I've seen a few reviews of Manhunter #31, the first issue of the comic to come out in more than a year, and most people seem pleased to see Kate Spencer and their favorite supporting characters back in action. I'm a little surprised, though, that I haven't heard any mention of the backdrop for Manhunter's return — the unsolved murders of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Unfortunately, these tense info-dump scenes from Manhunter #31 are a fairly accurate account of the killing of women in Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas. I say "fairly accurate" because the bodies of more young women are found buried in shallow desert graves with horrific regularity.
Let me add a little more background to what's already here: Most of the women who have been killed or are missing have been young (late teens to mid-20s), and a large number of them were working in maquiladoras (usually called maquilas, for short). The text makes it sound as if the maquilas are Mexican companies, but the majority of them are from other countries (many of them U.S. companies) that have established these manufacturing plants because of the cheap labor they can find to fill their 24-hour operations.
The murders are an open mystery, and the most viable theory sounds like an overwrought crime thriller involving on-site maquila management, independent bus drivers, a corrupt police force and the powerful drug cartels that orchestrate the whole thing with the same bone-deep malignancy that is endemic in some border towns. Even worse, it's generally agreed that abusive husbands, sociopaths and anyone who thinks they can get away with it are killing women and dumping their bodies to be mixed in and written off as just another number added to the list.
There have been other attempts to use the story of the women of Juarez — mostly for dramatic effect and generally misguided — and I don't kid myself by thinking that using it as the background in a superhero comic is going to bring widespread attention to this tragedy.
But someone is talking about it, and some people who might have never heard about the women in Juarez are at least a little more aware of it. Manhunter writer Marc Andreyko and DC deserve some credit for that.
Here are some links with information about the killings (some of it's out of date, but still has relevant background information):
• Senorita Extraviada: An independent documentary that aired on PBS. There is also another documentary, Border Echoes, that investigates the killings.
• The Juarez Project: A grassroots effort to bring attention to the murders.
• Who's Killing the Women of Juarez?: NPR has done a couple of reports on the crimes.
• Amnesty International: The human rights group regularly pressures the Mexican government to do more to stop the killings.
• Diana Washington Valdez: A reporter and author from El Paso who has covered the killings extensively, Washington Valdez updates related crimes regularly on her blog.