In 1988, DC Comics briefly introduced a supervillain to its universe called SnowFlame. SnowFlame, who i09 reports debuted -- and was killed off -- in New Guardians #2, was a Colombian crime lord that got his super powers from inhaling enormous amounts of cocaine, "all the while dressed like the Secretary of the Interior for the Ice Capades."
"Cocaine is my god," SnowFlame exclaims in the comic book," And I am the human instrument of its will!"
About 25 years ago, the character was a mildly offensive novelty -- a byproduct of the War on Drugs, served up with a not-so-subtle side of xenophobia. As Atop The Fourth Wall, a show devoted to bad comics, pointed out, the New Guardians series of the time was rather rife with objectionable situations and stereotypes -- such as Extraño, a gay Hispanic magician that died after being "bitten by a goblin who gave him the AIDS virus."
Different times, different vibes. But a character like SnowFlame would never fly today, right?
While SnowFlame has remained somewhat of a cult fascination over the years, his notoriety spiked recently due to one artist's web-based comic, which spares the villain from his death in a chemical shed explosion in order to delve deeper into his character.
Written and drawn by Julie Sydor, the webcomic (which is not affiliated with DC Comics) aims to fill out the drug-snorting, one-off bad guy. In the 15 pages of the series that have been published so far, Sydor has given SnowFlame an alias, Fabian Orosco, and the beginnings of a backstory.
Humanizing as such treatment may be for a token villain, the narrative is still almost comically heavy on drug references. This isn't surprising, since super-human drug use is SnowFlame's claim to cult status.
But while Sydor showed caution with regards to her work's drug references -- placing disclaimers on her site and explicitly stating that the comic does not condone drug use -- she was less careful with some comments made by a minor character in the comic.
In the first installment of Sydor's comic, a wide-eyed female describes SnowFlame as "faster than a guerrila [sic] 'copter... more powerful than the U.S. Border Patrol."
Given that SnowFlame is a drug-slinging megalomaniac that worships llello as a god, the joke makes sense within the story. But it also comes at a time when immigration is a hot button issue in the United States, particularly among Latinos.
In an e-mail to The Huffington Post, Sydor said that she did not intend to imply any racial overtones in her work, and that she intended no offense toward Latinos, or to anyone who has had problems with drug addiction.
"[The original SnowFlame] is very much a product of the decade he was created in," Sydor wrote. "I intend to write SnowFlame as a fully dimensional multi-faceted character, and not a stereotype of Colombians or even a stereotype of druglords."
While the new SnowFlame webcomic doesn't come close to the rhetoric of ethnic stereotypes that makes aspects of the original New Guardians so offensive today, when one's chosen task is to resurrect a villain from a less tolerant era -- especially one that directly references some of the more damaging stereotypes about Colombians -- a little extra sensitivity never hurts.