As far as moving pictures go, I often find myself watching myself awash in a sea of schlocky action films, crime movies from the '70s, and whatever pabulum strikes my fancy on Netflix Instant. Eventually I get around to a film that wasn't made by some assholes with money--a French New Wave film, an assignment from another writing gig, something by Almodovar--and I'm reminded why I even watch movies in the first place.
Luchadoras is like watching a piece of great world cinema, especially after months of picking apart the latest pop releases week-in-week-out. It's a series of reminders that comics are made by people other than white male nerds, that comics don't need high concepts, and that comics don’t require misanthropic navel-gazing to be gripping and important.
Writer/artist Peggy Adam's graphic novel feels like an acoustic version of Gilbert Hernandez's Human Diastrophism section of Love & Rockets as she chronicles a blossoming-but-tenuous relationship between a Mexican woman named Alma and a male tourist named Jean who's only in town to snap some photos and see a wrestling match. There's a quaint, low-key accessibility to Adam's book in contrast to Hernandez's epic-within-an-epic; gone are the neighborly cast of dozens, the torrid, talk-of-the-town sexuality, and (unsurprisingly) the gigantic breast fetishism.
The murders remain. Instead of Palomar with its one defined anomaly of a serial killer, Luchadoras is set in Juárez, a city in Mexico that is most famous for its ongoing epidemic of femicides that have claimed the lives of hundreds of women since the early 1990s and that have gone largely unsolved. They’re not quite the story's main focus, but these murders are essential as the issue creeps into the lives of our characters like a cancer slowly infecting them--the ugly horror lingering just under our daily lives and interactions.
Alma is the central character--a tough, tattooed barmaid with a daughter and a shithead boyfriend, and who lives in surely one of the worst places on Earth to be a woman. It'd be hard for any straight girl not to fall for Jean, who's not like anyone in her life; he's nice, he orders soft drinks at the bar, and he sees the local canyon as beautiful instead of "the perfect place to commit suicide." By default he seems like the greatest man she's ever met, especially in contrast to her boyfriend, Romel, who gets into a fight with the cop who drives Alma and her daughter home after Laura's discovery of a dead woman's body.
Peggy Adam's style is very European alt-comics, all imperfect lines and stylized figures akin to a French comics giant like David B. but without his Charles Burns-y graphic busyness and overwhelming blacks. Also, Adam draws better noses.
The black/white divide in Luchadoras is simple but evocative, as the deep shadowy ink constantly threatens to envelop and strangle the white on the page. Adam eschews any artificial crosshatching to simulate color through varying shades of gray, but the effect happens naturally as she illustrates details like stone walls, screen doors, and feathers on an owl.
Luchadoras ends on a curious note that finds our characters in a state of flux as we're unsure where fate will lead them. Is the anomaly of a plane flying overhead a signal (a wake-up call to take off while you can) or is it an affirmation (a reminder of the impossible and unattainable)?
Or maybe Adam is trying to signal that she, like Jean, is a tourist in this world she's illustrating, and thus can only depict so much before she's forced to draw a conclusion she isn't privileged to.
Luchadoras is a powerful comic with a misleading title, as Mexican wrestling only features briefly but makes a clear reasoning for the feminized title--the luchadores in the book wrestle one another for entertainment while our unmasked heroines wrestle with the lives they're given.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!