Interview: Dynamite’s ‘Zorro Rides Again’ (For The Last Time) With Writer Matt Wagner

Writer Matt Wagner (Grendel, Batman and the Mad Monk) has been telling stories featuring the masked proto-superhero Zorro for nearly four years now, since the character made his debut in Dynamite’s line back in 2008. In June, he’ll be ending his run with the character in Zorro Rides Again, whose twelfth issue drops that month. The veteran comic creator, who knows a thing or two about mysterious heroes (and anitheroes) in masks was kind enough to answer a few questions about concluding his lengthy run with the character as well as what’s next in his eclectic career.

MTV Geek: For readers not familiar with the book, could you talk about the stakes for Don Diego AKA Zorro heading into this final issue?

Matt Wagner: Well, for Diego, the concept of honor and the defense of justice have always been pretty clear-cut. The ideals of courage and heroism were evident in his character from a very young age and they were honed by the strength of his upbringing, by the principles that both his father and his mother exemplified in his life. You have to remember, in our version Don Diego is a mestizo, which means that he’s of mixed race, but that also stands for the world he lives in as well. His father was an honored caballero of the Spanish court but his mother was a proud daughter of the local tribes. Their son was raised with the aristocratic ideals of Europe but in the near-wilderness of a colonial environment. As a result, Diego is able to recognize the best aspects of “modern” civilization… but also its corrupting influences as well.

In this latest series, Zorro Rides Again, we’ve been examining the effects that Zorro’s actions in the name of justice might have in actually perverting those ideals if filtered through the wrong lens. Thus, we’ve introduced his first “Super-villain” by transforming his long-time foil, Sgt. Gonzales into the maniacal El Galgo—“The Hound” who chases after Zorro’s “Fox.” El Galgo is twisted by his hatred for Zorro to where he loses all sense of his own identity; he’s simply a walking bundle of rage, literally scarred into madness by Zorro. So that’s one aspect of how his best-meaning intentions have gone awry but we’ve even furthered that quotient by introducing the character of Lady Zorro—a widow who lost her family to military brutality and has now taken Zorro’s masked crusade as inspiration to pursue her own path of vengeance. As opposed to Zorro’s rallying cry of “JUSTICE! Justice for all!,” Lady Zorro’s motto is “VENGEANCE! Vengeance is mine!” So, the question is, can Zorro reconcile these dark shadows that have arisen in his wake? Or does his ongoing battle for justice finally meet its end?

Geek: What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you think about ending your run on Dynamite’s Zorro titles?

Wagner: This series has been an absolute blast, from the word “Go!” If you’re not familiar with how I came to even be doing this book, here’s back-story: I thought Dynamite had done a great job with their all-new take on The Lone Ranger; it managed to modernize the approach to the character and the narrative while still retaining the familiar motifs that made the Ranger such a pop culture icon for so many years. When I read online that Dynamite had also secured the rights to Zorro, I immediately contacted them and asked to be involved, since I’ve just loved Zorro for years and years. John Cassiday had been doing an impressive run as the cover artist on TLR and so I offered to do the same for the big Z—signing on as the regular cover artist.

When Dynamite came back with the offer to write the book…well, I could hardly refuse! As I said, I’ve loved the character of Zorro for years—he’s the absolute prototype of the modern, masked adventurer—and here, I was given the chance to put my own personal spin on one of my long-standing favorites. I’ve had a blast playing with the different narrative styles as well as story structures; we started out with the book being something of a memoir written by Diego’s closest friend, Bernardo, but then moved into action-movie style and even a connected set of stories-within-the-story. All in all, as I said, it’s been a real joy to work on this book and, let’s face it, Zorro is just so damn cool!

Geek: For that matter, why a Zorro book in the 21st century? What appealed to you and what kept you going?

Wagner: Although he’s nearing in on his centennial anniversary, Zorro certainly has a place and pertinence in the 21st century. You’ve got to remember that, unlike Batman and The Shadow and so many other characters that obviously bear the stamp of Zorro’s influence, the masked Fox isn’t out to merely nab a bunch of criminals and madmen—although his crusade certainly brings him into conflict with such. Zorro is fighting a corrupt societal system, a government that has fallen prey to the heavy sway of greed and corruption. That certainly seems like a 21st century problem to me, when trust in governments around the world seems to be at an all-time low!

In fact, I was just on a panel at a convention and commented on the fact that contemporary super-hero comics certainly seemed to be confused by these uncertain times. Nobody seems to know who the bad guys are anymore! Where is this generation’s Dr. Doom or Red Skull or Joker? DC even had Luthor elected as President! Instead of a clear-cut villain, modern super-hero comics seem to have resorted to having the heroes fight each other all the time; the JLA just can’t seem to get along to the point where they seem like a pack of bickering frat members and the Marvel universe of heroes actually had a fully-blown Civil War! In such troubled waters, I see Zorro as upholding the ideals of justice and equality… and, to my mind, those are ethics that should never become outdated.

Geek: To a certain extent, the Zorro narrative is often about this hero as an inspirational people—not just to the oppressed citizens of the plot, but also outside of the books and serials, inspiring other comic characters. To what degree did this factor into your work with the character?

Wagner: So far as Zorro’s influence on Batman and characters owned by other companies, we can’t really do much with that and, truthfully, I wouldn’t want to. The strength of the character and the stories themselves need to stand on their own in my books. But, as I said earlier, Zorro’s influence within the events depicted in this latest series certainly deal with those factors head on. He’s staging a certain drama—via his costume and masked persona—as well as fighting a battle. How that drama is interpreted by others…well we’re seeing that unfold in Zorro Rides Again.

Geek: Why was it time to move on? What was it about where you’d gotten Don Diego that let you feel like you could leave the book?

Wagner: I will have done a bit more than 30 issues by the end of my run and that’s certainly enough time to put my own stamp on a character that I didn’t create nor own. It’s also been plenty of time to have a lot of fun. I’m a bit of a history buff so I loved being able to research this time period and the specifics of life in colonial California. And, like I said, I feel like I’ve certainly made a notable contribution to Zorro’s long and distinctive legacy. There have been so many great and memorable incarnations of this character…it can be somewhat daunting to try and carve my own big letter “Z” into the tableau of his history. Still, I’ve done enough for now and I feel like it’s time to move and let someone else have a stab at all the fun. Zorro’s a great character and I feel privileged to have had the chance to play in his world for so long.

Geek: Who are some of the particular characters that you’ll miss?

Wagner: Diego himself. Zorro is a character that just lights up the screen or the comic book panel whenever he appears. He’s just so full of life and so passionate and so capable. He makes a terrific hero and just fills every niche of that iconic role. Plus, again…he’s got an awesome look! He’s just so damn fun to draw!

Geek: What are you most proud of that you got to accomplish with your run on Zorro?

Wagner: I’m most proud of the way we were able to really mix up the narrative and keep things interesting for so long. On one level, Zorro’s narrative structure might seem a bit limiting; he tends to stay pretty much in the same area for his adventures and he tends to confront the same type of foe over and over again. I think we were really able to take the potential repetitive scenario of “Zorro fights soldiers” and present a wide range of story styles and continually engaging action so as to keep the stories really moving while at the same time staying true to the character’s roots. It really helped to have some great artists to work with and I want to give a special shout-out to Francesco Francavilla who was there with us at the very beginning and delivered an even stronger second stint on the book before being lured away by the bigger spotlights at Marvel and DC. Fran has an obvious love for this sort of narrative and it shows in everything he does.

Geek: Tell us a little about working with John K. Snyder on art. What was the collaboration like between the two of you and what do you think he brought to the book?

Wagner: John and I have a collaborative history that stretches way, waaaaay back. We first worked together back in the 80s on the “God And The Devil” story arc in my creator-owned book, Grendel. Following that, we took on the task of re-vamping one of DC’s fairly minor characters when we did the Dr. Mid-Nite limited series. So, it’s not like we’re not familiar with the process of working together. John’s an incredible artist in all regards and brings a real stylistic flare to this final arc of my run with the title. John’s art combines an old-school classicism with a very contemporary design sense and his visual story-telling is always just top-notch. Being an artist myself, I’m pretty picky about sequential clarity and well-timed drama when it comes to comics and I can honestly say that John’s one of the few people I’ve worked with over the years (and that’s a looooong list!) about whom I never have to worry in that regard. John understands the cinema of comics and knows when to push what buttons for which effect the narrative demands. He’s an awesome talent and I’m happy to be working with him again.

Geek: Was there anything you wanted to get to on your run that you didn’t get a chance to?
Wanger: Not really, no. Which is why I feel fine about leaving the title when I am. I’ve done a lot with Zorro but now it’s time to move on and leave the Fox’s further escapades in other capable hands. Because, make no mistake… my final issue doesn’t bring Zorro’s adventures to a close. From the original pulp story, “The Curse of Capistrano” to our most recent incarnation, Zorro has proven to be a timeless American hero and here’s hoping he and Tornado gallop off into the sunset for many more years to come. I’ll certainly be along for the ride!

Geek: What are you up to next?

Wagner: My next project is a pretty big deal, both epic in scope and premiering in what will surely be an intense spotlight. I’m writing the first original series for Legendary Comics, a newly formed division of Hollywood heavy-hitters Legendary Pictures (The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, 300, The Hangover, Watchmen, Clash Of The Titans, etc…). The collective title of the series is The Tower Chronicles, which will ultimately be a trilogy of graphic novels with each book being serialized as four prestige-format volumes (68 each). The story follows the adventures and secret past of a supernatural bounty-hunter named John Tower. Simon Bisley is providing the gorgeous, atmospheric and powerful art and the first volume premieres in September. As I said, this being Legendary’s first big launch of an original series, I’m sure you’ll be hearing much more about it as the publication date approaches.

Zorro Rides Again for the last time in issue #12 this June.