As the leading Hispanic voice in science fiction, I realized there was a small hole in my pop culture knowledge in that of the character Zorro.
Zorro was created in 1919 by Johnston McCulley, with the short novel, The Curse of Capistrano, which ran in the magazine All-Star Weekly. The story was soon adapted to film, and the mad success of the movie made Johnston write a lot more stories (he wrote 5 serialized novels and 57 shorts in all). The first novel is very self-contained, and also ends with Zorro unmasking and revealing himself to everyone, as well as his betrothal to a woman Lolita, not leaving much room at all for the character to exist. McCulley simply ignored any continuity and wrote Zorro pretty much as if the first book never happened from there out.
The story is about a man who dresses up as a vigilante and rescues Californians from a corrupt government in the early to mid 1800s. McCulley doesn’t pay much attention to actual history either, but creates a California suitable to his ideas.
But despite several popular movies and serials, Zorro didn’t enter the comic medium until 1958, when the Disney show reenergized the character. it was the same year McCulley died, incidentally, when Dell launched its line based on the show with the Bernardo and the fat Sergeant Garcia as hallmark characters, Disney adding a lot to the Mythos.
The first Zorro comic run came out through Dell, and is comprised of many short one-off adventures that range anywhere from 8 pages up to 32. It’s most notable for several issues drawn by famous artist Alex Toth, who added a beautiful signature touch to the work. The series ran for 15 issues total over three years and is currently collected in 2 volume: The Complete Dell Pre-Code Comics and The Complete Alex Toth by Hermes Press. Overall, these are fantastic comics, and well worth the read. I believe some of these are adaptations of Disney episodes, but I’ve been unable to source the Disney episodes of the show to confirm.
Those books were later reprinted by Gold Key in its own series lasting 8 issues, which marked all there were of “official” Zorro comics until much later.
Zorro returned in 1991 from Marvel Comics in a series that lasted 11 issues. These stories were just adaptations of a new TV show on the air. The stories come across rushed with some poor art and very poor pacing through most of them. They’ve not been collected or reprinted.
In 1993, Topps launched its line of Zorro comics which lasted 12 issues (plus a 0). It actually began in a miniseries called Zorro vs. Dracula, a 2 issue warm up to the series. MacGregor developed a rogues gallery for Zorro to make him more like modern superheroes featuring Moonstalker, Machete and most famously, Lady Rawhide. This series has some internal continuity as it develops, and Don MaGregor and Mike Mayhew paint a wonderful scene which gets borrowed from in later Zorro runs. It abruptly gets cut off, promising more story called “Matanzas” — which gets made into an IDW standalone graphic novel many years later that is edited to stand alone, but picks up very nicely where this comic left off and does seem to maintain some internal continuity there. Lady Rawhide also received her own Zorro spinoff from Image Comics a couple of years later that went 5 issues.
Once Topps went bankrupt, the next Zorro book became the adaptation of the Antonio Banderas film of the character, a miniseries also by Don MacGregor.
MacGregor did a ton with the character, working on daily gag strips at the time which lasted for 2 years. The first of these years is collected by Image in “The Dailies” but the second are not reprinted anywhere to date.
In 2003, the Children’s book publisher Papercutz took the Zorro Franchise and decided to make 3 issue arcs for small graphic novels of the character. These continued where MacGregor’s Dailies left off with Zorro and a female companion on the run and in Yellowstone, out of California for the time. These MacGregor stories don’t have the feel of the topps ones at all, and are definitely meant for a younger age. They still have MacGregor’s expertise. 6 issues were printed which cover the first two graphic novels, when Papercutz gave up on the individual issues, but made a 3rd graphic novel volume that’s available. A fourth was promised/listed for sale in 2006 but I’m unsure if it was ever released.
IDW received the license in 2008, making several Zorro series, the most lengthy runs of the character to date. Matanzas was already mentioned which took MacGregor’s old work with Mahew, but Topps made their own continuity in their own series after that, a book lasting 20 issues. It was followed up by an 8-issue “Zorro Rides Again” series and two other books: Django/Zorro and The Lone Ranger/Zorro, the latter of which features an elder Zorro going to his death. IDW really pushed the character and continuity much further than before. They took Lady Rawhide and changed her to “Lady Zorro”, who also received her own miniseries. The books are very consistent in quality and while Topps may have the most well known run, these give those a run for its money.
The character rested for a few years an the license just changed to American Mythology, a small publishing company. This year they’ve taken french language comics and translated them to english in a miniseries Zorro Legendary Adventures (4 issues) and also launched Zorro, Swords of Hell which the first issues is coming out this month — taking the character in a direction of fighting the supernatural. And this brings us up to date, as they seem to be relaunching and redoing the character in a different vein than we’ve seen in the last 20 years. We’ll see how it goes.
It’s been a lot of reading, but most of it (aside from the marvel run) was very fun and worthwhile. The character still has a lot of room for expansion as there’s been no real definitive versions outside of Disney’s 1958 show. We’ll see what the future holds but if you’re interested in Zorro comics and collecting, this can act as a guide for what’s out there!
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