Marvel’s recent commitment to more diverse superheroes is refreshing. Giving children of differing genders, colors, and faiths heroes that are more similar to the faces they see in the mirror is a good practice that should continue. Of course, when your people are the ones being represented, the issue becomes a little more complex. Which brings us to the first collection of comics starring the new Ghost Rider, Robbie Reyes. Unlike Johnny Blaze & Danny Ketch, Reyes is a Mexican-American teen from East L.A. that opted for a sweet muscle car instead of a motorcycle. Join me below the cut for some spoilers and a slightly uncomfortable discussion about race, won’t you?

“All my friends know the low rider…”

Let’s start this review off on a positive note: Writer Felipe Smith and artist Tradd Moore are delivering a comic that is like nothing else on the shelf. Even when Marvel bothers to set a comic outside New York City, it usually takes place in the “nicer” parts of L.A., such as Hollywood or Beverly Hills, so seeing a comic set in East L.A. is a welcome change of pace. Also, the intersection between comic fanboys and gearheads has to be pretty small, so this window into car culture is rather novel. Finally, the current incarnation of Ghost Rider has an innovative power set and an outstanding character design that promises to become as iconic as Mike Ploog’s infamous creation.

Speaking as a Mexican-American who lives in Southern California, the character of Robbie Reyes fills me with some very complicated emotions. Robbie himself is, on the surface,  a positive example of a Mexican-American hero: a Straight-A student who holds down an after-school job at an auto repair shop and single-handedly supports his special needs brother Gabe. When he signs up for a drag race in a car he “borrowed” from the shop, he does it to earn money to replace Gabe’s stolen wheelchair. When he is pulled over by the “police”, his thoughts flash to what will happen to Gabe when he is locked up. When he enters into the pact with the spirit of vengeance known as Eli, he does so after being promised the opportunity to forge a better life for himself AND Gabe. Robbie Reyes can be looked at in two ways:

On the one hand, if Hispanic kids can read about a character that inspires them to stay away from drugs and gangs, take care of their family, and do the right thing no matter the cost, that’s a plus. However, a more cynical reading of the text can cast Robbie as an uncomfortable embodiment of respectability politics, since Robbie intentionally separates himself from his peers by dreaming of leaving the Barrio and embracing the more “traditional” values upheld by society as a whole.

The fact that Smith & Moore’s version of East L.A. is populated by standard Latino stereotypes doesn’t help: gangbangers, drug dealers, kleptomaniacs, would-be date rapists, and dishonest shopkeepers are the only other Latinos with speaking roles in this volume.

To further complicate the issue of race, much of the conflict in this volume is the result of outsiders coming into the Barrio. Mr. Hyde and his army of mostly white soldiers infiltrated the Mexican-led drug trade in Hyde’s mission to control crime on the West Coast. Eli, the spirit of vengeance that took up residence in Robbie, often tries to convince Robbie that the only way to save the neighborhood is to burn it down and rebuild over the ashes. The white substitute teacher Mr. Wakeford is mostly a positive influence on Robbie, but can be a little patronizing at times. Hell, Guero, the class bully, may be Mexican, but he’s a blonde, light skinned Mexican, and he’s one of the most despicable characters in the comic.

For all of the complexities of race contained in these pages, this is still a comic that celebrates Mexican-American culture. Cars are a vital part of the culture, and Reyes’ car is an extension of himself. The car is a method of transport, a weapon, and a connection to his homebase. There’s a reason this was the first comic to use Lowrider magazine as a promotional tool. In addition, the fight scenes are choreographed like Lucha Libre matches, particularly in Ghost Rider’s brawl with Grumpy, the drug dealer mutated by Mr. Hyde’s experimental drugs and original owner of the car that Reyes bonds with. Piledrivers, elbow drops, dropkicks and sleeper holds are thrown around throughout the fight, and it makes for a fun, dynamic read.

Tonight on Lucha Underground!

If you are removed from the racial and cultural implications of this volume, you can still enjoy this comic for the unconventional and fun read that it is. Still, reading the comic made me uncomfortable at times. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it inspired critical thinking about some rather weighty issues. Representation matters, and good representation reflects different facets of the culture, both good and bad. It’s a thought provoking read, and I’m along for the ride, just to see what happens further down the road.

All-New Ghost Rider can be purchased at your Local Comic Shop, from Marvel, or from Comixology.

About The Author

Reads comics. Watches movies. Passable at karaoke. Kicks ass at trivia.

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