Zorro: The Complete Dell Pre-Code Comics Adventures

ZORRO: THE COMPLETE DELL PRE-CODE COMICS ADVENTURES

Hermes Press, $60.00

Reprinted from Dell’s Four Color #228, 425, 497, 538, 574, 617, 732

I already have Alex Toth’s Zorro: The Complete Dell Comics Adventures, and if you do too, we may be done here.

This book’s title describes the content as “pre-Code” Dell Zorro, presumably meaning pre-Comics Code, but it is hardly that. The issues reprinted do begin pre-Code, with Dell’s firs Zorro in Four Color #228 (May 49), but they extend well past the introduction of the Code in 1954, to Four Color #732 (Oct 56). You might instead label these comics pre-Alex Toth Zorro comics, for that would be more accurate. I suspect Hermes used “pre-Code” because of the recent success of Craig Yoe and others in reprinting pre-Code horror material.

Labeling aside, these are decent if somewhat tame adventures.  The art is by Bill Ely (#228), who might be familiar as the artist on DC’s Rip Hunter, Time Master;  a mystery artist, possibly Dan Noonan (#425); Everett Raymond Kinstler (#497, 538, 574); John Prentice (#617), before starting his run on “Rip Kirby”; and Roberto Giolitti (#732), who drew the infamous Gold Key Star Trek. Most of this art falls in the Milt Caniff school, and pales, of course, to the work of Alex Toth, who drew seven Zorro adventures for Dell from 1957-60. But this is good work; serviceable and occasionally inspired. In the foreword, Max Allan Collins says the three issues drawn by Kinstler are the best, and I don’t disagree with his assessment.

As to the writing, well … this was for kids, and it shows. Battles are bloodless, action scenes rather tame. But moreover, there is no continuity at all. At the end of the first issue – which adapts the first Zorro story, which had already been made into two films – Zorro reveals his identity as Don Diego Vega to one and all. Then in the next one, everyone except Diego’s father Don Carlos Vega and his servant Bernardo has amnesia, so at the end he reveals his identity again! In the third issue, everyone has again suffered a blow on the head or something, except for Don Carlos, Bernardo, Diego’s fiancee, his fiancee’s brother and the governor of Alta California (all of whom continue to be in on the secret for the rest of the run).  Someone should check the water in Pueblo de los Angeles.

And Zorro is hardly himself, at least in the first story. Trapped on a balcony in Four Color #228, while the house is being searched by soldiers, does he leap down to the grounds to engage his foes with a laugh and a smile? No, he does not. Does he scale the wall to the roof, then use his whip to swing over the fence, dropping bon mots as he goes? No, he does not. Instead, he hides in a lady’s armoire! Not only is this a tad mousy of Zorro (not to mention ungallant – there are unmentionables in there), but the soldiers, when looking for a man, would surely check the man-size piece of furniture located in the room where the man had last been seen.

Also, the love of Zorro’s life is not to be found. Lolita is ignored in the first story, and in the second we’re informed that she died of a fever. Immediately, she is replaced by Senorita Panchita Conchola, which sounds like a Taco Bell menu item. For shame, Senor Zorro, for how quickly you forget true love!

Not that Panchita is any prize. She has the requisite beauty, one supposes, but she is always miffed at Don Diego for being effeminate in public, and for postponing their wedding. What a whiner! When your fiancé must pretend to be a fop to stay alive, and when he is unavailable because he’s saving California from an invasion by Russia, you can cut him a little slack! Don Carlos is no better, constantly chiding his son for … what? I’m not sure, exactly, except that he disapproves of everything except the Zorro bits. Even the brother-in-law-to-be gets in on the act, sniffing at Don Diego’s tardiness and/or laxity about the marriage. That’s a bit much! Diego may have to take that sort of guff from his father and his future wife, but the BIL deserves a punch in the nose.

I did enjoy this book sufficiently that I don’t regret buying it, but I am something of a fanatic. I can really only recommend Zorro’s Pre-Code adventures to those like me, with a strong interest in comics history. For the rest of you, there’s the Alex Toth book.

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