‘La Mano del Destino’ Creates a Vivid, Action-packed Luchaverse

¡Mira! El Luchador is coming — and not just any luchador — La Mano del Destino, the champion with a mission, the fighter bent on reclaiming his rightful place in the ring, the man with the weight of revolutionary history upon him.

In La Mano del Destino, a new release from Top Cow and Image Comics, J. Gonzo creates a vivid, action-packed Luchaverse for us — an alternate 1960s Mexico that takes us into the Mexican sport lucha libre (literally “free wrestling”) and the home and memories of our hero, La Mano del Destino.

Like many a man of principle and honor, La Mano is a man who has been wronged. After refusing to accept bribes to cheat in the ring, he was betrayed by his friends, unmasked during a fight, and shamed before millions. As he receded from the crowds, a mysterious promoter promised to help him regain his former glory — and pay back the rudos and jefe who cheated him.

But it won’t be easy. La Mano must combat his enemy’s henchmen before he can take revenge upon the man who took his champion belt and original wrestling identity. And this isn’t all about La Mano, for the luchador recognizes the power he holds for the people as a performer and symbol. It’s not just about restoration of an individual’s dignity — it’s about restoration of the collective’s “hard-earned triumphs and hope.”

Gonzo’s art is luscious and glowing, a color palette of fuschia against chartreuse, creamy pale oranges highlighted by cerulean shadows, giving the reader a sense of these celebrity athletes vibrating off the page. The full splash pages of action are an absolute delight, as are the retro comic touches (the benday dots in particular made me nostalgic for newspaper comics and all manner of pulp and proletariat). Like many Silver Age comics, the emotion and action is immense and bombastic, as evident from the massive sound effects and layers of speed lines. I love the different illustration styles Gonzo plays with, including La Mano as a more cartoony (UPA animation style) character in a dream sequence and a packed multitude of small limited-color panels choreographing a rhythmic fight sequence.

I’m also cheering on Gonzo when I see our hero and other characters flashback into their historical political climate. Yes, we’re dealing with an alternate 1960s Mexico, one informed by the breakdown of haciendas and colonizers at the hands of the people, the tangled kinship relationships of brothers and fathers and uncles and mentors, and the consequences of an authoritarian government against those who rise up. These conditions, mixed with a bit of luck (or shall we say… destiny?) are the lands from where luchadores are born, where técnicos and rudos catapault and fly into the hearts and imaginations of millions of fans. What is lucha libre if not an embodied intersection of political history, mythic performance, and deeply-held values?

I will admit that as I followed La Mano through this world, I craved to see more about the female experience. Just as I wondered where the women were, a trio of ass-kicking luchadoras showed up — and just as I was concerned that the machismo might get too intense for me, I was delightfully surprised with how women played a role in the fight’s outcome.

The book ends after its sixth chapter, but I hope the saga continues. There’s a compendium at the end for those interested in history, illustration technique, and other artists’ depictions of La Mano, giving readers some relief if they’re still hungry for more the luchador and his world when they finish the story.

La Mano del Destino gives us the agony and the glory of what it means to fight for freedom and dignity. What does it mean to be a champion in a world that would have our suffering be win or lose? What does it mean to hold all these conflicting narratives within ourselves and still fly — with skill and confidence — into victory?