RETRO REVIEW: Santo, El Enmascarado De Plata #1 (1976)

by

Or – “The True Test Of My High-School Spanish!”

Before the Major Spoilers Podcast, I had never met co-host Rodrigo (though, in truth, I have never “met” the man in person) but I often find it remarkable the things that we have in common.  During break in recording sessions, the Major Spoilers team engages in bull sessions on all topics and once in a while, the topic turns our mutual appreciation of the wild and wacky worlds of professional wrestling. (The “our” here doesn’t usually include Stephen, who is perfectly content not knowing the difference between a wrist lock and a wrist watch.)  Thus, when I came upon this battered issue in a stack of true detective mags in my local used bookstore, I knew that it was TIME…

For the thousands of regular Spoilerites…

And the millions who will stumble over this for the first time after searching for “Wonder Woman XXX”…

It’s for the first-ever Major Spoilers TAG TEAM RETROOOO REVIEEWWWWWW!

SANTO, EL ENMASCARADO DE PLATA #1
Autor: Jose G. Cruz
Realizo: Horacio Robles J.
Foto: Oliverio Robles J.
Letterer: Uncredited
Editor: Jose G. Cruz
Publisher: Editorial Icavi Ltda.
Cover Price: Seemingly 100 Bolivian Pesos
Current Near-Mint Pricing: It Cost Me 25 Cents.

Previously, in Santo, El Enmasacarado De Plata:  The grand tradition of Mexican wrestling contains a great many wild and colorful characters, with names like Blue Demon, Mil Mascaras, and The Flea.  But the largest of these larger than life warriors was the man known as the Silver-Masked Saint, EL SANTO!  Around the same time that America’s superheroes were first appearing in comic books, Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta first took up the mask that would make him a legend of the squared circle, stage, screen and even comics.  A living legend, Santo lived the lucha libre tradition of never removing his mask in public (save for one unusual instance shortly before he died), wearing it in all his appearances, all fifty-odd movies, and of course, defending it repeatedly in the ring.

As early as the 1950’s, Santo began making appearances in comic book form, though his adventures weren’t the traditionally hand-drawn pages that we usually check out in our Retro Reviews.  Instead, these Spanish-language comics about a Mexican wrestler published by a Columbian firm are best described to the American audience using an Italian term:  Fumetti.  (If you followed that sentence, congratulations.  You are truly a Faithful Spoilerite and a good sport, and you can be my friend.)  Written by Jose G. Cruz, Santo’s comics are most notable for two things:  First, they were continuously published for over THREE DECADES, a truly staggering feat even today.  And second, the photo-montage technique used (by 1976, anyway) a ringer…

The man on the left is Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta, the authentic Santo, while the bulkier fellow on the left is Hèctor Pliego, about whom I can find little information, though it seems he was a lesser-known luchadore.  I can’t find anything that indicates whether Pliego’s appearance in these comics was authorized by the real Santo, or whether these books were actually licensed by the man himself.  (One has to assume that he’d notice after a decade or two, though.)  Many Faithful Spoilerites will recall an opinion column not so long ago wherein Rodrigo complained at length about bad translations in pop culture, so I have engaged his assistance as a native speaker in reviewing the comic adventures of Santo, with this caveat:

From The Desk Of R. Lopez:
“Hey guys, the following translations were not made to be 100% word-for-word accurate, or to get a chuckle from linguistic differences.  My translation is to emphasize the pulpy and often campy nature of the comic, while still accurately conveying the action.”

Time to strap on your garish wrestling masks, Faithful Spoilerites (mine looks like this) and hide all the steel chairs, because we’re off!

Panel 1
Caption Box: We begin this new adventure as the chief of police calls the silver-masked man to show him something that has him quite worried…  For that reason, he takes Santo to the morgue.
Santo: “You still have not told me what this is about, chief…”
Panel 2
Chief:  “Look for yourself, Santo!”
Santo:  “That woman has had her chest ripped open!”
Panel 3
Chief:  “As though a beast had been devouring her!”

Santo:  “The curious thing is that the beast, or whatever it is, only extracted one organ from her body: Her heart!”

*Translator’s note: The chief and Santo refer to each other with the more formal “usted” rather than “tu”. This is common of people who don’t know each other well, but in this case likely denotes two professionals working together.

It should be noted that this issue, while #1, is the beginning of Volume Three of Santo’s adventures in superheroing.  As such, he is already an established super-duper and has the same relationship with the authorities as the Silver Age Batman: being called in as a consultant on a strange series of murders.  The fumetti technique is immediately visually interesting (I’m fascinated by the position of Santo’s feet in panel one), making the whole issue a surreal experience.  The creators did a great job in reframing the action from panel two to panel three (note the use of the same Santo figure) to give a cinematic comic book experience.  The chief shows Santo a second victim, showing the same signs as the first, and they have a VERY long conversation (nearly EIGHT pages) about the series of murders and how the police have drawn nearly no leads, other than that the victums lived in the same apartment complex.  Santo sets out into the night in the hopes of stopping the next murder…

Panel 1
Caption Box:  That night, the Silver-Masked Man heads toward the “Azteca” apartment complex, initiating his investigation to hunt down the murderous sociopath.
Panel 2
Santo:  “From here I can see who comes and goes from these buildings without being seen or drawing attention to myself…”

Oh, you didn’t know that Luchadores had jetpacks?  It’s actually how Rey Misterio used to pull of his entrance routine…  I’ve long made the connection that Santo is very much akin to Batman, in that his particulars change from venue to venue, depending on what the writer wants to do with him.  I don’t recall him ever using the jetpack in his movies, but in comics, it makes perfect sense (or at least as much sense as a jetpack ever makes.)  Santo stakes out the apartment until he overhears a woman telling the police that her daughter Elena is overdue from work.  Setting off for the girl’s workplace, Santo finds the doorman and engages in detective work worthy of Dick Grayson himself…

Panel 1
Man:  “I saw her get into a car that seemed to be waiting for her…”
Santo:  “Seemed to be waiting for her?”
Panel 2
Man:  “I mean that it looked like it was waiting for her because, when she left the building she went directly toward the car and got inside.”
Santo:  “Do you know who drove that vehicle?”
Panel 3
Man:  “I didn’t see anyone get off the automobile, Santo… Like I said, Elena got into the car and the vehicle took off immediately.”
Santo:  “Thank you for the information.”
Panel 4
Santo:  “We will talk at length some other time, see you later!”
Man:  “He takes off as though he had a jet motor on his back! No wonder they say that he is a fantastic being!”
*Translator’s note: Once again we see the more formal “Usted” here.  This time, though, it denotes a lack of familiarity.

 

I have to say, I’m impressed with how varied and interesting the photo-montages are in this book.  Given that it’s a WEEKLY title, one might expect them to fall back on the same shots over and over, but the creators again surprise me, as the conversation between Santo and the doorman of Elena’s office is both entertaining and skillfully done.  Panel Two is a VERY strong image of the confident hero, and I love the takeoff sequence in Panel Four, especially the doorman’s amazed response.  As an old-school comic book fan, I occasionally run into people who say that superheroes would look ridiculous in live action without leather or armor or some such, but Santo’s hero/wrestler garb looks perfectly natural here, even in the flying sequences…  Having gotten the information that he needs, the hero chases down the car that the doorman described, only to discover that young Elena has met a tragic end.

Panel 1
Caption Box: Seeing that the poor girl is beyond any help, Santo only thinks of capturing the murderer…
Panel 2
Caption Box:  Realizing that he is being followed, the driver of the vehicle where the crime was committed accelerates to top speed and enters a tunnel!
Panel 3
Santo:  “I will catch him on the other side, when he comes out from under this bridge!”
Panel 4
Caption Box:  But on the other side of the bridge, Santo doesn’t see the car come out.

Is it me, or is that a body a little bit gruesome for 70’s pop culture?  Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but you didn’t see too many dissected bodies on ‘The Love Boat.’  (Not before Ted McGinley came aboard, anyway…)  Too late to save this girl, The Silver-Masked Saint instead goes after her killer.  Finding the escape vehicle abandoned in a tunnel, Santo tracks the killer through a maintenance duct up through a manhole, and chases him through the city.  Amazingly, the creators even added a panel of the hero removing his jetpack before entering a lumberyard in pursuit of the slasher, an attention to detail that I honestly didn’t expect from this book.  The madman claims another victim (the guard at the lumberyard) before El Santo catches up to him…  or perhaps it’s the other way around?

Panel 1
Caption Box:  Suddenly tons of planks fall on Santo!
Panel 2
Caption Box:  Santo ends up half-buried by the planks…
Panel 3
Caption Box:  Before Santo can crawl out from under the planks a silhouette armed with a sharpened stick, like a spear, comes running toward him!
Panel 4
Caption Box:  Using a plank as a shield, Santo stops the improvised spear from running him through!

I have to wonder how many customized shoots the creators had to do for these books.  Do you think that Santo fought guys in lumberyards all the time?  (I can’t find any other issues to tell ya for sure, but it’s a pretty impressive sequence anyway.)  The combat sequences are impressive as heck, lacking the stiffness and “posed” aspect that you expect from a photo-montage.  Santo looks pretty natural, even while running after the villain, and when he literally falls victim to another trap…

Panel 1
Caption Box:  Suddenly a set of pulleys starts up at top speed… The previously cut band shakes and…
Panel 2
Caption Box:  …violently tosses Santo through the air with incredible force!
Panel 3
Caption Box:  Fortunately Santo falls on a large pile of sawdust, mitigating the hit.
Panel 4
Caption Box:  The criminal positions himself over the silver-masked man to stab him with the knife…

Y’know what’s really awesome about this comic?  You never have that moment where characters don’t look quite the same from panel to panel, as you do with traditional hand-drawn panels.  The slasher very nearly adds Santo to his list of victims, but the hero overpowers the murderer and sends his weapon flying.

Panel 1
Caption Box:  When the knife strikes the electrical terminals it causes a huge short circuit!
Panel 2
Caption Box:  The Sparks ignite the resin-covered sawdust!
Panel 3
Caption Box:  And while Santo is wrapped up in combat with the murderer, the fire takes violent and unusual proportions!
Panel 4
Caption Box:  The mysterious murderer escapes through the flames before Santo can grab onto him!

El Santo is left alone, surrounded by a blazing inferno, as the lumberyard turns into a funeral pyre for the man in the silver mask.  The assassin makes things worse by knocking over piles of planks and sealing off Santo’s only exits!  The evil faceless man laughs an evil laugh as he leaves El Santo to burn to death, but he has forgotten how resourceful the hero is.  (You don’t win THIRTY-FIVE luchas de apuestas by being a bag of hammers, Faithful Spoilerites.)

Panel 1
Caption Box: Suddenly Santo’s eyes fix on something against a column…
Santo:  “A fire extinguisher!
Panel 2
Santo:  “A very useful extinguisher for putting out a minor fire, flames that are only starting, but it won’t be any help in such a large conflagration!”
Panel 3
Santo:  “Still, it’s possible that it’ll be enough to open a narrow path through the flames before I’m incinerated… or the fire chokes me to death!
Panel 4
Caption Box:  Not until the next issue will we know if Santo can save himself or not! It will be a whole week of anguish and suspense for all of us!
Caption Box 2: CONTINUED!

Dun DUN DAAH!  Will El Santo survive? 

Well, I don’t want to spoiler anything, but this book goes for like another 300 issues, so I’m suspecting, that yes, yes he will.  Even so, it’s a pretty strong cliffhanger for the Silver-Masked Saint, and after 15-odd years of writing the book, Jose Cruz seems to have it down to a science, even putting in long conversations and exposition without entirely killing the momentum of the story.  The sight of Santo flying over the city (I’m not sure WHAT city, necessarily, as I couldn’t pick Mexico City out of a lineup) is worth the price of admission, and I really want to find more of these issues, as the art direction and the character blocking are pretty amazing and even a second banana Santo can’t torpedo this one.  Santo, El Enmascarado De Plata #1 is a fun book, an interesting look into the pop of another culture, and earns a very strong 4 out of 5 stars overall.  

Rating: ★★★★☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  Which contemporary real-life characters do you think would make for the best comic book adventures?  Stone Cold Steve Austin?  Bill Nye?  Simon Cowell?