In 1919, author Johnston McCulley had his masked avenger Zorro ride against corruption and greed for the first time in American pulp magazines. Since then, the hero with cloak and sword has been adapted often and in many media – from the 1940s also in comics. Now French artist Pierre Alary sets the origin story of the advocate for justice in “Don Vega” (Translation Anne Bergen, Splitter-Verlag, 96 p., 19.80 €) new around.
In 1848, Don Vega, who attended the military academy in Madrid, received a letter from his overseas home in California. He is told that his parents died in an alleged accident and that the ruthless General Gomez has seized the lands for himself – just as Gomez and his men gradually took over the entire area on the US-Mexico border.
So Don Vega returns home to take revenge. Soon the legend of Zorro gives the downtrodden people new hope, although in some cases they have to pay dearly for it…
In 1987, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli anchored the extensive, sophisticated reinterpretation of a hero’s origin story in “Batman: The First Year” as a narrative concept in comics that is still used today. It seems only fitting that the beginnings of Zoro, who inspired Gotham’s Bat Knights, are also revisited from time to time.
Part of the “First Year” approach is that the hero isn’t seen in his typical, iconic outfit as often as one might expect, and that great emphasis is placed on the context of his baptism of fire.
A fiction that has always existed
Author Pierre Alary even goes so far as to blur the lines between origin, prequel and sequel with somewhat exaggerated complexity. In this way he achieves that the saga, which has already been implemented in so many versions, seems like a cycle that has always existed in Zorro’s own fiction – a real mythology.
Narratively, this is not completely convincing. However, the drawings make up for it. Alary has previously shone as an artist for the SinBad and Belladonna series and as the artist of a terrific re-imagining of the Conan classic The Queen of the Black Shores.
In his Zorro visualization, Alary scaled back the cartoon look a bit and opted for a clearer line. He even provided the shadows in the panels with an elaborate analog grid, which is more familiar from manga.
Zoro’s beginnings, revenge, and eventual return aren’t perfect, but they’re made interesting and appealing enough on many levels.