This non-fiction examination of the Zorro character is pretty interesting. I felt the connection between a Mexican highwayman in early California, Joachim Murrieta, to the swordsman from pulp fiction and Disney was tenuous, but it was interesting reading. Starting with histories of the robber and an Irishman who was killed trying to liberate Mexico from the Spanish a hundred years before the Mexican revolution, Mr. Andes shows the effect of these two men as potential prototypes for Zorro. As the author drives from Mexico City to California, we travel with him and try to find the link between the possible inspiration for the masked character.
I learned a lot about the treatment of Mexicans during the forging of California and the racist beginnings of America as it expanded west. When Johnston McCulley wrote the first Zorro pulp story in 1919, there was no mention of Zorro’s Mexican beginnings. Instead, he’d been whitewashed to be an aristocratic Spaniard. McCulley, an unsavory character in his own right, produced hundreds of pulp stories, mostly westerns, and seems to have been influenced more by the Scarlet Pimpernel than Joachim Murrieta, but the author tries hard to support the weak link.
It’s interesting to read Zorro’s development into the hero we know today. When Douglas Fairbanks introduced the masked hero to the masses in a silent picture in the 20s, it sparked interest and resulted in many other movies. The author does a great job of telling Fairbanks’ history (and Tyrone Powers’ later version) and shows how Disney became involved when it cast an Italian-American (Van Williams) as the hero in the television series.
I can clearly see the connection between Zorro and the Lone Ranger and Batman. The writers admit that they used Zorro’s tale of having a secret identity to create their own versions of the hero. It’s hard to think that the mythos of Batman was created by a seedy pulp writer in 1919, but it would be a loss if we hadn’t had the prototype.
Throughout the book, Mr. Andes points out how Zorro became whiter and whiter with each incarnation and how his Mexican roots from Joachim have been forgotten. I don’t see how a pulp writer from Illinois would have ever considered the mistreatment of Mexicans when he wrote the first Zorro story, but it is an important part of our American history that’s not taught in schools.
The ending, instead of reiterating his premise of “explaining the Latinx origins to Zorro, how they’ve been whitewashed over the years, and how Zorro’s ghost is really about exposing a history of racial violence, exclusion, and cultural appropriation,” he talks about minority writers and artists he’s met at a mini-con. I expected more of an affirmation, but perhaps the last stop on his journey is appropriate.