Or – “Guy Williams Would Be Proud, I Should Think…”


Strangely enough, as an adult comic book fan, I didn’t really get into them as a kid.  I have vague memories of my cousin Donnie’s Spectacular Spider-Man, Star Wars, and Shogun Warriors comics (indeed, Shogun Warriors #1 was the first comic I ever bought, though at the time it didn’t do much for me) having not gotten into comics until about age 11.  But I have vivid memories of my Grandmother’s hardcover collections of Disney stories, including one explaining the origins of Don Diego de la Vega, the mysterious caped avenger of the old west.  I remember so much about that book (and, oddly enough, 101 Dalmatians) that I have a soft spot for any revamp of the big ‘Z.’  Some have been impressive (Topps late ’90’s run, for one) while others…  not so much (Marvel’s run circa 1990 left me cold.)  Now, Dynamite Entertainment (currently fighting with IDW for the crown of “Most Comic Adaptations Per Month”) is taking another run at the Fox…  Wondering how it’s gonna go?

ZorroC.jpgPreviously, on Zorro:  The year was 1919.  The pulp magazines ruled the racks, with the actual advent of the superhero still two decades away, a man named Johnston McCulley masterminded the adventures of a rich nobleman in fin de ciecle California who took up sword and mask to fight crime and corruption.  Obviously influenced by the earlier Scarlet Pimpernel, el Zorro swung across the rooftops of Los Angeles (though said rooftops were about twelve feet tall in them days) and though his exploits had little root in the real history of California, he has managed to hang on in the popular culture for nearly a decade.  Odds are relatively strong that Batman as we know him would not exist were it not for Zorro’s earlier inspiration…  In any case, most of what you need to know is encapsulated in this quotation from the 1950’s TV version of Zorro:  “I have no quarrel with history, but I am often appalled by the people who make it.”

This issue kicks off with a group of Spanish soldiers carousing and laughing in a tavern, mocking their recent disfiguration of a local rabble-rouser.  “It’s hard to voice such complaints,” laughs one of the soldados, “without a tongue…  I can’t understand a word that he says.”  Suddenly, the door bursts open and one of their own staggers in, bloody and rumpled, muttering about something that just happened, something that hit them like lightning.  He was going, as ordered, to burn down the home of a local sheepherder, when he and his men were struck.  The captain is confused, asking if the peasants resisted, but he shakes his head no.  “It was a DEMON that faced us this night.  A devil from hell, I tell you!”  The dialogue makes for drama, but unfortunately, weaknesses in the pencilling undermine the storytelling.

 We immediately cut to a flashback of young Diego, as the narrator explains that his job is to explain how a legend began.  His name is Bernardo, and years ago he and young Diego were forced to watch a local girl being beaten because her father couldn’t pay the unreasonably high taxes.  The men laugh, entertained at their cleverness, knowing that beating the child will torture the father as badly as his own flogging, but still leave him able to work the fields and make the money to pay them.  Young Diego forces himself to stand and watch the whole sordid scene, then returns home where his father explains that sometimes good men cannot stop evil, but that they must always maintain their honor, their dignity, that they may better act when they can.  “Strive to embody these ideals, and, someday, the world will become a better place.”  Again, the strength of the scripting is really let down by the pencilling (although the colors are fantastic.)  Back in the future (which is really our past) the soldier tells of their attack, a nocturnal beast that moves as lightning, and laughed as it attacked them. 

Flashing back again, we learn of Diego’s mother, once called Toypurnia of a local Amerindian tribe.  A fierce warrior and leader herself, Regina de la Vega prepares her young son for a vision quest in the old ways of her tribe, wandering in the forests alone until he discovered his own adulthood.  After a few days, he begins to feel something following him, but finds only a pure black horse…  Days later, the tribe collects him, and Diego tells of how he travelled alone, but never found the Great Spirit, only a small fox who repeatedly approached his fire each night.  A near-fatal rattlesnake bite left him delirious, but his grandmother reveals to a dejected Diego that the fox saved him, revealing itself to be his totem.  (And what’s the spanish word for fox, you say?)  The final flash-forward, and the surviving soldier explains that the figure told the soldiers to turn away, and save their lives… but no one listened.  The all fought, to a man, and they all died, save him.  “The phantom… he granted me mercy… He let me live…  but I will long bear the shame and the scars of his mark!”  Holding up his hand, we see the telltale “Z” carved into his flesh…

It’s a goosebump-inducing moment for me, bringing the sanitized, cut-through-their-shirts-with-no-blood Zorro of the 50’s into the present with a quickness.  But once again, the lack of detail in the art really detracts from what could have been a great moment.  Writer Matt Wagner is (in my opinion, anyway) a master of the form, taking bits and pieces of Zorro from his various media, tying in a (slightly) more realistic take on hacienda life and the mostly new bits about Diego’s mother.  I’m torn at this point about the series, with my enjoyment of Wagner and Zorro undermined quite a bit by the lackluster art of Francesco Francavilla.    The various covers being handled by brilliant artists like John Cassaday (and Wagner himself) leaves me annoyed, feeling like a bait and switch routine drew me in.  With a new book like this, I usually give a 6 issue window to really get rolling, and the STORY portion of Zorro #1 is top-notch…  Balancing out, the new incarnation of Zorro earns 2.5 out of 5 stars.  If Francavilla can give me something more impressive (or if Dynamite gets another artist) this series could easily be the best Zorro comic book in his long and storied history…



About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.

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