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Bizarre Ride

Chicano Batman, Caped Crusader

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Wed, Jul 18, 2012 at 3:30 AM

click to enlarge CAROLINA MORALES
  • Carolina Morales
[Editor's note: Jeff Weiss's column, "Bizarre Ride," appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. Be sure to also check out the archives.]

With the July 20 release of The Dark Knight Rises, the iconic Batman franchise returns for its seventh summer with the usual panoply of "pows," "bangs" and Christian Bale barking like a pipe-puffing, 18th-century whaler. The budget is roughly $250 million, excluding marketing. It probably will be awesome and definitely will include a licensing deal for a Batman-themed Mr. Potato Head.

Earlier this month, Chicano Batman raised $4,500 on Kickstarter to fund the vinyl pressing of their second album, the currently available EP Joven Navegante. That the group met their goal is a testament to the small but dedicated fan base of Latin youth, DJs and diggers who have gravitated toward them since their formation in 2008.

Without lapsing into soliloquies about economic priorities, the market for Latin psych-rock and Anne Hathaway's gums, let's say that you should know about both Batmen -- the Gotham savior and the Eastside L.A. fusionists whose sabor simmers with cumbia, Mexican ballads, Brazilian tropicalia, Jimi Hendrix, Santana and Cream.

Chicano Batman's Bruce Wayne is played by 27-year-old Bardo Martinez, the La Mirada-raised guitarist-organist with a master's in Latin American studies from Cal State L.A. Chicano Batman was his way of adding special powers via costume and cape or, in Martinez's case, the frilled blue satin tuxedo tops they rock in homage to the onda grupera and romantica groups of the mid-1970s.

"Chicano Batman was an alias to empower myself, a way to be, like, 'I'm a superhero,' " says Martinez, whose mom was born in Cartagena, Colombia, and whose dad hails from Jalisco, Mexico. "But it was also a way to empower anybody from the global south, the people of color who lack privilege." We're in the backyard of his manager's home in Highland Park; with his blue Adidas sweatpants and wavy hair tied back, the wiry but muscular musician looks more college track star than Caped Crusader. But his skull-laden Aztec battle T-shirt betokens his veneration of his Mesomerican ancestry. "La Mirada is very conservative and largely white. Kids played Christian rock, Metallica, the Beatles. I always felt weird in high school because of where my parents came from. I even felt alienated in guitar class."

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