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Unmasking Dynamite’s “Zorro” with Matt Wagner

by  in Comic News Comment
Unmasking Dynamite’s “Zorro” with Matt Wagner
“Zorro” #1 cover by Matt Wagner, on sale February 2008

Due in large part to the success of its Eisner Award-nominated "Lone Ranger" ongoing series, Dynamite Entertainment will build upon its growing pulp fiction line with the launch of "Zorro" in February, 2008.

In an interview with series writer and cover artist Matt Wagner ("Grendel," "Mage"), CBR News learned the first arc of the ongoing will include a redefinition of Zorro’s origin and will be titled, "Trail of the Fox."  

"The first arc is, indeed, Zorro’s origin tale, beginning in his early youth, in fact," confirmed Wagner, who is joined on the series by artist Francesco Francavilla. "Yet it’s also balanced with the story of his first appearances while operating under the mask. The narrative bops back and forth between the two time periods, present day and slightly in the past."

When asked if his "redefinition" of Diego de la Vega will feature some classic villains from Zorro’s nearly 80-year history, Wagner said, "Yes, of course," and revealed the first arc’s title. "Introducing classic villains has been a unique challenge to this series, as well.  Unlike a Zorro film, wherein he has to best his villains all in the space of two hours and restore peace and prosperity throughout the land, our version of the character is part of an ongoing comic book series. We can’t have everything neatly wrapped up at the end of the first storyline because then who does he got left to fight in the next arc?

"In fact, this initial story, which, I’ll reveal here for the first time, is titled "Trail of the Fox," is very much just the opening salvo in a long-running battle between El Zorro and the forces of oppression. I will also say that I like my bad guys to be really bad.  I know modern audiences dig that as well.  So don’t go looking for a typically fat and bumbling Sgt. Garcia herein. 

"In fact, I opted to treat that character much more as he is featured in the original novel, where his name is actually Gonzales and he is a rough and brutal thug."

Zorro was originally created in 1919 by pulp writer Johnston McCulley, and made his first appearance in the novel "The Curse of Capistrano," serialized in the pulp magazine "All-Story Weekly."

Wagner says he has loved Zorro ever since he can remember. "I mean, he’s the absolute precursor of almost every superhero scenario that’s followed his initial appearance way back in 1919, most specifically Batman," explained Wagner, who has created a number of Batbooks over the years for DC Comics. "Just take a look at the Zorro mythos. His alter-ego is a seemingly spoiled and laconic aristocrat, he wears a black cloak and a mask for his vigilante crusade, he’s got a cavern beneath his mansion that operates as his hideout, he’s got a faithful man-servant who knows his secret identity, he’s got an iconic symbol that acts as his calling card, and he’s got a black, super-swift and powerful method of transportation!  Now, that’s about as back-to-basics as it comes for this sort of storyline.

“Zorro” #1 cover by Mike Mayhew

"Additionally, Zorro’s got an egalitarian ideal that really appeals to me," continued Wagner. "He’s not only fighting for justice, he’s fighting for equality and, considering the state of the world today, I think that sort of principled ethos is particularly significant to our contemporary times."

In order to update Zorro for today’s comic book readers; Wagner simply went back to the basics. "I want to bring the character back to his pulp roots and to downplay the inherent silliness that’s been a part of the character ever since his first incarnation onscreen," said Wagner. "Now while I love the original ‘Mark of Zorro’ film starring Douglas Fairbanks, that’s the original source of the whole ‘gay caballero’ schtick that finally found its ultimate extreme in ‘Zorro, The Gay Blade.’

"There’s really not much of that aspect to be found in the original novel by Johnston McCulley, the character’s creator.  Although my version of Diego de la Vega does have a certain undeniable joie de vive, he’s not exactly the happy-go-lucky prankster you find in most other versions of Zorro. He’s on a serious mission to uproot the existing and corrupt political power structure and he’s facing overwhelming odds in doing so. Now, by no means is this ‘Dark Zorro’ but it is a more serious look at the character.

"There’s real consequence to his actions and real losses to be sustained by putting his life on the line like he does," Wagner continued. "And he does operate in the nighttime.  That’s why he’s dressed all in black, to hide himself.  As much as I love the Zorro movies, almost all of them feature him dashing about in broad daylight fairly often.  Who in their right mind would dress in head-to-toe in black to go adventuring in the midst of the blazing Southern California sun?"

In seeking specifics in terms of what Wagner would keep and what he would throw out in terms of nearly 80 years of Zorro continuity, the writer said it was all fair game, but thus far he is only picking the best of the best. "One of the greatest aspects of this character is his unbelievable longevity," explained Wagner. "Like I said, he first appeared in 1919. As a result, he’s

had so many different incarnations over the years that there’s a vast store of character, detail and plot points from which to choose.

"I’m kind of considering myself a distiller in this case.  I’m taking what I think are the best, most engaging and powerful elements of all the different variations to make my own special blend of Zorro."

While there is much to embrace and enjoy in terms of Zorro mythos, Wagner said none of the considered canon is required reader for newcomers to the character. "In fact, I tried to write this book as if readers had no former knowledge of the character," said Wagner. "Truthfully, almost everyone’s got some preconception of Zorro. I wanted this book to unfold as if the reader came to the story completely devoid of any such notions.  As if this were the first Zorro story they’d ever read."

“Zorro” #2 cover by Matt Wagner

That being said, Wagner did cite Isabel Allende’s 2005 novel "Zorro"as a good primer. "I was overjoyed when I found that the Allende novel was part of the considered canon from which I could draw my inspiration," said Wagner. "I had read the book when it was first published, like, in the first month it was on the stands, and loved so very much about it. Her story was so clever and so heartfelt on a thousand different levels. 

"That said, this is not a straight adaptation of that novel.  I’m freely and admittedly cherry-picking the elements from the novel that I liked the most and then weaving them into a comic book tale which, as we all know, is significantly different than a novel, not only in overall length but also in dynamics and pacing, as well.  The most obvious example of this is the fact that, in the novel, Zorro doesn’t really show up in costume until the final 40 pages or so. Well, that just doesn’t work for a comic book. I can’t make people wait until the final chapter of an eight-issue run to see our hero onstage. So, I’ve figured a way to work around that and part of that involves playing up the dark-and-cloaked-avenger-of-the-night aspect.  I think readers are really going to dig how Zorro makes his first appearance here."

When asked of his length of commitment to the Dynamite project, Wagner remarked, "I’m certainly having a load of fun and I certainly do have ideas for storylines beyond this first arc. When I gave my plot outline to my 17-year old son to read, he looked up at me about halfway through and said, ‘Dad, you definitely need to write more of these.’ So, I take that as a firm vote of approval."

Joining Wagner on the series is acclaimed Italian artist Francesco Francavilla ("24Seven") and variant cover artists John Cassaday ("Lone Ranger") and Mike Mayhew (with colorist Dean White).

Wagner says Francavilla is perfect for this book. "I’m totally thrilled to have Francesco on board," said Wagner. "Francesco’s art has old-school solidity with a thoroughly modern approach.  Plus, like me, he’s an absolute sucker for any and all things pulp.  In fact if you visit his website, you’ll find a free feature he posts on his blog every week called ‘Pulp Sunday.’ In it, he links the user to a posting of an old time radio of episode of ‘The Shadow’ and then provides a short synopsis as well as a way-cool spot illustration or two.  He does a new one every week. And, c’mon, Zorro’s influence on The Shadow is more than a little evident as well, yeah?

"Bottom line is, this cat really knows how to freakin’ draw. I think it’s going to be a tremendous collaboration."

Now discuss this story in CBR’s Indie Comics forum.

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