Border Horror, Part Two of Two: 30 Days of Night: Juarez

Posted by on February 4th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Previously: Part One.

IDW Publishing, 2009; Matt Fraction, Writer; Ben Templesmith, Artist; 104 pages, $17.99, Color, Softcover; ISBN 978-160010405-3

©2009 IDW Publishing. Art by Ben Templesmith. Nicked from comicsbulletin.com

In additional to its ongoing drug war, the city of Ciudad Juárez has also become famous for the murder of young women.  Most sources estimate that between 300 and 600 women were killed there since 1993, with another 250 reported missing.  (The fact that there isn’t even a reliable body count really ought to tell you something.)  As 80% of the cases have gone unsolved, many people suspect police complicity.

The Inter-American Commission’s Rapporteur on the Rights of Women describes the pattern:

The victims of these crimes have preponderantly been young women, between 15 and 25 years of age.  Some were students, and many were maquila workers or employed in local shops or businesses.  A number were relative newcomers to Ciudad Juárez who had migrated from other areas of Mexico.  The victims were generally reported missing by their families, with their bodies found days or months later abandoned in vacant lots or outlying areas.  In most of these cases there were signs of sexual violence, abuse, torture, or in some cases, mutilation.

Matt Fraction and Ben Templesmith’s 30 Days of Night: Juarez takes these femicides as its premise.  In this story, Lex Nova, a deranged private detective, travels to Juarez to hunt down a cabal of vampire clowns.

These vampires are not the clean, pretty, emo vampires that now plague our culture thanks to Twilight. They are sadistic, sex-crazed, murderous fiends.  Naturally they aligned themselves with the economic and political elites of Juárez.  In effect, it is a partnership between vampires and serial killers.  As the lead vampire explains: “Y’all been rapin’ and killin’ all these girls . . .  cuz y’all are rich and bored and you can.  And there ain’t nobody to stop it. . . .  I’m a vampire.  I feast on the blood of the living as a matter of need. . . .  But you. . .  you crazy bastards do it cuz you want to.”

A moment later he makes his judgment clear:  “Put ‘er there, pal.  I wanna be in business with you.”

Business, indeed.  It’s a class bargain, and an uneasy one.  Vampires symbolically represent our fear and hatred of the aristocracy — the undying, hereditary, parasitic elite.  They view the rest of us as a separate, inferior species, like cattle.  They feed on us as a natural right.  Serial killers, on the other hand, embody the logical extension of capitalist individualism — selfish, cruel, driven by the lust for power.  Murder is their work, and other people are merely their instruments.  “I’ve run the maquiladora since before you were born,” a sweatshop owner tells his lackey. “And I’ve been killing whores even longer. . . .  We give them lives.  We give them work.  And then we give them death.

Meanwhile, in the world of noir fiction — as a minor character’s off-hand reference to Chinatown reminds us — the real criminals of society are not the desperate hustlers or low-life thugs, but the city fathers and the socialites.  The story in Juarez draws from all three genres — vampire, serial killer, noir — and combines them to sickening effect.

Fraction’s writing is funny and tough, with the detective protagonist providing his hard-boiled narration out loud in the dialogue without realizing that he’s doing it.  And Templesmith continues inking in his characteristic 30 Days style — chaotic and crude at first glance, but careful and complex on further inspection.  The images are so horrible you almost forget how beautiful they are.  And the story is so gripping, you almost forget those real bodies, abandoned in the dusty slums.

Nova knows about vampires, but he doesn’t know Juárez.  The vampires did not create the evil in Juárez; they were attracted by the evil that was there already.  Needing a local guide, Lex buddies up with a godless priest.  Father Ramalez serves as a mouthpiece for the author, and brings the story back to the real world.  He dismisses the supernatural aspects and puts the murders in another context: “There’s no boogie man in Juarez.  There’s just us.  These four guys — three — aren’t behind all the killings.  There are gangs and drugs and the cheapness of human life borne of poverty.  All just as much to blame. . . .  And everybody knows it.  The secret is that there is no secret.”

Who needs zombies or vampires or serial killers when you’ve got an entire social system feeding on human misery?

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