El Jaguár: Origins, Synopsis
A young man from southern Mexico, whose supernatural initiation gives him the power to shape-change and pass between the borders of life and death, takes three stranded children through the borderland of the dead to be reunited with their parents.
The protagonist, who, like most of the characters in the graphic novel, is nameless, saw his parents murdered when he was a small child. The shock caused him to forget them. He was raised in relative wealth by the cattle rancher who found him next to his dead mother’s body and raised him as his own son. After the woman he always believed was his mother becomes ill and dies he learns that her family always believed him to be the son of an Indian mistress.
Upon recovering his memory of his birth parents, he seeks out the power of the jaguar spirit, sacrificing his humanity in order to gain the power to retrieve his mother from the land of the dead. He is too late. She no longer recognizes him. Unable to rescue his parents, he sets out to avenge them.
Unable to avenge them --he cannot remember what the men who killed his parents looked like, or even where he was born-- he avenges others, knocking sense into boys who cheat on their girlfriends, slapping around men who beat up their wives. This leads him to cross paths with La Sirena, the malignant transformation of Our Lady of Water and Life. She also punishes men who violate social norms, although she usually eats her victims. She alternately baits her new rival and tries to seduce him.
Seeing a faded, tattered campaign poster, he recognizes the leader of the vigilante patrol that murdered his parents by the buttons on the uniform he is wearing. He learns that the man has gone to the United States. Immediately after, a violent final run-in with La Sirena, and four federal policemen, whose R&R got so out of hand they forgot that their new drinking buddy was only four years old, forces him to flee north. Only the hope of vengeance keeps him alive.
He crosses the border into California. In his innocence he believes he will only have to cross into the United States to find the man who murdered his parents. He soon finds out that, “Hell is vast, but the United States is bigger.” After five days on foot through the mountains and deserts of southern California, reduced to trying to catch tadpoles to eat, he is picked up by the Migra while raiding a dumpster.
Fearing that he will be turned over to the federal police, he makes a desperate dive back into the underworld. To his surprise and delight he is now invisible to the Border Patrol, but he is no match for the ghouls and other hazards that lurk on the borderland between life and death. He winds up in the City of the Dead where he is confronted by El Dueño de la Tierra, the Master of the Earth, who boots him out. “You’re not one of us. You’re still alive.”
Deported from the City of the Dead, back where he started from in Tecate, on the Mexican side of the border, he encounters three children, Rafael, Diego, and Frankie, stranded and desperate after a failed attempt to cross the border to join their parents who are working in the United States. Impulsively, he offers to take them through the borderlands of the spirit world. “It’s a game,” he tells them, “I’ve done it before.”
Only after he reaches the border does he realize the responsibility he has taken on. “Their trust scared me. I hoped I had not betrayed them. I wasn’t afraid for myself. Unlike them, I had nothing to lose.”
In the end, after confronting a series of ghouls and, more crucially, the children’s, and his own, fears of betrayal and abandonment, and a final confrontation with La Sirena, in her more compelling guise of Mother Death, he is successful. In witnessing the joy of the children’s reunion with their parents he finds a fragile new connection to life and his own humanity.