Imagine a city where the abused and mutilated corpses of women are routinely discovered around town. Tragically, for some imagination isn’t required. In Ciudad Juárez the Mexican border town divided from El Paso in the USA by the Rio Bravo river, over 750 women have disappeared or been murdered since 1990. The cause is broadly attributed to a corrupt police force ignoring the activities of gangsters, whose perception of invincibility led to ever increasing atrocities.

Luchadoras is a Spanish term for a female fighter, often applied to wrestlers, and Peggy Adam’s story is fiction, but draws heavily on the appalling situation in Ciudad Juárez. Alma works in a bar, and lives with violent gangster Romel, who regularly beats her in front of their daughter. There’s a possibility of escaping this abusive relationship when innocent tourist Jean wanders into the bar. Tough herself, Alma initially views Jean as yet another no-hoper, but gradually invests her trust in him. Will he be able to protect her, and will he repay that trust?

Romel, the representation of a Mexican gangster, is a truly appalling creation, a man able to leave his daughter’s birthday party to slice up a woman with his mates. The ongoing horror of Ciudad Juárez is touched upon via the recurring appearance of corpses, but for the most part Adam focusses on how such a situation can exist, coming to some uncomfortable conclusions. The police are portrayed as overtly corrupt, but the bar owner trembles when Alma casually mentions Romel suspects him of groping her, and there are judgemental comments made about victims of violence.

Adam’s black and white art initially brings to mind a sketchier version of Marjane Satrapi’s stylised simplicity on Persepolis, favouring the same thick black line. Cartooning softens the horrors slightly, but nothing should erase them. This is a very slim story overall, but packing a visceral punch, not least from the opening sequence, which is difficult to place chronologically.

Since the original 2006 French publication of Luchadoras a much publicised army-led clean-up of Ciudad Juárez was bodged, resulting in ever greater atrocities and the arrest of the supposed rescuers.