I flew to see my dad for the 4th of July (hi, sabian30!), and wore my Ozma of Oz shirt on the plane. The woman who had the seat next to me complimented my shirt, yay! Always fun to meet a fellow reader. She had her headphones in during the flight, so I didn’t want to disturb her, but when she removed them when we landed I asked her how long she gave a bad book before giving up on it. The book I brought on the plane ended up being TERRIBLE*, and I don’t know that I would have given it as long as I did if I hadn’t been trapped on a plane. I told her I’d have to find a new book for the flight home, and she pulled one out of her bag and gave it to me! She said she was quoted in the book, and the publisher had given her an extra, so she gave it to me! (She also said she gives up after 100 pages of badness. I admire the specificity of that.) So, that’s how this book came to me, and I have enjoyed it very much.
My stance on non-fiction is usually “eh, do I have to?” but this was well-researched, about an interesting subject, educational in a sometimes horrifying way, and written really personally, which I didn’t expect going in. Andes travels around Mexico and California, looking for the history of Zorro. How did this character come to be? Was he based on a real person? How cool is it that a diverse character laid the groundwork for the American superhero? Zorro is very much the proto-Batman, and white heroes owe a lot to Mexican culture, starting in 1918 with Zorro’s first appearance.
There was a ton I didn’t know about the history of Mexico and how manifest destiny destroyed lives and cultures all across the southwest. It reminded me a lot of how so many of us had never heard of the Tulsa massacre until Watchmen. A lot of terrible, racist nonsense happened (is still happening, sigh), and a bandit named Joaquin Murrieta started pushing back and catching people’s attention in the early 1800s. Much of Andes’ research is to support his theory that Murrieta was the original inspiration for the character who would become Zorro. However, when the legend was co-opted by a white writer for a largely white audience, the character morphed from a Mexican background to a more culturally “acceptable but still exotic” Spanish character. Then once Hollywood took over the story, Zorro was whitewashed even more by being portrayed by a variety of white actors. Each step along the path brings us one step closer to the birth of superheroes: the secret identity; fighting against injustice with a mask; trusty gadgets, steeds, and sidekicks; a love interest who spurns the real man because she’s in love with the hero, unaware that it’s the same person…it all sounds very familiar!
The writing is way more approachable than I expected in a non-fiction book, including this great line where Andes is talking about the complicated, problematic history of Johnston McCully, the writer who invented Zorro: “It’s also plausible the guy was just a huge SOB by inclination and temperament.”
So I learned about the history of Mexico, the history of Zorro, and the history of superheroes and comic books, and it was all delightful. Plus, I learned this excellent quote, which Andes cites: “The true sign of a geek is a delight in sharing a thing.” So thank you, Ms. Stranger on a Plane and Micro-Con panel moderator, for sharing this excellent bit of geekness!
*I’m not reviewing the bad one, since I didn’t finish it, but here are some passages I marked while rolling my eyes:
- “My ire boiled beneath my somewhat awkward grin.”
- “…the thick swell of complete silence.”
- Punctuation overload: “Schmuckler smiled broaden [sic], –a close secretive smile…like he knew something I should know, or worse, something he didn’t want me to know.”
- “His face sobered swiftly, like the sands of an Etch-a-sketch.”
- “Her face crouched down in a mash of fuming attitude.”