Publisher: DC Comics
First Appearance: Blue Beetle v6 #
Created By: Keith Giffen, John Rogers, and Cynthia Martin
Amparo Cardenas led an uncomplicated (well, relatively speaking) life as the undisputed crime boss of El Paso, a figure so scary she was considered by many in town to be merely an urban legend. Always enterprising, she took the cataclysmic events of Infinite Crisis/Day of Vengeance/Various Other Miniseries I Didn’t Read Because I Was Too Busy Weeping Over the Death of Ted Kord as an impetus to focus on the magic aspect of super-crime. Among other things, she started picking up “extras” off the streets of El Paso – young people with extranormal abilities and no one to worry if they went missing – and turning them into her own personal magic army.
Her carefully-laid plans started going off the rails when her brother-in-law put her niece, Brenda, in the hospital. It was easy enough to La Dama to arrange for an “accident” and have the now-orphaned Brenda come live with her, and for a while she was able to hide her activities, both criminal and mystical, from Brenda.
…That is, until El Paso’s new superhero, Blue Beetle, turned out to be none other than Brenda’s dear friend Jaime Reyes. Amparo put two and two together quickly enough, but Jaime was able to keep her in check by threatening to tell Brenda that Amparo was La Dama. This worked right up until Giganta attacked Casa Cardenas. (Giganta is, shall we say, hard to hide.)
Furious and hurt that her beloved aunt was a crime boss, Brenda moved in with the Reyeses for a while. However, she and Amparo reached a tentative truce when Amparo showed up with her underlings to help Jaime, Brenda, and Co. fight off an alien invasion. The family that fights the Reach together…eats a peach together? Okay, I’ll work on that one.
Post-reboot, Amparo is much more in the Sexy Murdery Bloodplay(???) Ethnic Villainess mold, but I dropped the new book like it was on fire months ago and it was just canceled today, so I’m ignoring the crap out of this new interpretation.
So What’s So Great About Her?
There aren’t too many women of color as crime bosses in comics, I assume because there’s not much of an excuse to put them in a low-cut leotard. Hell, there’s not a lot of female supervillains of color, period, and usually they’re sexy ninjas. If being La Dama were the sole facet of Amparo Cardenas’s character, she’d still be noteworthy.
But of course, it’s not. For starters, she’s brilliant – she saves face during her initial confrontation with Jaime and the Posse, a local magic gang, in a way that makes her look like a benevolent, understanding host, and Jaime and his friends like paranoid, violent kids. She’s got tech no one else has, she’s bad enough to make Checkmate, a UN-based organization, take note, she’s completely capable of fighting freaking aliens – oh, and she figures out the secret identity of a superhero who has every inch of his skin covered at all times in about 30 seconds. Lady is on the ball.
What shifts her character from “terrifyingly impressive” to “terrifyingly impressive and also sympathetic,” though, is her relationship with Brenda. Amparo clearly loves Brenda like a daughter, in a confused and painfully human way. She downshifts her illegal activities for Brenda – but also has Brenda’s father killed for roughing her up. (Which, I’m with Paco here: it just makes me like her more.) She lies to keep Brenda close even though she knows it will only make things worse in the end, and if you can’t condone her behavior you can at least sympathize with it.
Despite only appearing in two short-lived series as a rogue for a C-list hero (sorry, Jaime, you are the sweetest of all boys, but it’s true), La Dama has a depth of humanity that many villains who’ve been around for decades can’t match. It’s a shame that we won’t be seeing her for a while, but someday when Blue Beetle has more ongoings than Batman (hey, I can dream, can’t I?), I look forward to her glorious return.
Blue Beetle v6 #3-6, 9-12, 19, 22, 24, 30, 31
Manhunter #32, 34
The Brave and the Bold v2 #3, 25
Blue Beetle v7 #1-5