Obscure Spotlight: Paladin El Cacique






There are some some heroes  out there that don't need to be discussed anymore. Superman's had so many takes on him in all media, that once they finish the new TV show Krypton about life before Baby Kal El got sent on that rocket, you'll be able to watch his whole life from  then, on through his youth through Superboy/Smallville, on to him as a grown man on Lois and Clark.

But alternatively there are some heroes you probably don't know about. Heroes that either failed to garner such fame as Superman or, just whern't MEANT to reach that. These obscure  heroes, I think, deserve discussion EVEN MORE than the latest Batman Reboot, BECAUSE they are unknown. And that's why I'm making this series: Hero Spotlight.

The year was 1992. Crime was rampant in the US Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, with control of the distribution of drugs as the main source of it. It got so bad, the local government implemented a progam called "La Mano Dura" or "The Hard Hand", doubling down on efforts to subdue the criminal activity through sheer brute force.


But I didn't know all that. I was just a boy, no older than 10. I wasn't into the news. I was into Pop culture stuff, like, I assume most kids where back then. The comics boom was still in full effect, and my parents thought if we preserved random Mighty Mutanimals Comics, one day we'd be rich. 

The interest in  Superheroes was at an alltime high. With the Batman movies still fresh in memory(and due to be shown on TV at soon.) our local, young TV stations started running any Super Hero content  they could get their hands on, such as the then recent Flash TV series and the old(OLD BY THEN)  WOnder Woman and Batman TV shows, to Ultraman.

However, far across the sea, one was aware of both of these, seemingly unrelated  dynamics.  One Nick Innone.  Situated in New York, The Neuyorican artist and his wife, (I am bad at names), decided that Puerto Rico needed a local hero. Teaming up with Newspaper EL Nuevo Dia, they began a comic strip series that lasted so and so years. These, are the adventures of Paladin El Cacique.

Paladin el Cacique, or "Paladin The Chieftain".

Ramon Castillo was a well to do man, with a beloved wife, and a sprawling old Hacienda house. Until one day, crime took away his beloved wife. Swearing revenge on all crime, Ramon by serendipity found under his house a sprawling citadel built under his house, built by his Spaniard ancestor who used an unusual armor to fight for the local taino tribes during Spanish Colonial days. Retrofiting this place and this armor with modern supertechnology, he became Paladin The Chieftain.

So basically right from the start this guy's Bat-Punisher. His armor was pretty cool, though, with all sorts of improbable gadgets like helicopter blades and...robotic spy lizards. Does Batman have robotic spy lizards? NO.

It was also a pretty original design. You probably can´t tie this color scheme and helmet design to any other heroes from then, or since.

Running during the Sunday funnies enabled Paladin to have a whole , colored page to itself every Week, and I don't know how the success of a Sunday strip is actually measured, but it lasted  years, so I'm guessing it was pretty successful.

Paladin did not for long have to trudge alone through the life of the hero. He was eventually joined by some anciliary characters, which formed a team known as "Los Campeadores Boricuas" or "The Boricua Champions". 


A young man  called Pepe Ramirez, saw his grandmother badly wounded by the same criminals that killed Castillo's wife. This eventually lead him to seek revenge and finds himself on the Citadel, which leads him to fashion himself a costume, and call himself Gavilan.

In typical sidekick fashion, his first act it to immediately  get beat up by a robot and have to be saved. You see, this guy gets it.
Puedes volaaaar...leejoooos!

There was also a mute giant who worked for the local crime lord, until he gave up his life of crime, and became a hero. He was known as Titan, because, well, you know.

But my favorite  has got to be Reinita.

A local reinita bird, or Bananaquit , as they're known, found itself captured by an evil witch. The evil witch turned this tiny bird into a flight capable, egg laying human, whom she kept in a cage until she freed herself and moved on to enviromental vandalism,  After a bit of a civil case to determine whether a bird transformed into a bird by a witch has human rights(!!!) she became Reinita.


But she had, up to that point, been mostly just naked. So they launched a contest to decide what her costume was going to be. While I was dissapointed that the winner was NOTHING colored like the actual bird, this character immediately became my favorite in the series.
To be fair.  thick white eyebrows are a hard look to pull...
There where various arcs throughout, and tonally it was all over the place. For example, the first arc follows Ramon´s attempt to get revenge on his enemy, Number 1. It ends the arc with the Number 1 dead, but also with Paladin having sunk to the bottom of the ocean, dead.
For full effect...


And he was considered dead for two weeks, instory. But suddenly, he shows up, beamed down from a manta ray space ship. It turns out while he was dead as a doornail, Pleasure Goblins from Pleasure Planet revived him and took him to their planet to have crazy adventures. Like, you´re not even gonna ease us into the Pleasure Planet Saga, man? Just like that?

And yes, the little fuckers would show up again to ruin a saga about weapons escalation. A series of events, starting with children accidentally shooting each other snowballs for eight weeks into "weird death cult tries to blow up the island with a nuke." Tries my ass, they do it! While our hero tries his best to disarm the bomb, it blows up in his face, as a splash page describes to us all the beautiful things that where just ended because MAN HATES.
Bad End.
But then the explosion turns into flowers. Surprise, omnipotent aliens at work! And they're like, "Oh, you silly humans. Stop being a violent species, m'kay?"

If you can turn nuclear fall out into flowers, why the hell did you need a hero?







There where shorter arcs, like the witch saga, in which Paladin is mourning his wife in his spiffy new cape, when suddenly, a fucking skeleton witch shows up and starts putting the moves on him and trying to kill him with a rock monster. It took him the entire 4 October issues to rid himself of that random ass witch.

The final arc,  possibly unfinished, involves Gavilan being  paralized by a bullet(No help came from the Joy Goblins that day. I mean, they where there, but paralisis was beyond them. Yes, turning a nuclear blast into flowers is one thing, but fixing  a spine? They're not MAGIC, you  know?), and the other sidekicks leaving with him, Paladin going it alone and facing a twisted tinkerer, type, and his own dark duplicate, called something along the lines of Doom.

So the strip was cancelled after this time, and it's heroes faded into obscurity. Or, um, even FURTHER into obscurity. The only way to enjoy  their adventures was to either have collected them while they where out(and trust me, that even with my dad's fascination with  collecting newspapers, this was not a realistic solution) or to go to the newspaper's actual headquarters to borrow a copy, which again, you'd have to REALLY be into this strip to consider.

You'd think the Internet would have made things immediately easier, but as far back as 7 years only about the first couple of months where made available, only ocassionally alternating to NONE.  Thankfully most of them have been made available, some in English and most in Spanish, by the people behind the originals...I'm mostly sure. 

The strip is not perfect. The art is a little crude. While a lot of love and care went into any images of Paladin  going Hrrraaaargh! human faces would often look a little weird. The whole thing is stylized less like a traditional adventure comic of the time, and more like a mural.The spanish is written by a man who obviously had spanish as a second language, and the  Strips would alternate between somewhat morbid and dark subject matter, like crime, grandmothers  getting their necks cut, and Satan, with  somewhat goofy concepts like little pleasure goblins and lovelorn witches and...robot spy lizards.. This strip might be a bit hard to love.
Did I mention I love this design?
But for me, it's easy to love, because I saw it as a child, and it stood with me. It hits me in that part of a nerd's heart  that loves something rare and hard to find. It's something that was a part of my life for years, and even though it must have been part of at least hundreds of other people's lives, it remains a truly rare subject. And as awkward as it may seem, reading them back now, some touches such as the author thanking the hospital that took care of his daughter several times, and celebrating Halloween or one of our beauty queens...It doesn't feel like this was just going through the motions, making  a comic strip to make a quick buck. It seems like people pouring their heart into a work of art.

It also may have set , perhaps in a small way, a spark in me, that making superheros wasn't just something people outside of my island could do. To understand at such a young age that doing such a cool thing was possible to me might have guided a lot of directions in my life. I spent years refining my own set of puerto rican heroes, rifining their stories. I knew that if Nick Innone could do it, so could I.

So that's the story of Paladin El Cacique...SO FAR. Could it come back? I'd hope so.
Maybe one day...it will.

This was where the article ended originally. And it wasn't an article, it was a script for a video. But something wonderful has happened. Paladin El Cacique is now going to be available as annuals through Amazon. I have been contacted through Deviant Art and spent the morning crying like a fucking baby.

For the longest time, It felt like I was the only person in the planet that remembered this guy.  If you've read this blog in any capacity you know how I appreciate obscure stuff. Hell, I was contacted through the fanarts I did on Deviantart, the only fanarts of this character that I know to exist on that site and practically any others.

Support it if you can. I don't care if you buy the reprints to fan your belly with them, just buy them and support. We always talk about representation. Here's a Puerto Rican Superhero. Don't just talk.

7 comments:

Nico Iannone said...

Thank you for remembering my work. I love Puerto Rico, the people and their amazing culture.

Nico Iannone said...

It is true fans such as yourself and E-Rod that keep the culture alive. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7y3QV4SrYE0

Nico Iannone said...

If I may, I'd like to clear up some misunderstandings about how Paladin came into being..... I realize that it is difficult to stare into obscurity. I cherish that he is remembered by the very ones he was created for. I hope this helps.

In 1992, on the island of Puerto Rico, an experiment took place to see if a "paper" superhero could make a real difference. For seven years every Sunday in the newspaper El Nuevo Día, Paladín el Cacique y Los Campeadores Boricuas entertained readers of all ages while trying to take the pulse of how the island of enchantment dealt with the problems of progress during a particularly trying time.

My gratitude to José Diaz de Villega and El Nuevo DÍa for the opportunity for this labor of love for a very special people.

Heroes aren’t born... they’re made!

The need for a Hero
The creation of Paladín el Cacique did not happen overnight. The character and the cast that followed were developed over a period of time and were met with many obstacles. The original concept of an on-your-streets, in-your-town superhero started while strolling down the street with my wife’s friend, Molinelli. As we walked, his son ran ahead and lagged behind powered by the curiosity and energy of youth. At each sewer drain he would stop and peer down. I couldn’t help but ask. “Molli, what on Earth is your son doing?” “He’s looking for the Turtles,” he replied. The Teenage Ninja Turtles were all the rage for kids of his age. They fed the imagination of the island’s youth even as they anxiously awaited the first movie about Batman– a hero that lived in far away Gotham (New York City?).

Nico Iannone said...

More:
Paradise in Crisis
At the time, Puerto Rico was going through a crisis. An article in the San Juan Star carried the headline, “Puerto Rico crime wave reaches tidal proportions.” The article went on to state that “for 1991 the per capita homicide rate (if ranked among the 50 United States) was the highest in the nation” averaging 2.3 killings per day. This rate translated to 23.3 killings per 100,000 citizens. On an island with a 1990 population of 3,552,037, the murder rate exceeded that of England which with a population of 48,774,700 had a rate of 1.3 slayings per 100,000 people. Much of the violence was tied to the trafficking of drugs. “Puntos’” were plentiful.

Nostalgia Gives Birth to Nostalgia
Having grown up in the wake of the Golden Age of comics, rode the crest of the Silver Age and witnessed the revival of comics in the sixties, I felt that a touch of good-old, home-grown heroism might help. So, though not speaking the language very well at that time, but with the help of my island-born wife, Paladín was born.
I decided that if I was to be the one to introduce an iconic figure, he would be a compilation of the comic hero culture spanning decades. The story style and artwork would reflect the naivety of early pioneers such as Lee Falk’s The Phantom–1936, Siegel and Shuster’s Superman–1938, and try to close the gap from the 1940s through 1990s. Rather than seeking a unique character with powers or costume never seen in the comics world, I sought an amalgam that echoed familiar but timeless idealism and romantic imagination.

The Learning Process
Originally Paladín was to be called El Patriota until my wife’s Uncle Victor sauntered by while I was sketching and explained the political meaning of the word “Patriota” to the island. I realized I needed to dig deeper. As if in answer, my wife’s son back in Florida phoned and, as part of a school project on genealogy, asked if the family had any famous ancestors. She referred him to Titi Merce who was the family’s historian/record keeper. Through her, I learned the depth of the island’s culture intimately. I learned that my wife’s family went way back before the Mayflower and included Spanish royalty, native Tainos and even some pirates!

Nico Iannone said...

More:
Puerto Rican in My Heart

The cafeteria staff where I worked always teased me saying I was more Puerto Rican than many natives. They made sure I knew when they were serving gandinga, cuajo and revoltillo de bacalao. I was often reminded that my body may have been born in the States, but my heart was born on the Island. I not only devoured the food, but also the culture. The character of the Paladín was quickly becoming my alter ego reflecting my love of the island and all its magic, spirit and weaknesses.

Partners, Family, Friends and Foes

An Original... Sort of!
Although Paladin found his roots in the history of the island, I wanted to also bring an island touch to traditional superheroes in comics. That demanded a young partner. And so the Coqui was introduced. Oddly enough, the name never appeared in the series, except by accident. During the development of the characters, I had visited several comic shops. Although I had avoided absorbing contemporary plots and characters for many years before Paladin, in the decision to launch a new character, I did some comic culture updating. While chatting with many comic book store owners, I mentioned my intentions. Word spread in the island’s comic book community of characters like El Coqui. It was not until after submitting the first couple of episodes, I received a letter from a aficionado who had in previous years, introduced a character named Coqui. It was a humorous character, not necessarily a conflict, but the author expressed concern that the future he might be interested in re-introducing and wished to avoid confusion in the marketplace. With respect for the creativity of another, I was faced with the alteration of an episode that had already been finished and had a deadline of the next day! Once again, Uncle Victor intervened with inspiration. He introduced me to the gavilán, a falcon that nested on top of the buildings in Caribbean cities waiting to pounce on its prey. With that and a quick revision of several panels that had already been written and inked, El Coqui became overnight El Gavilan!

A cast of characters
Within the first year, a growing cast of supporting characters were introduced:
Maria Castillo: the wife of Ramón Castillo. Although her appearance was brief, her spirit appears as a driving force throughout the series.
Ramon Castillo: Ramón’s young son.
Enrique “Rique” Torres: Maria's brother and a member of the island police force.
Pepe Ramírez: savvy side-kick known as "El Gavilán."
Pablo Ramírez: Pepe’s brother and a reformed street hustler.
Abuela Rosa: grandmother to Pepe and Pablo.
José: an old friend of the Castillo family and guardian of La Hacienda Castillo.
Titan: a mute giant used as a pawn by the crime syndicate of the island. Later he joined Los Campeadores as an ally.
“Puk” and The Placeritos: extraterrestrial visitors from the planet Placer.
Father Francisco: local priest who runs a homeless shelter.
Los Reyes: a local street gang reformed by Father Francisco.
Numero Uno: The ever-changing crime syndicate boss of the island.
Gang members: An assortment of thugs including Orejón, Caribe, Hollywood, Chino, El Negro, Calabaza, El Gordo y el Títere (to name a few).
J.T. De Luz: A ruthless business tycoon.
The Witches: Through the years, there have been many, especially for Halloween.
Reinita: born a small bird, La Reinita was turned into a human girl by an evil witch. Introduced in 1993, she became the fourth Campeadore.

Nico Iannone said...

More:
Letters from Fans
Without a doubt the most rewarding part of producing the strip was the acceptance and feedback from the readers.
After a few episodes I wanted to see who was reading them, so I included an address to send letters. We did not have much money, so I didn’t get a post office box. Within an hour of the newspaper hitting the streets, I was awakened to a group of children outside calling for the superhero to come out! Over the next years I received as many as 60 letters a day. Many were scrawled on school paper, folded and taped closed, then dropped in a mailbox without a stamp or even an address. I felt like Santa Claus! I started including the fans’ names and drawings in the strip and soon readers enjoyed searching for their names in print.
After the story in which Paladin led an attack against drug traffickers throughout the island, I received a letter from a little girl living in Vista Hermosa. She asked that the heroes come and expel drug traffickers in their casario. I got into my car and drove there and saw that she was right. I'm not a real superhero and armed drug traffickers were very frightening to say the least. Soon after, then Governor Rosello conducted a similar raid against crime using the police, DEA, FURA and the National Guard.* After the raid, drug pushers were eliminated for a while in Vista Hermosa. The young girl sent me another letter saying, “Thank you.” These letters and episodes of the strip were on display at the National Guard Armory for a period of time as a tribute to their contribution to the war on drugs .
For many years later, I received letters from young men indicating that Paladin inspired them to join the “Red Berets” – trained, unarmed guardian angels who travel in groups to protect the island.**
From the beginning it has been my dream that corporate sponsors would be willing to support a program in which the heroes visit schools to share a program of education, spirit and hope. I continue to invite and welcome help to make the dream come true.

*http://www.nytimes.com/1993/07/28/us/national-guard-joins-puerto-rico-police-on-beat-as-crime-rises.html

**http://www.puertorico-herald.org/issues/2004/vol8n09/GuardAngels.html

Nico Iannone said...

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The Future of Paladín?

I have enjoyed sharing these episodes from the first year of Paladín. The strip was a labor of love from 1992 to 1998. If this collection is well-received, I hope to present collections of each of the following years both in the original Spanish and in English.
The adventures of Los Campeadores Boricuas are wide and varied. Over the years, they have dealt with issues both light and serious. Some of the story lines were eerily visionary and pre-date themes found in successful movies such as “Avatar” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” years after the strips were published. Among them:
• Adventures in space with " Puk " and The Placeritos. The Placeritos are extraterrestrial visitors born on a living planet with the name, "pleasure".They are peaceful vegans living in harmony with nature. The planet reshapes itself provides for the needs of its inhabitants. Trees grow to create cottages interlaced with vines which provide food and nectar. Even the mountains reshape themselves to create various monuments to honor exceptional acts of kindness. Transportation is provided by Los Zepheros, (a sort of cross between Earth’s sea rays and onions). In their role as vehicles, they only travel by voluntary agreement. The Placeritos maintain a submarine base of operations on Earth in the deep trench off the northwest coast of Puerto Rico.
• Time travel is at the center of two stories in the series. In one, our hero encounters his ancestor who is trying to protect native Taino tribes in their fight against vicious Caribe cannibals. In the other story, Paladín is mistaken for his ancestor as the captain of a ship of cursed phantasms.
• The dangers of the arms race is offered in "Un Arma Mas Grande (a bigger gun)" in which fanatical terrorists end up detonating a nuclear bomb on the island. In another story, a Middle East dictator gains control of weapons systems worldwide through cyber-piracy.
• The problems of waste and pollution are also presented. In "The Trash Fairy " a tiny sprite teaches the values of recycling and eliminating litter. The dangers of industrial pollution is the subject of another story. And in "To Save a flower" we learn that deforestation and extinction of a single species can destroy valuable medicinal plants needed for future medical cures.
• Healthy eating, obesity and food addiction are explored in a story about "Megusta" – a highly addictive food additive that makes anyone who eats it addicted to food while becoming lazy and obese.
• The issues of mental health and caring for our veterans are at the core of the stories, “El Diablo Por Dentro” and “El Vago Vigilante.”
There have been many other stories that include monsters from outer space and under the sea, witches, sharks, runaway robots, an island inhabited by talking dinosaurs, the unexpected effects of genetic engineering, ecology, the plight of the disabled, and a totally different twist on chupacabras... just to name a few.
With your interest and some good fortune, I hope to be able to share the whole series once again.

Thank you again for the blessing you have given by reading the stoty. ;)

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