Pulp and Dagger

Graphic Novel Review


Zorro: The Dailies: The First Year

cover2001 - available in soft cover

Written by Don McGregor. Illustrated by Thomas Yeates and Tod Smith.
Black & White. Letters: John Costanza. Editor: Sandra Curtis.

Reprints the Zorro newspaper strip from April 12, 1999 - April 9, 2000 - dailies and Sundays (plus a couple of new panels)

Additional notes: published in oblong format; intro by McGregor; history of Zorro in movies; creator bios.

232 pages

Published by Image Comics

Cover price: $19.95 USA

With "The Legend of Zorro" recently out on DVD, it's time to drag out a Zorro review. In this case, an earlier draft of this review I had posted elsewhere...but my opinion's been somewhat re-thought after a second reading, as you'll see...

I was eager to try this newspaper strip compilation that collected -- not some old, "classic" strip -- but a recent one featuring everyone's favourite Robin Hood of old California: Zorro. Zorro, who began life in a series of pulp magazine stories by Johnston McCulley, and has been translated into movies (among the best are "The Mark of Zorro" with Tyrone Power and 1998's "The Mask of Zorro" with Antonio Banderas), plus serials, TV series, comics, and some recent novels, but might never before have graced a newspaper's page (though I'm not sure). It's written by Don McGregor, an ambitious, sometimes too ambitious, comics writer (his purple prose and philosopichal themes can sometimes go over-the-top) -- McGregor also wrote a short lived Zorro comic for Topps in the 1990s, that produced a few TPB collections, and is -- at the time I write this -- writing another Zorro comic for another publisher). And it's beautifully drawn by Tom Yeates and then Tod Smith (with Yeates on inks) in a style seeming meant to evoke Alex Toth (who drew some much praised Zorro comics in the 1960s).

Part of the problem daily comic strips suffer from is obvious repetition, the necessary recapping of what occurred previously that can be distracting when read all together in a comic book form. But McGregor does an exceptional job of maintaining the flow. Reading the strips together, it's hard to remember that these were originally staggered over many days.

As well, a problem comic strips face is that some newspapers just carry the dailies, and some the colour Sunday pages. The claim is that drama-adventure strips have to be written so someone can follow the story even if he/she is reading just, say, the Sunday strips. Some strips simply tell separate stories in the daily and the Sundays -- probably the best way of doing things. However, most narrative strips stick with one story. Although it's claimed that writers of comic strips can pull off the trick of making dailies and Sundays separate but connected...they very rarely do! Usually reading one without the other results in a choppy, slightly incoherent story. That's not a problem when collected like this -- but I just thought I'd mention it.

If I were to level a criticism at other adventure newspaper strips, it would be to say they tend to be too tight, with the action moving by too quickly, and little time for developing things. But with McGregor's Zorro, the problem is the opposite. Although imbuing the strips with character stuff, philosophical asides, and his patented purple prose, the sequences sometimes just go on and on and on. This collection of the first year of strips (dailies and Sundays) contains only two stories. By contrast, another adventure strip that comes to mind crammed six stories into a 52 week period!

But that would be all right if McGregor offered up complex, Byzantine plots to justify the length. He doesn't. The first story, "Tusk Envy", basically involves Zorro duelling with soldiers, trading quips and barbs (literally) while we keep cutting to a farmer and his son at the nearby La Brea Tar Pits contemplating harvesting the tusks from a Mastodon carcass that has risen to the surface. For the characters, the entire story line transpires over maybe half an hour. For the reader, it was originally published over the course of FOUR MONTHS!

It isn't that it doesn't have its moments, but it's awfully slight.

The second story line, "Dead Body Rising", seems more promising, starting out a bit slower, with more detail paid to Zorro's alter ego of Don Diego, and with a murdered Indian woman discovered in the tar pits -- aha! a murder mystery! -- and the ensuing action involves prejudice and 18th Century mores -- not your usual topics for a newspaper strip. The sinister Capitan Monasterio wants to bury the Indian woman in a Christian grave, while Zorro wants to preserve her beliefs and return her to her coastal Indian tribe, leading to Zorro stealing the body, a carriage, and a macabre chase. But, again, this eight month epic is extremely thin on plot, and even characterization (there's characterization, but it tends to be repetative). The chase sequence alone is stretched out over half the story!

And the murder mystery is barely developed at all. It was even less developed in its original form where, apparently, editorial skittishness required McGregor to be rather ambiguous about certain aspects; this collection contains a couple of new panels that clarify motivation.

But here's the thing: I'm kind of flip flopping in my opinion. All the above was my reaction when I first read it and, yes, I was disappointed. But then I recently re-read one of the story's (the longest: "Dead Body Rising") -- and I liked it more. I've noticed before that one's opinion can change, that you can be disappointed by something the first time but then, prepared for the shortcomings, you can appreciate the strengths the second time. In the case of "Dead Body Rising", it's still a bit thin, and the "who killed her?" aspect is still rather secondary. But that's because I first went into it expecting -- wanting -- a complex plot full of scene changes and plot twists, and I thought the chase, though imaginative, went on too long.

But read a second time, I realize: that's because the chase isn't just something inserted into the story, it is the story, in many ways. Just like there are some movies from the '70s ("The French Connection" or "Bullit") famous for their lengthy chase scenes, McGregor and company set out, rather audaciously, to try and do the Zorro chase sequence. So once I read it a second time, and realized the chase wasn't a minor action scene but was, in a sense, the climactic sequence, I enjoyed it more.

I read a lot of the scenes, at first, as things meant to carry me along into the next scene. But, the second time through, I read them as just things to be enjoyed for their own sake, less concerned with whether the "plot" was being advanced. And, again, I got more out of it.

McGregor introduces original supporting characters, in addition to regulars like Monasterio, and the comic relief Sgt. Garcia. Although one can appreciate the larger-than-life, James Bond-ian aspects of villain Quickblade, equiped as he is with gadgety swords, as a personality, he's rather dull and unimposing. And shouldn't he have a Spanish name to add to the strips' ethnic flavour? Also tossed in is Eulalia Bandini, a feisty Senorita who occupies much of "Dead Body Rising"...only to just kind of disappear from the story. Perhaps McGregor continued with her in later strips? (If there were later strips...I don't know how long it ran).

There's much to like here. Yeates and Smith's effective, dynamic and evocative art. And McGregor tries hard in the writing, mixing philosophical asides with sophomoric humour; as well as unconventional ideas that broaden the scope of a Zorro story, while still staying within the milieu: touching on prejudice and Christian-egomania. Some of his action scenes are truly imaginative and even spectacular: the carriage chase as it slowly loses wheels, or the flight across hoodoos. Good stuff. There are also shortcomings. McGregor's mixing of comedy and drama is admirable...but it isn't always as funny as he thinks it is. Too many of the characters are written the same, and the deliberate lapsing into modern (and un-Spanish) colloquialisms doesn't fully work. Nonetheless, McGregor is definitely tying to write an adult, thinking man's comic strip.

So I'm torn -- the first time through, though I applauded the strengths, I felt without complex plots, it started to collapse under its own thinness, with action scenes that are cool for a few days worth of strips...but get overdone after a month. A second time through -- demanding less from plot, and taking more from the spirit -- I enjoyed it more. But even now, deciding I enjoyed it more, and don't begrudge it a space on my book shelf, I still feel that, for such an expensive collection, it delivers a little less than the reader has a right to expect. But -- yes, I guess I'm now forced to say I did, at least moderately, enjoy it.

But given the strengths, I can't help thinking how great it could have been.

One final aside: Image really needs to invest in a proof reading department. The reproduced strips are fine, but there are numerous typos and mistakes in the introductions and creator bios (at one point referring to McGregor's Lady Rawhide as Lucy Rawhide) and even on the back cover (using "it's" when they meant "its")! Yikes.

Reviewed by D.K. Latta

Got a response?  Email us at lattabros@yahoo.com

Pulp and Dagger Fiction Webzine