IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Latino superheroes from the Maya Empire star in 'Primos' comic book series

Written by "Daily Show" alum Al Madrigal, the series is loosely inspired by a Maya king — but readers can draw parallels to recent history, politics and discrimination.
"Primos" by Al Madrigal and Carlo Barberi.
"Primos" by Al Madrigal and Carlo Barberi.AWA Studios

Imagine leaving a once thriving ancient civilization and returning 1,300 years later to find tourists buying water at the foot of your pyramid and vendors selling maps.

Your people are now scattered in poverty throughout Central America, Mexico and the United States, and some of the children are kept in cages. 

This is what happens when two brothers from the Maya Empire take off on a spaceship and return centuries later to a home that's been devastated — the storyline of the new comic book series “Primos” (“cousins” in Spanish), which is being released Wednesday by AWA Studios, in English and Spanish.

One brother vows to take revenge on the world by destroying it. The other grants three cousins powers to save it. 

The comedian, writer, actor and producer Al Madrigal, who created the series with artist Carlo Barberi, said readers could draw parallels from real-life discrimination and politics.

“With Latinos being villainized the way they are currently, and the fact that all of this land that we’re on in Texas, Arizona and California was stolen, and even with what the Biden, Obama and Trump administrations have done with immigration, we’re in such a bad place from the people that controlled everything,” Madrigal told NBC News.

The release date for “Primos” coincides with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on Feb. 2, 1848, which ended the Mexican American War. Mexico lost more than half of its territory to the United States, including parts of present-day Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Utah.  

Fans will remember Madrigal as a correspondent on “The Daily Show With John Stewart.” The actor, who is half Mexican and half Italian, will star as FBI agent Alberto Rodríguez in the upcoming Marvel superhero movie “Morbius.” 

"Primos" by Al Madrigal and Carlo Barberi.
"Primos" by Al Madrigal and Carlo Barberi.AWA Studios

“Primos,” Madrigal said, was loosely inspired by the Maya King K’inich Janaab’ Pakal, who ruled for almost 70 years over modern-day Chiapas in Mexico, and is credited with transforming the modest city of Palenque into a thriving metropolis that has now been mostly swallowed up by surrounding jungle.  

The carved artwork on Pakal’s sarcophagus lid has also inspired tales about ancient astronauts and rocket ships.  

Madrigal, who said he gravitated toward Black comic book characters growing up, said he was driven to tell this Latino story because of the lack of representation in film and television. 

2021 Hollywood diversity report from UCLA said that only about 7.1 percent of broadcast scripted leads in the 2019-20 television season were Latino, while 76.8 percent were white, 11.6 percent were Black and 1.8 percent were Asian.

When asked why Latinos have had a difficult time breaking into mainstream film and television, the actor said the challenge is in representing the diversity of Latino people and culture. 

“Every single one of my ‘Daily Show’ pieces, it was ‘Al is the spokesperson for Latinos.’ And I was like ‘Hey! Nobody could be the spokesperson for Latinos. There’s too many different types of Latinos. And they all hate each other,” he said jokingly. 

Madrigal said that while “Primos” is primarily a Mexican American story, readers will meet other diverse characters as the series moves forward.   

Identifying with 'characters in the margins'

Axel Alonso, the publisher of AWA Studios, where “Primos” was created, said he never imagined having a job in the industry. 

“When I went into comic books, I came as an outsider,” the former Marvel editor-in-chief told NBC News. “So for me, it was about telling stories about the world that I knew. And I thought I wanted to tell stories that were about the real world and all its diversity.”

Before moving to Marvel as editor-in-chief, Alonso built an enviable career as an editor at DC Comics, where he worked on popular series like “Doom Patrol,” “Preacher” and “100 Bullets” for the defunct Vertigo imprint.

Alonso, who is half Mexican and half English, says that he’s proud of the legacy that he has left at Marvel, where he pushed for diversity of characters and creators. 

“I think people need to see and feel that they are represented in popular culture,” he said. “I always identified with the characters in the margins, the characters that were not invited to the party, like the Black Panther — but I was mildly disappointed when he took off his mask that he wasn’t Hispanic.” 

Today, Marvel has become a powerhouse for diverse heroes, including the Black Puerto Rican Spider-Man, Miles Morales; the Korean Hulk, Amadeus Cho; the female Thor, Jane Foster; and the Mexican Ghost Rider, Robbie Reyes. 

While diversity has broken into mainstream culture, Alonso says there are still many challenges. 

"Obviously diversity is more of an issue, but also the pushback to diversity is still every bit as strong — you hear it echoing in analogies to ‘woke culture.’ When [NFL quarterback] Aaron Rodgers says ‘woke culture’ I know what he means. So for me, the culture wars continue to rage.”

 Even though many comic books focus on aspirational heroes, Alonso says he doesn’t want to create flawless characters. And this, he maintains, is important when telling diverse stories like “Primos.” 

“I’m not interested in creating icons of virtue. I’m interested in telling stories about interesting characters that come from all walks of life,” he said. “This is not a political agenda. This is about entertaining people with stories that speak to them.”

For Madrigal, diversity also makes financial sense.

“Look how popular 'Shang-Chi' was,” he said, referring to the 2021 film "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings."

“They’d be fools not to continue. It’s just great business.”

Follow NBC Latino on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.