New Comic, Zorro: Swords of Hell (part I of IV) — Review
Zorro turns 100 years-old in 2019.
The masked man in black is older than Wonder Woman (a spry 78 years-old); older than Batman (he’s 80); Superman (81), and even older than The Shadow (89 years-old). Zorro, the Spanish word for “fox,” has been fighting corrupt governors and politicians in Old Alta California for a century. But Westerns are sorta played out these days, according to Mike Wolfer, writer of an upcoming Zorro storyline:
“Zorro was one the earliest American literary heroes, created during the time when Westerns were enjoying immense popularity, but with each passing decade, we’re farther and farther away from the age when Western themes, and the mystique of the ‘wild west,’ were still within living memory of many readers.”
Many readers, in short, don’t get excited about “The West” anymore. In the 1990s, under writer Don McGregor and artist Mike Mayhew, Zorro’s nemeses took on a more comic-book edge to attract younger readers. There was Moonstalker, a aggrieved Native American bent on revenge; there was Buck Wylde, a friggin’ crazy racist buckskin wearing trapper; and then there was the alluring but, for Zorro, of course, dangerously so, Lady Rawhide — dressed, we might add, as if Annie Oakley shopped at Frederick’s of Hollywood. Zorro even fought the original nighttime skulker himself — Drah-cu-lah — in a two-part series wherein Zorro just can’t understand why the Count has so much game with Zorro’s lady! Luckily, for Zorro, a bit of the real Crown of Thorns was at hand for a makeshift weapon against the bloodsucker par excellence.
It was a real good try, in other words. Zorro was trying to break out of the old, dusty well-worn Western tropes he was born into. But maybe it wasn’t enough.
How do you tell new stories about Zorro, the fox, after 100 years?
Answer: Hordes, like actual hordes, of the undead.
“A century later,” says Mike Wolfer, “modern readers are a bit reluctant to embrace western themes, so basically, we’re appealing to more modern tastes by skewing our tales toward horror, and the fun aside is that we’re introducing the ‘Old West,’ its settings and themes to readers who have never seen it.”
Correction: Herds, like actual herds, of the undead.
To celebrate the original caped avenger’s 100th birthday, American Mythology Productions has released Zorro: Swords of Hell. It’s a four-part miniseries and the first issue is smartly written and gorgeously drawn and colored. The writer of the new series, David Avallone (Bettie Page, Elvira, Twilight Zone: The Shadow, Doc Savage), gives us a one-page setup and then: the aforesaid hordes of undead crawl out of the La Brea Tar pits looking for slaughter, and to slaughter in particular, Don Diego de la Vega, Zorro’s whimpy, primpy alter-ego.
But that one-page setup is classic. It’s a nod to Zorros of the past, but with a 21st-century gender sensibility. We find Don Diego fencing with his fiancee, Lolita. It’s a scene evocative of the Banderas/Zeta-Jones duel in the 1998 film The Mask of Zorro.
The opening scene in Zorro: Swords of Hell has the fire we expect in Zorro stories. It has the sexual tension mixed with challenge. It has the “You-can’t-bed-me-if-you-can’t-beat-me” sorta vibe. But, under Avallone’s direction — with great framing by Roy Allan Martinez — it’s not clear whom has bested whom. They emerge together, Diego and Lolita, as two badasses who have the steel and metal to face all human foes.
“Your wish,” so says Diego to Lolita while they fence, “was not so foolish that it could not come true. No man is more like Zorro than I.”
“The garb of Zorro,” replies Lolita, “well suited the romantic dreams of a girl…But this WOMAN happily takes Don Diego de la Vega to be her husband…without his mask.”
But, of course, human foes are not what they face.
Man and woman, evenly matched we learn, expect a wedding to shortly take place. (It’s a recurring theme in Zorro stories. Don Diego is always about to marry his love, but then..enter bad guys).
But, then, enter bad guys: the undead horde.
Virtuoso swordplay and derring-do just might not be enough this time, we find out. Not when faced with a unknown evil.
“I had not known,” says writer Avallone, “when I started the series that the great South American novelist Isabel Allende wrote a Zorro novel. When I pitched my story, which involves the deposed alcalde, the mayor of Los Angeles who Zorro defeats in the origin story, making a deal with a warlock, or should I say brujo, to make the dead rise out of the La Brea Tar Pits and conquer LA for him, I thought well what’s Zorro going to fight that with? It’s not the Walking Dead; he’s not going to cut all their heads off. You’ve gotta come up with a challenge that you can’t stab your way out of.”
And that’s the main challenge Zorro faces in Swords of Hell, part I. How do I fight these creatures, who look eerily reminiscent of 16th century Spanish Conquistadors? (They are drawn immaculately, these undead Conquistadors, by Roy Allan Martinez — Son of M, Immortal Iron Fist, She-Hulk. The coloring, by Emmanuel Ordaz Torres, is also spot on, from Lolita’s red dress to the shadowy menace of the creatures).
Zorro: Swords of Hell, part I comes with three alternate covers, a common practice these days. There’s the Demon Cover by S.L. Gallant; the Nostalgia Cover by Jon Pinto; even the Toth Ltd. Edition cover by none other than the Zorro-god himself — Alex Toth. There’s even a blank cover edition for the aspiring comic artist out there to add her own take on Swords of Hell.
You’re in for a real treat, in other words.
The reader, at the end of Zorro: Swords of Hell, part I is left without knowing the fate of our heroine, Lolita, nor whether Zorro will be able to figure out how to kill these undead enemies.
Zorro, at 100, is looking pretty good.
A review of Zorro: Swords of Hell, part II is coming soon…
For More: https://zorrosghost.com/
Stephen J.C. Andes is writing a book on the masked crusader, called…