The King is Dead

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Adios, Zorro!

“Zorro Rides Again!” # 12, the last issue of Matt Wagner's run writing Zorro comics for Dynamite Entertainment, came out last week.  I didn’t pick it up from Dragon’s Lair until this week because I was dreading both the end of new adventures of one of my all-time favorite characters and a rushed and dissatisfying conclusion.  Unfortunately, I got exactly what I was expecting.

This latest series of Zorro comics began in June 2008 with a loose adaptation of Isabel Allende’s 2005 novel Zorro by Wagner and artist Francesco Francavilla.  While I definitely appreciate Allende’s novel, I feel Wagner’s adaptation is an improvement; it shifts the function of narrator to Bernardo, removes Allende’s lightly mocking tone, and functions better as a first adventure for an ongoing hero.  (It was also a huge success in introducing Francavilla to a wider audience; those unfortunate fans of all things cool who are not familiar with Francavilla’s gritty, retro style should make their way to his blog and official website posthaste.)  The series was off to a very good start.

The series then began an extended reworking of The Curse of Capistrano.  Francavilla had to leave the series due to other commitments, though he continued to provide covers and would return for later issues (including my favorite, issue # 18 -- a “Rashomon”-like issue where people tell stories of different versions of whom they think is Zorro).  Wagner was then tapped by Dynamite to write “The Green Hornet: Year One” to cash in on the Green Hornet’s increased profile leading up to the Seth Rogen movie.  Dynamite’s “Zorro” was placed on hiatus. 

During the hiatus, Dynamite published several “lost issues” of the 1990s Topps Comics Zorro series as “Zorro: Matanzas.”  I, frankly, completely ignored the Topps comics when they originally came out as they seemed kind of silly; Zorro was constantly fighting the near-naked Lady Rawhide or some other costumed weirdo instead of the familiar corrupt officials.  This mini-series showed me that Topps’ writer, Don MacGregor, was actually pretty clever -- if a little bipolar.  In the same story where Diego jokes about people thinking he’s gay and the villain is the one-handed Old California equivalent of a James Bond villain, Don Alejandro is gored to death by a wild bull!  Weird, but now that there’s no Zorro solo comics scheduled for the near future I think I’ll try to track down that Topps series (and the Lady Rawhide tie-ins too).

This odd little interlude seemed to be partial inspiration for Wagner’s approach when he returned to the character.  “Zorro Rides Again” debuted in 2011 with the shocking completion of Wagner’s version of The Curse of Capistrano – the death of Don Alejandro, Zorro’s father at the hands of Enrique Pasquale (Basil Rathbone’s character in the 1940 film)!  Wagner then followed MacGregor’s lead by transforming long-time foe Sgt. Pedro Gonzales (the meaner original of the beloved Sgt. Garcia) into the scarred, crazy El Galgo (the Hound – get it?) and introducing the deadly copycat vigilante Lady Zorro.  The last issue was a three-way duel between them that ended with Zorro saving El Galgo and talking Lady Zorro into giving up her murderous ways.  It seemed really rushed.  

(I almost forgot "The Lone Ranger: The Death of Zorro" -- probably because it's more about the Lone Ranger than Zorro.  I liked it despite the dumbass death Zorro gets, because Ande Parks writes a great Lone Ranger; he even remembered the masked man is a master of disguise.)    
Wagner’s Zorro stories have been one of the few highlights of my waning comics fandom these last few years.  They haven’t been perfect but they’ve satisfied my itch for masked heroes during a time when I have given up on DC and Marvel (and often contemplated giving up comics altogether).  I’m sad to see the series end in such an abrupt fashion.

Thankfully, there's more Zorro comics on the way.  I've already mentioned on this blog the upcoming Dynamite miniseries "Masks" which promises to unite Zorro and his spiritual descendants the Shadow, the Green Hornet, the Black Bat, and others in one big pulp-hero corossover.  Zorro is featured prominently on the covers of the first and second issues so I think he'll be more important to the story than I originally hoped.  January of 2013 sees the publication of Alex Toth's Zorro: The Complete Dell Comics Adventures, a 240-page hardback collecting the work of the creator of Space Ghost and the man many consider the definitive Zorro artist.  I can't wait.

The Good

The Bad
  • Zorro without a moustache just looks weird to me.  I get the idea – “Surely a man who has a moustache in his daily life could not possibly be the clean-shaven mystery man?!” – but it looks weird to me.  The first Zorro film to feature a clean-shaven Zorro was 1972’s “The Erotic Adventures of Zorro.”  Seriously, people; the moustache is less porny!
  • I really don’t get the point of killing off Don Alejandro.  From a functional standpoint, it just seems like it would make it next to impossible for Don Diego to continue as Zorro.  He’d be too busy running the rancho, getting married, raising kids, hosting balls, etc...  Having Don Alejandro around allows Zorro to avoid the responsibilities of life, just like having Lucius Fox run Wayne Enterprises.

The Ugly
  • I appreciate the progressive ideals behind recasting Zorro as a genuine Hispanic – a union of European and Native American blood.  Honestly, I get it; it makes him one of the people and a genuinely American hero.  Unfortunately, the historical fact is that the Mexican (not Spanish) rancho owners were very proud of their pure European, Spanish blood.  If Don Diego’s mother was a Native American, he would have been a pariah and his skin tone would have given away his identity immediately.
  • Batman owes a bigger debt to Zorro than most people think  -- including Allende and Wagner!  I have to admit I didn’t read Johnston McCulley’s original Zorro novel, The Curse of Capistrano AKA The Mark of Zorro, until last year.  In most versions of the Zorro story, the cocky young Diego (de la) Vega returns from Spain to find corruption and oppression in his native land and is inspired on the spot to cook up his famous alter-ego.  Allende’s novel and Wagner’s adaptation are essentially extended justifications for Diego’s seemingly sudden transformation.  Guess what?  In McCulley’s original story, Diego witnesses the oppression around him when he is fifteen and spends the next ten years secretly training to become Zorro!  There was no “secret origin” needed in the first place – except maybe for when a fox flew through his window.
    "It began ten years ago, when I was but a lad of fifteen," he said. "I heard tales of persecution. I saw my friends, the frailes, annoyed and robbed. I saw soldiers beat an old native who was my friend. And then I determined to play this game.
    "It would be a difficult game to play, I knew. So I pretended to have small interest in life, so that men never would connect my name with that of the highwayman I expected to become. In secret, I practiced horsemanship and learned how to handle a blade "
    from The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley

    JOESKYTAX

    Sergeant Pedro Gonzales for Pirates of the Spanish Main RPG
    Gonzales sprawled closer to the fire and cared not that other men thus were robbed of some of its warmth.  Sergeant Pedro Gonzales often had expressed his belief that a man should look out for his own comfort before considering others; and being of great size and strength, and having much skill with the blade, he
    found few who had the courage to declare that they believed otherwise.
    from The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley 

    Pedro Gonzales is a bully.  He is loud and crass and throws around his considerable weight -- and yet he somehow counts the effete Don Diego Vega as a friend.  Certainly there are worse representatives of authority in the Pueblo de Los Angeles -- he is not as corrupt as Captain Ramon or the alcalde -- but the average peon is best off not crossing Pedro the Boaster.

    Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d10, Vigor d10
    Skills: Fighting d10, Guts d8, Intimidation d8, Notice d6, Riding d8, Shooting d8, Stealth d6
    Charisma: -2  Pace:Parry:Toughness: 8
    Fame: -10
    Hindrances: Arrogant, Loyal, Mean
    Edges: Block, Brawny, Combat Reflexes, Command
    Booty: Loot
    Gear: Lance (Str+d8, AP 2 when charging, Reach 2, onlu usable in mounted combat), musket (Range: 10/20/40, Damage 2d8), rapier (Str+d4, +1 Parry), shot and powder (20) 
    Quote: "Meal mush and goat's milk!" (favorite curse)
    Douglas Fairbanks as Diego Vega and Noah Beery as Sgt. Gonzales in "The Mark of Zorro" (1920)

4 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! I've meant to do an article on Dynamite's Zorro books for a bit, but once I found the title was ending I figured I should just wait and do a retrospective. Glad you enjoyed it!

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  2. I have a 'swashbuckling comics' post in the hopper, with mention of the some of the great French and Belgian titles.

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    Replies
    1. I look forward to it! I've always admired Francophone comics but have never gotten into much beyond Asterix.

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