Sunday, March 09, 2008

Zorro #1

Zorro #1, 2008, Dynamite Entertainment
writer/art director: Matt Wagner
artist: Francesco Francavilla
colorist: Adriano Lucas
letterer: Simon Bowland

Blogger's note: Entry for Saturday, March 8, 2008.

When I saw Neil Gaiman discuss Beowolf at last year's San Diego Comic Con, I remember his describing the film's sheer improbability. Though I don't recall his comments word for word, I vividly remember his pride and good humor when he explained that producers often joked, "Oh, yeah, my next film is Beowolf," as if the mere thought was enough to evoke mockery and disbelief. Indeed, while the task of translating the oldest known work of fiction was undoubtedly daunting, it surely (and obviously) wasn't impossible thanks to today's technological innovations in grandiose movie making. The project really just needed someone to utter that claim despite the doubt that followed, and Neil Gaiman was the man.

I'd imagine that comics also boast their own similar Beowolves, too. Just consider Zorro. Zorro actually predates the Golden Age of comics and can be co-credited (alongside the likes of Robin Hood, the Scarlet Pimpernel, and the Shadow) with establishing the masked crimefighter motif. His story has been interpreted by every form of media conceivable, from the printed page, to radio, to film, to various video games. (Zorro has even starred in a few niche stage productions, just like Superman and Spider-man.) In comics, Dell, Gold Key, Topps, and Marvel have all tried and unfortunately failed to present a timeless incarnation of old California's most beloved hero. Unlike the Supermen that have sprung from the page to master these multi-media facets, perhaps Zorro's legend is simply too big for the confinements of narrative sequential art.

Ah, thankfully, Dynamite Entertainment is willing to challenge that assertion and boldly reintroduce Zorro to a contemporary comic book audience! Interestingly, the key to this series' success isn't Zorro's iconic status, though his name alone will undoubtedly push a great deal of paper; rather, Dynamite's decision to earmark their loftier projects with big name "art directors" has proven itself an effective and successful marketing effort. For instance, Alex Ross is the art director for Dynamite's reincarnation of the Golden Age's forgotten, public domain stars of Project Superpowers, just as John Cassaday is the art director for The Lone Ranger (one of my favorite series of 2007). These artists are undeniable fan favorites, and consequently they ground these franchises' pasts with a fresh, continuity-free foundation in the present. Therefore, by giving Matt Wagner a sense of renewed ownership in Zorro's future, we fans of Wagner's share in that ownership and can move forward with him freely.

Further, if you're a Zorro novice like me, your only real exposure to the nearly 100-year-old character is the Antonio Banderas 1998 film The Mask of Zorro, which, while adventurous, is presumably a shallow representation of the hero at best. Fortunately, like Dynamite's Lone Ranger, Zorro #1 begins at, well, the beginning, telling the story of Diego de la Vega from two unique flashback perspectives: one from his faithful friend Bernardo's perspective when they were children, and the other much later from a corrupted, defeated soldier's view. In Bernardo's yarn, Diego learns the nature honor and dignity from his wealthy father, formerly of the king's guard, and he learns the essence of justice and spirituality from his mother, a Native American. The soldier's story allows the reader his only true glimpse at Zorro this entire issue, as the hero swiftly and ruthlessly thwarts the officials from intimidating an "uppity" sheep farmer. The two tales weave into an excellent first chapter, as a reader like me sees where Zorro's passion for justice begins, and how it reaches practical fruition. Of course, this revelation isn't over, which is half of the joy in watching it begin in the first place.

If Francesco Francavilla is really under the direction of Matt Wagner, both artists are in rare form in this issue, as neither buckle under the pressure previous incarnations of Zorro might've presented. Rather, they rise to the challenge, capturing an old west that boasts a seedy political underbelly and a rich spiritual vastness that both set the stage for the America we know well today. I knew I recognized Francavilla's art from somewhere, and a quick visit to his website reminded me of his work on Image's recent horror miniseries Sorrow, and while that title addresses dark spirituality through charcoal-like graytones, Francavilla's art thrives under Adriano Lucas' colors. The sequences featuring Diego and Bernardo are especially memorable, as the colors breathe a youthful exuberance that must've been prevalent in those open desert days. Essentially, all of this issue's visual elements come together and both contribute to the previous legends of Zorro and instantly make their own mark on the hero's longstanding tradition.

I only hope this incarnation lasts a little longer than Zorro's previous comic book adventures. While his brand is the last letter in the alphabet, Zorro was ironically one of the first to don a mask and fight crime. He deserves mainstream attention, and Dynamite is obviously willing and able to give it to him. Wagner and company have slashed their swords, and it's safe to say they've already left their mark!

1 comment:

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