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Mexican American superhero saves Ukrainian civilians in comic book issue

Updated April 6, 2022 at 1:00 PM ET

For the better part of a decade, the Mexican American superhero created by Héctor Rodríguez has helped immigrants along the U.S.-Mexico border fight Mexican cartels, corrupt officials and human traffickers.

Now Mexico's refusal to criticize Russia or support Ukraine has prompted the comic book creator to send "El Peso Hero" to war-torn Ukraine.

"It's El Peso Hero saying, 'Well, if the president of Mexico is not able to be there, El Peso Hero will be,' " Rodríguez told NPR about the special 18-page free online issue he published last month. "It's a callback toward Captain America and Superman during World War II and helping GIs, or helping the citizens in Europe."

The character, whose real name is Ignacio Rivera, turned an insult into a superhero name after a border agent compared him to a devalued Mexican peso. Rodríguez insists El Peso Hero is just a regular guy doing good deeds, even if he does have superhuman strength and bulletproof skin.

"He wears very simplistic clothes. You know, he has his blue jeans, cowboy boots. And so he looks like a regular, you can even say jornalero, a farmworker, every day guy," the author said.

By day, Rodríguez is a bilingual primary school teacher based in Dallas with family on both sides of the border. He first started publishing El Peso Hero in 2011, in an effort to show positive Latinx representation in the comic book medium. He says that more than 5,000 printed copies sold in the first year alone.

For his latest adventure, the superhero travels to the besieged city of Mariupol — where he lifts a tank to rescue a trapped Ukrainian family, deflects Russian bullets, finds a missing Red Cross volunteer and diverts a gas attack.

Rodríguez says it's part of tradition of comic book characters fighting for just causes and giving a voice to the voiceless.

"In this case, it is the Norteño Mexican-American superhero, no matter what culture, no matter what language they speak, it's a very unifying moment that we were all in this together, there's always a force of good," added Rodríguez, who asks readers to donate to UNICEF's relief fund for Ukrainian children. "We have a responsibility as citizens of this world, especially when it comes to humanitarian help."

The audio version of this story was produced by Marc Rivers and Milton Guevara, and edited by Olivia Hampton and Reena Advani.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Olivia Hampton
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