The Indoctrinator: A Brazilian Robin Hood With a Taste for Revenge

May 19, 2014 at 9:07 AM ET

Dressed in dark clothing and a gas mask, the man stands in the shadows, looking up at a tattered Brazilian flag. It’s a fitting symbol for his mission: to hunt and kill corrupt politicians who help themselves to money and power while others are left with society’s scraps.

His name is the Indoctrinator, and he’s Brazil’s newest comic book sensation. Created by Brazilian graphic designer Luciano Cunha, this fictional antihero has tapped into a real sense of anger in Brazil.

Outsiders tend to see Brazil as an unflappably sunny and happy country. But Brazilians have been in a dark mood of late. Over the past year, in the lead-up to this summer’s World Cup, a growing number of people have taken to the streets in Latin America’s largest country to protest what they see as rampant corruption in government. While elected officials fret over prettying up the country for the international event, many Brazilians are more concerned about unglamorous issues such as health care, housing and education, which have been neglected for decades.

The Indoctrinator has channeled this popular anger. In fact, it was Cunha’s own ire that pushed him to get back to work. For 10 years, the Rio-born graphic designer hadn’t written a comic book. He had become disillusioned by the market for comics in Brazil. He found it difficult to make a living drawing and writing the type of stories that inspired him. “It was pure indignation,” Cunha says. “This was the way I found to vent.”

When he finished the Indoctrinator, Cunha didn’t bother looking for a publisher; he just put his story online. He had no aspirations for fame or fortune, but in a little over a year, the story’s Facebook page attracted 35,000 fans and garnered 3 million views.

His readers are mostly young, middle-class men and women who are disillusioned by Brazil’s culture of corruption and impunity. To some of them, the Indoctrinator was a call to action. “I have gotten many messages from people who said that they had gone out to the streets because of the comics,” he says. “That made me very proud.”

Cunha has also won lavish praise from veteran illustrators and humorists and attracted the attention of some of Brazil’s most-famous musicians. Cunha is currently working on a new Indoctrinator tale in collaboration with the popular Brazilian political activist and musician Marcelo Yuka. Also a fan: Andreas Kisser, the lead guitarist of the acclaimed Brazilian metal band Sepultura. “Dark is always seductive,” Kisser says. “Brazil is living in a very difficult moment, and [Cunha’s] work reflects a bit of that, the revolt against corruption and impunity.”

Political art has a long tradition in Brazil. From the early 1960s to the mid 1980s, when a military dictatorship ruled this country, art became a subtle form of protest. Musicians such as Caetano Veloso and Chico Buarque slipped anti-government messages into their popular songs, which expressed their feelings of powerlessness in the face of an all-powerful regime.

Half a century later, Cunha’s work is decidedly darker and more overt. The 41-year-old artist clearly has done his homework. More than a revenge saga, the Indoctrinator is a cleverly turned narrative, pegged to familiar outrages and actual instances of political corruption stripped from the headlines.

Although Cunha has taken pains to change names and issue the usual disclaimers, the Indoctrinator takes revenge on characters whose misdeeds are instantly recognizable to most Brazilians. In one grisly scene, the Indoctrinator shoots a corrupt contractor with a sniper rifle from the roof of the newly built Maracanã soccer stadium in Rio.

Cunha’s popularity is as much about his message as it is about the medium. The superhero genre isn’t big in Brazil, and seeing a native avenger taking on very Brazilian issues has resonated well with young people here in this country of nearly 200 million. “I think the mixture of art and politics in an unjust country like ours is fundamental,” says Cunha. “I like to say that my character would have no purpose if he were in Denmark or Iceland.”

Since the only thing Scandinavian about Brazil is the taxes, it looks like Cunha’s antihero still has plenty of work cut out for him.