Zorro: Swords of Hell, Part II offers a realistic portrait of Zorro’s World — All while battling undead Zombies!
Main Cover Art: Roy Allan Martinez and Gwenaelle Daligault. Published by American Mythology Productions.
A horde of the undead is not the only enemy Zorro faces in a new comic, issue #2 of American Mythology Production’s Zorro: Swords of Hell four-part series. (A review of Issue #1 is here).
The myth of forced diversity — it’s the other important, and perhaps even more insidious, villain Zorro battles in the new issue. It’s also an important enemy for the book’s writer, David Avallone.
“There is no such thing as forced diversity,” Avallone told me in a recent phone interview. “There’s only forced lack of diversity. Any all-white, all-male state has been created artificially by white males.”
Forced diversity is the derisive criticism of historical or fictional renderings of the past wherein the writer supposedly “forces diversity” by creating the presence of so-called non-normative peoples.
In other words: gay people, people of color, people of diverse sizes, or abilities. All these people weren’t really part of the past, so this theory goes, because “that’s not how it was THEN.” White people, especially white men, were those who held power, those who made history. And if we’re saddened and shocked by that, well, that’s because that was REALITY then. We shouldn’t, according to critics of diversifying the past, simply create diversity in the past that wasn’t there, all because we, in today’s world, value diversity.
Take, for instance, criticisms of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton or snipes at the film The Greatest Showman. Or, perhaps even, the lesbian relationship presented in the Netflix series Anne With an E, the reimagining of the classic Anne of Green Gables novels.
Forced diversity! cry critics of writing these and other characters into history or art of the past.
They might say the same of Zorro: Swords of Hell. (We’re still leaving aside the hordes of undead, by the way).
Zorro, as written by David Avallone, is a mestizo. He’s a product of mixed origin. His mother was of the Tongva tribe. His grandmother, a curandera, or spiritual healer. Avallone began to write Zorro this way before he realized that novelist Isabel Allende had done similarly in her 2005 take on the masked avenger.
In the conventional story, started by Johnston McCulley 100 years ago, picked up in countless iterations and films, Zorro always had a Spanish, or pure, “blue blood,” heritage, unsullied by admixture.
No Indians or Mexicans in his blood, in other words.
In Isabel Allende’s rendering of the story, said David Avallone in our recent interview, “Diego is mestizo, making him an appropriate protector of Southern California, you know, by representing all of the people. But also that, canonically, his grandmother was a curandera. Better to use grandma than random witchdoctor!”
All that is to say that a Zorro of mixed heritage actually better represents the REALITY of the diversity that was actually part of Southern California’s history. And, also, Avallone uses the Tongva tribe as the indigenous people who inhabited the geography that would become present day Los Angeles. And it’s the Tongva tribe, Avallone told me, who hold the key to Zorro’s victory over the undead hordes.
“When they said make it supernatural, I was actually relieved,” Avallone told me. “That I haven’t seen before. That’s a fun way to go with Zorro. You have to give Zorro a challenge he can’t just swing a blade at. He has to draw on other resources, or ways of approaching the world. I have his grandmother saying, ‘you can’t just stab it to death.’”
Lolita and Zorro’s mother are feminist heroes. Zorro’s mother and grandmother are warriors of the Tongva tribe.
David Avallone has written a story that makes sense. “What would the Tongva have called a witchdoctor?” he told me. “So, that’s where you get the Jaguar Brujo in the story. And that’s where you get the curandera.” The underworld, he tells me, is connected to the La Brea tarpits, where he recalled reading Allende’s novel and a comment made by characters that it was a place of spirits.
Diversity, in other words, is not forced in the new take on Zorro. If you take seriously the social context, the ethnic makeup of Southern California at the time, and the ways in which spiritual worldviews mixed and overlapped, then Zorro: Swords of Hell becomes, ironically, is a more accurate representation of the time than the strictly white, aristocratic, Spanish fantasy heritage of many traditional renderings of the Zorro story.
“I will say this one thing,” David Avallone told me in our interview, “which is not an excuse but an explanation, that a lot sexism and racism in art is a lack of imagination if nothing else. I think if you’re a writer sitting at a keyboard and you’re writing a scene and the scene calls for a doctor to walk into the room and you’re a white middle-aged guy. You go, well a white middle-aged guy walks into the room. In the twenty-first century you have to be really squintin’ hard…I mean, I haven’t had a white middle-aged doctor in thirty years.”
Bernardo, Zorro’s friend and fellow member of the Tongva, gives Zorro a few lessons in fighting the undead.
So, the idea of “forced diversity” is perhaps more fantastical than Zorro fighting the undead, which Zorro does actually do in Issue #2.
But, he has help.
David Avallone was at first reticent to write Bernardo, Zorro’s mute manservant, into his new comic series. He always seemed too much like the stereotypical Tonto character from the Lone Ranger. But, here again, Avallone saw Bernardo as an important link to the Tongva tribe and the key to Zorro’s salvation.
The incredibly sad part, Avallone told me, is that the Tongva have all but disappeared. There is really no thorough description of their spiritual words. Was the underworld a place of pleasure or of torment? Was the underworld goddess a crone or a beauty? These are issues David Avallone will tackle in issue #3 and #4. But, what is certain, is that there is no failure of imagination in Avallone’s rendering of Zorro and his worlds.