I've been meaning to check out Matt Wagner's "Zorro" comic, but this is the first time I've gotten around to actually reading an issue. And it doesn't even have Zorro in it, not even for a panel.
It has stories about Zorro. Tall tales and legends about the mysterious highwayman and the trouble he's been causing. Honestly, it makes for a pretty good first issue. If you handed me the contents of this issue with an "Issue #1" tag pasted onto the front cover, I could have easily believed that this is where the story begins. It sets up General Mancado as the villain, it establishes the larger-than-life presence of a character known as "Zorro," or "The Fox," and it creates a strong sense of setting, both through the visuals and the omniscient narration.
What has happened during the first #14 issues that we're getting all this stuff in issue #15? I have no idea, but I don't feel the need to go back and read any of those to find out, even though this is a well-constructed story with great Francisco Francavilla artwork.
Let me take some time to highlight Francavilla's art. I understand that he left the series, and this is the issue in which he returns to provide the interiors. I don't know who's been filling in for him, but I suspect that his return is a welcome one. Other than this issue, the only other Zorro comics I've ever read are the ones drawn by Alex Toth, and even the curmudgeonly Toth would have had something kind to say about Francavilla's use of black, I'm sure. (Well, maybe not, but if I can't have Toth draw the Zorro comics I read, I'll gladly take Francavilla.) At times, Francavilla's characters can look a bit blocky, or a but under-rendered, but he deftly balances his pages, his panels, with bold blacks and vivid hints of delineation. He's of the Toth school -- and he seems to have a hint of Matt Wagner in some panels as well -- and when he goes off into the legends of the demonic Zorro, his illustrations become even more refined.
Francavilla is the perfect choice for this character and this mileu.
But there's a problem with this issue, and the problem is that this is a story we've seen before. Obviously, as a Zorro story it will be somewhat familiar, but it's not just the typical Zorro tropes that make this a retread. (And remember, Zorro doesn't even appear in the issue, except in the stories people tell.)
What makes it a retread is that it's the same story as "Have I Got a Story for You" from the "Batman: Gotham Knight" DVD, which is a remake of "Legends of the Dark Knight" from "Batman: The Animated Series," which was based on a story called "The Batman Nobody Knows" by Frank Robbins and Dick Giordano. Sure, all those were about Batman, but the structure is the same. A small group recalls the appearance of a masked vigilante and each person telling the story describes the masked man differently -- more humane in one story, more supernatural in the next, etc.
Of course, all those Batman stories are just a superhero variation of the Indian tale of the "Blind Men and the Elephant" -- you know the one, about the parts not describing the whole?
I guess you could call "Zorro" #15 a tribute to those stories, but it doesn't add much of a twist to any of them. All it does is add a gag where a guy named after one of Spain's greatest authors -- Arturo Perez-Reverte, author of the Zorro-inspired "Captain Alatriste" series -- is sentenced to death.
I liked how this issue began, and it felt like a good place to dive into the series. I just wish that the story for this one issue had been something I hadn't yet seen before.