Bronx-born bachata singer Romeo Santos is staggeringly successful. At 35, he could easily retire and live in a small fortress built from his RIAA plaques: his single “Propuesta Indecente” has been certified 20 times platinum, “Promise” 19 times, “Odio” 13, “Eres Mia” 11… the list goes on. For a less mathematical distillation of his talents, consult the “Propuesta Indecente” video, which has amassed more than one billion views, where balletic dancing and cherubic falsetto fuse into a seductive Tomahawk missile.
In short, this is a man with special powers, and that’s the conceit behind the artwork for his latest single, “Héroe Favorito.” The singer teamed up with Marvel Custom, the comics giant’s in-house content and marketing agency, to design a superhero version of himself to promote his first new material since 2014’s Formula, Vol. 2. “I always had this fascination with superheroes,” Santos tells Billboard. “Who didn’t love Hulk and Spider-Man?”
That’s a fitting declaration, since Santos is sitting in “The Hulk Room,” a meeting space in Marvel’s offices in midtown Manhattan. At one end of the room, there’s a stocky, life-size Iron Man get-up standing on a pedestal near another Avenger, War Machine, and the suit that Paul Rudd reportedly wore in the movie Ant Man; all three sport signs politely issuing the hard-to-follow instruction “don’t touch.” Look almost anywhere else in the room, and your eye will catch something Hulk-related: a painting of the hero takes up half a wall, there’s a vintage poster from the ’70s, when Bill Bixby played David Banner on TV, a vivid green bust of Hulk’s upper half where muscles flex with enough force to shred a less-sturdy torso, and a few smaller action figures.
The Hulk and Spider-Man are both referenced in Santos’ new single — the first taste of next album Golden, release date unknown — which naturally finds our protagonist in yet another fraught seduction scenario. “I’m basically infatuated with this girl; I’m trying to protect her,” Santos explains. “Her parents are trying to set her up with this other guy. At least from my perspective, she’s not too enthusiastic about it, so in my imagination, I’m like, if I were a superhero I would protect her. I have strength like Hulk, climb up 100 feet to her balcony like Spider-Man, a lot of metaphors.”
When it became apparent that “Héroe Favorito” would be Santos’ next release, his management team at Roc Nation suggested that the singer explore the possibility of teaming up with Marvel Custom to build on the hero theme. “At first, to be honest, I was skeptical,” Santos admits. “Could it look corny, me in a suit?”
But he didn’t need to worry, since Marvel Custom is practiced at delivering heroes that meet their client’s exact specifications. “We get all the facts about what kind of hero you have in mind,” explains Darren Sanchez, Project Manager and Editor. “A lot of guys want to fly; some guys want super speed. And then the attitude — you want to be smooth, or very badass?”
“We have access to all the company’s talent,” adds Vit Debellis, Manager of Custom Solutions and Integrated Advertising. “The same guys that are making The Avengers comics are the guys that are going to be working on a project like this.”
Santos and this team knew what they were looking for. “He wanted a dark, Kevlar, Punisher type of thing, but without the weapons,” Sanchez says. “He liked the idea of a cape, but he didn’t necessarily want a cape, so we went with a trench coat that had the same kind of billowing look. He didn’t want it too bulky; wanted to make sure it was a realistic body type. He said he liked darker colors, but he wanted highlights, either gold or silver.”
Then there was the matter of face gear. Plenty of Marvel characters have a mask or helmet, but as Sanchez points out, “generally when it’s a celebrity, you don’t want to cover his face. Half of Iron Man, his helmet is off.” For Santos, they came up with a dark, wraparound eye-mask, which adds a swashbuckling touch without obscuring his identity.
When it was time to render the bachata hero, Sanchez called on Marco D’Alfonso, an artist he had worked with previously on an a project for ESPN. “He had a painted style that went with what Romeo was looking for,” Sanchez says. “Romeo didn’t want a line art style — he didn’t want it to look too cartoon-y, too comic-book-like. [He wanted] more of a photo real kind of look. Marco fit that bill. He killed this.”
At the moment, Santos’s Marvel figure only exists in the “Héroe Favorito” artwork, and the singer has no plans to wear the Kevlar-and-trench-coat combo onstage, or even in the comfort of his own home. What about “Héroe Favorito”-style action figures? Santos is noncommittal. “Let’s play it by ear,” he says. “One step at a time.
But the hero’s mindset may already be seeping into Santos’ work in the studio. According to the singer, he displayed some real-life fearlessness when constructing “Héroe Favorito,” which he describes as an audacious combination of jazz and bachata, a union that “has never been done [before].” “That was a risk itself,” he asserts. “Jazz is not typically commercial; you don’t hear much jazz on mainstream radio.” But again, Santos has those special powers: “If you’re a bachata fan and you’re like, ‘I don’t really know if I dig jazz,’ I don’t think it’s going to be a problem,” he predicts.