The Graphic Novel Crossover by Quentin Tarantino and Matt Wagner.
What happens when you team up an African American avenger with a Latino vigilante?
Justice, my friends.
Or, at least, Spaghetti Western justice.
The Django/Zorro seven-issue crossover graphic novel is the first and, at this point, the only official sequel to a Quentin Tarantino film.
The art, by Esteve Polls, is magnificent. Iconic. Just putting Zorro and Django side-by-side looks, well, really cool.
The colors, by Brennan Wagner, are mood-driven and help the reader navigate flashbacks, cuts, and they help us feel filmic emotions.
The story is by Quentin Tarantino and by Zorro-writing veteran Matt Wagner (The Mage Trilogy, among many others). Wagner wrote the Zorro trilogy published by Dynamite (2008) and based on the novel, Zorro, by Isabel Allende (2005). So, Django/Zorro is a sequel both to Django Unchained (2012) and the Zorro storyline by Wagner.
And that teaming shows. Tarantino invited Wagner to his Los Angeles home and the two spent a few days brainstorming on the story. They watched old Zorro movies in Tarantino’s home theater. They became buds, in other words.
What we get with Django/Zorro is a tension between, perhaps, competing visions. On the one hand, we see Django continue as an ex-slave ready and willing to kill anyone who stands in the way of freedom. And, in Django Unchained, Django Freeman is the ONLY one who is fighting for freedom, it seems. Everyone else is simply subservient, or too oppressed, or in the case of Stephen the House Slave (Samuel L. Jackson), too drunk with the power that collaboration has given him.
On the other hand, we meet Don Diego de la Vega, in his hoighty-toighty carriage, playing the fop. He just-so-happens to cross paths with Django. (This is an element taken from the Django Unchained film where he crosses paths with Dr. King Schultz, played by Christoph Waltz). Don Diego is old. It’s the late 1850s, and so we catch up with Zorro in the winter of his life. Yet, he’s still trying to protect the oppressed. He’s traveled to Arizona — where the action begins — to deal with the so-called Archduke Gurko Langdon who has forged his wife’s lineage and propped himself up as ruler in an alternate history of pre-US Arizona.
And here’s the tension: Django exists as a one-man riff on a false mythology of American slavery. That, for instance, slaves didn’t fight back. That they were all more like Stephen the House Slave than like Django Freeman. Django, in Tarantino’s film and graphic novel incarnations, says that there are n-words who are black, who are white, and who are red. Anyone who doesn’t fight back, essentially. Yet, the reality is that enslaved people did fight back. They ran away. They resisted— for instance, Frederick Douglas claimed he gained his freedom when he hit an overseer who wanted to whip him, not when he later escaped. Slave owners lived in constant fear of uprisings and rebellions. Django might inspire cheers as he kills racists and slave owners. But he wasn’t the only one who fought back.
Zorro, in contrast, becomes another mentor for Django. He hires Django, but really intends to enlist him in his cause to bring down the Archduke of Arizona. There is growth for the Django character. He understands that perhaps there are others ready to stand up to injustice, like he is. But, where the tension lies is in the ends that both characters seek. Django seems intent on blowing everything to hell, whereas Zorro has a more subtle, Chess-like approach. He intends to bring down the Archduke, help the Indians, but leave the social order as it is.
What is justice? in other words. That’s the subtle conflict at the heart of the Django/Zorro graphic novel that’s never really settled by the end. Sure, the Archduke is taken out, but so are others.
I won’t spoil it. Go read it.
Both Django and Zorro are encumbered by a weight of history. The history of slavery. The history of Spanish, Mexican, and American outrages in the West. Perhaps, when viewed within each of their respective stories, justice is done according to each. But, when placed together, one wonders what justice looks like now that Django and Zorro inhabit the same universe.