This history of Zorro brings together the character’s origins and demonstrates his impact on pop culture, not only revealing that Zorro was the inspiration for the most iconic superheroes we know today but also delving into the Latinx origins of the masked crusader.
“Saddle-up! Andes takes us on an exhilarating, dust-kicking ride through the actual origins and history of the first hemispheric Latinx superhero: Zorro. Washing off proverbial monochromatic whites to reveal beautiful browns, we deep-dive into hemispheric Latinx histories that precede McCulley’s 1919 pulp along with the blitz of Euro-Anglo make-overs in TV, film, and mainstream comic books. In this swashbuckler of a ride, Andes powerfully excavates the true significance of that swish-slash Z: the super-symbol that signifies the strength, struggle, and spirit of Latinx folx yesterday, today, and tomorrow”—Frederick Luis Aldama, distinguished university professor and award-winning author.
Long before Superman or Batman made their first appearances, there was Zorro. Born on the pages of the pulps in 1919, Zorro fenced his way through the American popular imagination, carving his signature letter Z into the flesh of evildoers in Old Spanish California. Zorro is the original caped crusader, the first hero to have a band called the Avengers, and the character who laid the blueprint for the modern American superhero: the mask, the alter-ego, extraordinary physical skills, and a struggle against arch-villains. Famed comics pioneer Bob Kane even wrote that “Zorro was a major influence on my creation of Batman.”
In Zorro’s Shadow, historian and Latin American studies expert Stephen J. C. Andes investigates the legends behind the mask of Zorro, revealing that the origin of America’s first superhero lies in Latinx history and experience. Andes begins his investigation in Mexico City at a statue of William Lamport, the so-called “Irish Zorro,” who was burned at the stake by the Mexican Inquisition. There, he discovers new documents at the Mexican National Archives and travels to the Sonoran desert to find the birthplace of Joaquín Murrieta, a California Gold Rush bandit who many claim inspired the creation of Zorro. Based on the never-before-seen letters of Zorro creator Johnston McCulley, Andes describes how the legends around Lamport and Murrieta influenced the development of the masked hero in black, and further, how Zorro went from a real life Mexican bandido to a distinctly white, aristocratic hero. Revealing the length of Zorro’s shadow on the superhero genre is a reclamation of the legend of Zorro for a multiethnic and multicultural America.
Stephen Andes, Ph.D. is a history professor. His current project is the myth and history of Zorro.