that come from backgrounds of adversity," he continued. "Peter Parker was a white boy, but he had trouble making rent. I think we relate to him more than Bruce Wayne because of that.”
It also helps if the character is larger-than-life, with a dash of panache and is the right blend of bad-ass, whup-ass and wise-ass. That might explain Zorro’s longtime appeal.
The Zorro character was born when pulp fiction writer Johnston McCulley's short story, "The Curse of Capistrano," was published in the magazine All-Story Weekly in 1919. McCulley's protagonist was a Spanish nobleman named Don Diego Vega who, as his alter-ego Zorro (Spanish for "fox"), fought for the rights of oppressed California peasants.
"The Curse of Capistrano" caught the attention of actor Douglas Fairbanks, who bought the rights to the story and developed it into the 1920 silent film "The Mark of Zorro." The success of "The Mark of Zorro" launched a hero franchise that endures to this day.
"When speaking to anybody on the street, everyone recognizes the 'zip, zip, zip' of Zorro," said John Gertz, president of Zorro Productions Inc. "Everyone knows what you're talking about. Basically, you can't be American and not have Zorro percolate into your consciousness."
With his black mask and cape and extraordinary sword-fighting skills, the first Latino costumed hero carries an outlaw's mystique. But his lack of superpowers and penchant for helping the poor makes him an Everyman.
And he may have set the standard for talking smack for costumed and caped characters. Anyone who carves a "Z" into his beaten foes must have a wicked sense of humor and appreciates his own swagger.
Without Zorro, Batman may never have existed. Batman creator Bob Kane loved watching Fairbanks' "The Mark of Zorro” and paid tribute to both the actor and his screen persona in the story of Batman's origin. The film was on the marquee of the movie theater young Bruce Wayne's parents left before they were killed.
It's no coincidence that Batman, often referred to as "The Dark Knight,” wears a dark costume and also lacks superpowers.
And where do you think Spider-Man got his gift for trash-talking? Spidey often leaves his own "Z" on his fallen foes by either spider-webbing their mouths shut or leaving them snared in a web with a note that says, "Compliments of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man."
Dynamite Entertainment has kept a legend of Zorro alive with a series of comic books and has generated buzz with a storyline that kills off the masked fox in “The Lone Ranger - The Death of Zorro.”
(Fear not fans. Death is never permanent in the comic book industry, and our hero will return in July in Dynamite Entertainment’s miniseries, “Zorro Rides Again.”)
Still, in some ways, Zorro has been overshadowed by the superheroes that followed him. 2005’s “The Mask of Zorro” earned $146 million worldwide, but that seems almost paltry next to more than $1 trillion box office from 2008’s “The Dark Knight.”
Maybe time has passed Zorro by. He looks comfortable in 19th century California but loses much of his mystique in 21st century New York City.
“He would look ridiculous,” said Alonso. “That’s one of the things that came up when the Zapata brothers came in, you could put them wherever you wanted to put them. They’re modern guys. With Anya, who started out as Araña, she had a particular costume and a particular set of powers and we were able to weave her into different storylines with more prominent players.
"Now, she’s evolved to the point where she was ready to put on the tights and become Spider-Girl and become part of a larger event of the Marvel Universe," Alonso added. "What you have here in Anya is someone who’s ready to become a prominent Latino character in the Marvel Universe.”
Alonso described “Spider-Girl’s” book sales as a “moderate” with a loyal, passionate following. Marvel, he stressed, is committed to cultivating Anya’s character (Joe Quesada personally designed her original costume while he was Marvel editor-in-chief) and growing her fan base.
Some food for thought: Very few comic book characters are overnight successes. Wolverine was a supporting player and did not have his own solo comic book until 1989, 15 years after his debut. He wasn’t featured in a movie for the first time until 2000’s “X-Men.”
The Punisher had to wait 12 years after his first appearance in “The Amazing Spiderman” for his first solo comic book series.
So, will Anya Corazón, the Latino Spider-Girl, become as enduring as some of Marvel’s legends? Will she be as iconic as Zorro someday?
Stay tuned, true believers, stay tuned.
Bryan Robinson is a Fox News Web producer and a regular contributor to Fox News Latino.