By Peggy Adam
Blank Slate Books
Luchadoras are the female professional wrestlers of Mexico. But here, in this latest Blank Slate release, it’s one woman who assumes the role; fighting against her circumstances of her life, the terrible situation she finds herself in, and even the very town she lives in. There are moments of real visceral anger, grief, horror and rage during Luchadoras, both from the cast and from the reader and it’s shocking to imagine that Adams’ story is even partially based in reality.
But a brief investigation shows that it’s far too rooted in reality for comfort, this tale of a woman’s life against the backdrop of hideous crimes in a region of modern Mexico. Since 1993, the Mexican border-city of Juárez has been a place of fear, with hundreds of “feminicidios” – the abduction and brutal murders of local women and girls – taking place (and there’s a distinct possibility that the number is actually in the thousands).
So imagine living amongst this, knowing the authorities haven’t been able to solve these crimes, and their corruption and incompetance means the killer(s) act without fear of capture, brazen and arrogant. Imagine knowing that there’s an all too real chance that you, or someone you know; your mother, your sister, your daughter, your friend could be the next tragic statistic.
That’s the background to Luchadoras. It’s bleak, it’s brutal, but it’s also an utterly compelling work of fiction set against the shocking truth of everyday life in this Mexican town.
In Luchadoras, Peggy Adam delivers this tale of day to day survival by telling the fictionalised story of Alma, whose life is already full of abuse and violence, trapped with her violent gang-banger fiance. Alma’s story of escaping her abusive relationship is played out against the ever-present threat of random, terrible violence perpetrated all around her, not just with the “feminicidios“, but in the entrenched misogynist nature of Mexican society, where men treat their women as mere objects to be beaten, killed, cast aside.
When faced with the everyday reality of life, the shocking details of the murders themselves become somehow deadened, believable, disgracefully almost routine and inevitable.
And that’s the power of Adam’s writing, creating a fictionalised reality where the horrors of reality in Juárez are made suddenly believable, and the shock of another new murder becomes attenuated with your continual exposure to the day to day tiny brutalities. You find yourself understanding an almost alien way of life.
But there’s more; Adam not only creates a personal story with Alma, and a societal story with the people of Juárez, she also creates a very real sense of almost personified menace exuding from the town itself, as if it had something to do with the problems within it.
It’s never overtly brought up, but everything Adams does leads us to the almost inevitable conclusion that the town itself plays a near causal role in the ills visited upon it’s inhabitants – that’s how good Adams is at creating a very dark, very oppressive, ominous mood throughout the book.
There’s not, in all honesty, all that much story in Luchadoras…. a glimpse of Alma’s life, her abusive fiance, a decision to leave, a meeting with a kindly, although naive foreigner who provides the help she needs to get out, and then more decisions….. as Alma takes control, in what little ways she can, of her life.
But no matter what she does, in the background, waiting to strike at the women of this Mexican society is the threat of the town claiming another victim. And whether directly or indirectly, the town’s seeming malevolent spirit affects all, and Alma is not immune herself, when her anger at those around her gets too much, she’s just as likely to lash out, inflicting pain upon the innocent, and not so innocent around her. InJuárez, it seems, no one is truly safe, no one is truly good, this is a town full of shades of grey.
But with so little story, Luchadoras does something magnificent, it concentrates, it focuses so tightly on one individual life, that, in doing so, Alma’s tale becomes everyone’s tale, a fiction representing fact. Alma is every woman who ever lived in Juarez. And it’s this intensity, this focused personal tale at the heart of Luchadoras that makes it such a satisfying portrayal of the worst of Latin American/Mexican society.
And that intimate vision of Latin American culture, of everyday life, coupled with the beautiful, starkly black and white artwork is immediately reminiscent of the best of Love & Rockets. Adams’ artwork, her setting, the pace and even elements of the story; it’s familial basis, the brief, damaged relationships, the powerful women involved – all evoke memories of the very best of Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez’s best work.
Luchadoras was chosen as part of the 2007 Sélection Officielle at the Angouléme International Comics Festival. And dammit, when you read Luchadoras, you can certainly see why. It’s brilliantly put together, a visceral assault on the senses, a challenge to understand just why these things can continue, a plea that they must be stopped, a superbly crafted personal tale, powerful, emotional, draining, real…. Luchadoras is all that.