For comics creators in search of a character with a pedigree, the masked Californian hero Zorro has long had a major allure. Created by Johnston McCulley in 1919 and immortalised on film by Douglas Fairbanks the following year, Dell Comics were publishing new sequential art adventures for the character as early as the late 1940s. Since then—thanks to publishers as varied as Gold Key, Marvel and Dynamite—some iteration of Zorro the comic character has seldom been out of print. With their special 52-page double feature of the stories “The Defeat of Destiny” and “Love Never Ends”, Silver Fox Comics become the latest in a long line of publishers to have depicted this legendary heroic icon.
This comic represents even more of a milestone given that it is Silver Fox’s very first release. The Sydney, Australia-based independent outfit have tasked writer Sorab Del Rio and artist Emerson Dimaya with the creation of the issue, which is completed by a cover courtesy of talented and experienced Manchester-based artist Aly Fell. The prospect of new Zorro stories created by a fledgling publisher and so attractively decorated by Fell’s exterior work is an enticing combination, and offers every encouragement to open the book up and take a look inside.
Many classic characters—whether created for comics or not—draw their continued vitality from the ease with which they can be transposed from one narrative environment to another. Take Iron Man, for example: Marvel’s technological hero has in recent years deftly moved with the geopolitical times, his rugged individualism directed once against communism and now acting as a bastion against high-tech corporate crime and 21st-century terrorism. Even staid Sherlock Holmes has in recent adaptations been confronted with steampunk conspiracies, shambling zombie hordes and the digitally interconnected world of today’s London. Zorro is different—the character is tied by his cape, mask, rapier and the very nature of his heroism to the Spanish colonial era of California. In seeking to present this storied legend with new challenges, then, Del Rio has not taken Zorro to a new world; he has taken a new world to Zorro.
Both of the stories rely significantly on supernatural elements. “The Defeat of Destiny” sees Zorro experiencing a trip to the spirit world to help him overcome a Japanese opium syndicate moving in on his turf. The samurai blade acquired from fallen enemy Ashikaga proves useful in direct sequel “Love Never Ends”, when Zorro must defeat the powerful Hernando, an undead husk returned to life by a native curse and driven to avenge himself on his widow before she can remarry.
Narratively, the stories are coherent enough, delivering a healthy quantity of swashbuckling action. Del Rio’s script, however, must be considered a serious drawback to the book. Dialogue is too often desperately stilted and lacking in emotion, and there are inconsistencies and logical lapses in many aspects of the writing. The main problem is arguably that the book is simply overwritten—one or two of the action scenes are genuinely damaged by Del Rio’s pathological desire to explain every detail to us, his boxes reading more like instructions to his artist than necessary additions to the actual storytelling.
These problems with the script are only as disappointing as they are, however, because the idea of the book is good and especially because Dimaya’s art is frequently superb. With a black-and-white style reminiscent of 2000AD’s Leigh Gallagher, Dimaya possesses a talent for depicting the brisk motion of Del Rio’s action sequences; the art in Zorro’s climactic confrontations with Ashikaga and Hernando are undoubtedly the highlight of the book. Silver Fox are a new publisher, but they must be criticised for their failure to undertake even a basic proofreading of the script; shortcomings in writing being the difference between the good product this is and the great one it had the potential to be. Only time will tell what path Silver Fox—and Zorro—will take from here.