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Pulp Corner: Zorro – Volume 1: Year One – Trail Of The Fox

Zorro always seemed to be one of those characters that just existed. As long as I could remember he was a part of my pop culture subconscious yet I can’t recall ever watching or reading a single thing with him in it. When I finally decided to investigate it was with the popular 1940 The Mark Of Zorro movie with Tyrone Power, while a fine film it started with Don Diego Vega as an adult donning the costume and his first night out as Zorro. What happened prior to this? Looking for more answers I ordered a trade with author Matt Wagner’s first 8 issues of Zorro for Dynamite Entertainment, dubbed Year One: Trail Of The Fox.

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The title Year One no doubt pays homage to the classic Frank Miller Batman story of the same name reinventing the Caped Crusader in a modern retelling of his origins. Taking what worked throughout the years and jettisoning what didn’t in Batman’s lengthy history Miller was able to distill and simplify the mythos. This is essentially what Wagner does here, using Isabel Allende’s 2005 Zorro novel as his template.

Zorro’s year one focuses on both his upbringing and also his first weeks appearing as the masked vigilante fighting societal corruption and echoing the events of the movie, The Mark Of Zorro. Here the story is told from the point of view of Diego de la Vega’s closest friend Bernardo the son of Diego’s mother’s nurse. The boys close friendship helps to really lend a richness and warmth to the tale.

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Almost all of this was new to me and was fascinating to read and piece together. Diego himself was born of an interesting mix of Spanish nobility as well as Californian native tribesmen. As a young boy on the threshold of manhood his mom took him back to her tribe to allow him to go on a spirit quest where he saw his spirit guide, a fox who saves Diego’s life.  Later on as a sign of respect he chooses the name El Zorro for himself. (Full disclosure, I had no idea that Zorro meant fox in Spanish until I read this, resulting in feelings of immense stupidity).

After Diego’s mothers death at the hands of marauders his dad can’t bear to look at him anymore (it only reminds him of her) and at 15 is sent to Spain with Bernardo to get a proper education and to study fencing. It’s here that Diego’s moral compass while already established becomes more finely tuned. His fencing instructor observes this and introduces him to the secret organization known as La Justicia whose seek to end injustice. This is where Zorro is born.

His costume is also given an explanation fusing the look of La Justicia’s members as well as a chance encounter with Pirates who overtake his ship. A great scene follows where Diego points out the impracticality of a cloak to which he is refuted proving that its many flaps and folds help to mislead enemies on where they are actually striking on your body.

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There’s really a whole lot left that could be discussed, but who am I to spoil anymore of this for you? In fact, I wouldn’t dare. It’s a really fun and captivating read, full of interesting ideas and notions that make up one of pulp literature’s earliest creations. It’s a swashbuckling adventure, with romance and a lot of heart. Wagner nails it, hitting all the beats just right and delivering a story that is well paced.

The art is handled here by Francesco Francavilla early in his career. I was taken aback when I first looked at it because it’s quite different from the style he would become eventually be known for, yet it fits the story very well. Working with a full real world style color palette here he is able to translate 1800’s California and Spain evocatively. By the end of the series you can start to see hints of what his work would eventually evolve into.

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It’s hard not to think of Batman as you read this storyline, the underground secret cave, the costume, the playboy personality of his alter ego, the appearing and disappearing like a ghost. The list goes on and on but most importantly is the symbol of the vigilante hero being more powerful than the man. It’s the idea of Zorro that scares most of his enemies not necessarily him as a person. This is a big part of what makes Batman such a powerful entity across Gotham. Interestingly in the back of the trade, Wagner himself offered up some sketches for Zorro’s costume design and noted that he purposely made modifications to it to resemble both Batman and The Shadow, two characters he directly inspired.

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For fans of the Bat I highly recommend taking a look at this if you want to see the roots of that character. For anyone else sorely missing adventure in their life or who have ever been curious about Zorro in any capacity, this is the place to start.

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About Biff Tannen

Film Noir, Pulp, Comic Books and Hitchcock.

Posted on October 8, 2014, in COMICS!, Features, Pulp Corner, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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