“We are Zorro!”
Not a part of the United States, not a Mexican territory, locals are ruled by fear as a former military commander, General Gomez, seizes control. Grabbing all of the land he can, aware of the gold waiting to mined, Gomez relies on strength to control the people. But the people remember another time when ruthless warlords tried to claim authority over them. While meetings are held in secret, a rallying cry echoes to give them hope…
“I am Zorro!”
A symbol to those who look for justice, the masked rider is called on once more to save the people… but the only ones to answer are the very people who need defending from General Gomez and his band of mercenaries. Examples are made whenever and wherever Zorro’s symbol is found, and anyone caught with a mask finds themselves at the end of a rope. Faced with cruelty & oppression, the people cling to the stories told to them by their parents… and a shadowy figure is glimpsed darting across rooftops.
Full disclosure, Zorro is one of those mythic figures that’s gotten me fired up for as long as I can remember. I’ve probably seen every movie that’s been made, chronicling the adventures of “The Fox”, and will be in line to see any films still to come. Whether played by Tyrone Power or Antonio Banderas on the screen or riding through the panels of a comic, the symbol of Zorro & all he represents holds strong.
We’re talking about the guy who, depending on which line of continuity you’re following, inspired a young Bruce Wayne in his mission to fight for justice. That’s not a small thing.
Of course, when I saw that Europe Comics, makers of some of the very best sequential storytelling on the market, was putting out new book that continued the legend, I was hooked in. Written & illustrated by Pierre Alary, Don Vega didn’t disappoint. It’s a different kind of story, a stretch from what we’re used to seeing in that Zorro is a figure of legend and his mantle has been taken up by many. At any given time, a masked figure is ready to jump into danger with a cry of “I am Zorro!” Sure, that cry is occasionally fueled by the liquid courage of mescal, but the image is able to inspire hope in the people. That spirit of legacy and the power of myth is what Alary is drawing on in his story and for a minute I wasn’t sure that there was going to be an actual Zorro in it (spoiler: there is). At the end of the day, with the way Alary built his story around the ability of Zorro’s myth to inspire, it still would have been a good read. But he pulled a slow reveal, just hints dropped in a panel here and there, of a shadowed figure just a little more substantial than others laying claim to the name.
Those hints are skillfully laid out on the page, again by over-achieving (but definitely not over-reaching) Pierre Alary, in a style that brought back memories of old movie serials and newspaper comic strips. He’s also leaning into the mystery of masked men, all claiming to be the hero returned from times long gone. While most of the men laying claim to the mantle- often with disastrous results- are committed, they lack the skill & audacity, the presence to back it up. It’s in the reveal of one figure, drawn to stand just a little taller, his back just a little less bent, that Alary turns Don Vega from a book about the strength of belief into one about heroism and the legacy of family as well as symbols. Alary does this with subtlety, taking his time to build up to the revelation that the title of his book isn’t just referring to Vegas past. When the real Don Vega showed up to claim his family’s title and the mantle of his father, I was grinning like a little kid while the theme from The Mark of Zorro echoed in my head.
Fans of swashbuckling action should be pretty satisfied with Don Vega. More than that, though, readers looking for deeper layers should be able to find plenty to chew on. There’s all of the overt heroism we should expect from a Zorro story, but there are also themes of belief and perseverance to be found. Sure, the arrival of a Zorro who doesn’t rely on liquid courage, who is able to back up his bold proclamations with action, and is actually wearing the appropriate footwear (riding boots ain’t cheap) was a kick. Before he showed up, however, the spirit of a people unwilling to bend the knee was enough to carry the story along until he got there. I think that if this had been a book about a group of Zorros, gathering in the shadows to strike out and then fade away, it could have been just fine.
But Zorro does show up and he’s pretty darn cool too…
Final Score: 12/13