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"Out of the night, when the full moon is bright..."Zorro is a mysterious black-clad rider who fights injustice in Spanish California.The sleepy pueblo of Reina de Los Angeles could be Paradise. The weather is sunny, the señoritas are pretty, the caballeros are handsome, and the land is rich with promise. But alas! The new governor is a tyrant who oppresses the natives, overtaxes the peasants, and seeks to rob the hidalgos who object to bad government of their lands and wealth to give to himself and his cronies. He has the army firmly under his control, and has placed corrupt officers to enforce his will upon the people.But there is one man who the governor cannot stop, one man who rises up to fight for justice, who inspires the people to resist and take control of their own destinies. That man is Señor Zorro, The Fox, whose cunning is legend, whose swordsmanship is unsurpassed, whose black-clad, masked form slips in and out of the night like a ghost. You may know him by the ragged letter "Z" he carves into the cheeks of wicked men who have lost duels to him, and leaves at the scene of his adventures. He discomforts the powerful and corrupt, and helps the poor and oppressed. Truly, this Zorro is a hero!But who is this mysterious Zorro behind his mask? Well, it is certain that it cannot be Don Diego (de la) Vega, even though Don Diego is certainly the right age and of good family. For Don Diego is a useless fop who reads poetry, disdains violence and any form of sweat-inducing activity, and sniffs a perfumed handkerchief when in the presence of his lessers. No, it cannot be he.Or can it?Zorro was first created by Johnston McCulley for the novel The Curse of Capistrano serialized in All-Story Weekly Magazine in 1919. The Swashbuckling story was complete in itself, closing off much room for sequels. Douglas Fairbanks Senior read the novel, loved it, and convinced his studio to buy the rights so he could star in a movie adaptation, The Mark of Zorro (1920). It was a huge success, inspiring McCulley to write a sequel, The Further Adventures of Zorro, and a total of sixty Zorro stories altogether, ending with The Mask of Zorro, printed posthumously in 1959.There have been many Zorro movies (notably the 1920 Silent SwashbucklerThe Mark of Zorro starring Douglas Fairbanks and its 1940 20th Century Fox sound re-make with Tyrone Power), at least six television series (three of them animated), a couple live-action ones, some professional Fan Fic novels by other authors reinterpreting the character, one Hispanic Soap Opera ("Zorro: La Espada y la Rosa") based on one of these novels (the one written by Isabel Allende, if you wonder), a few Comic Book adaptations, and even an Anime series (Kaiketsu Zorro). The most recent movies were two films in 1998 (The Mask of Zorro) and 2005 (The Legend of Zorro) with Anthony Hopkins as the aging hero, Antonio Banderas as his protege and heir and Catherine Zeta Jones as Hopkins' daughter and Banderas' Action Girlfriend.Think The Scarlet Pimpernel moved to California.Perhaps the most iconic Proto Superhero of all, Zorro has inspired many other heroes, such as Batman (it's canon within Batman's own continuity!) and Roronoa Zoro of One Piece.
Zorro, in his various incarnations, provides examples of the following tropes:
Acrofatic: Sergeant Garcia is often portrayed as this, being surprisingly agile and an accomplished swordsman despite his build.
Alternate Company Equivalent: Batman. In addition to the basic similarities, some stories have established that the movie the Waynes went to see on the night they were murdered was... The Mark of Zorro.
In the 1990 series (starring Ducan Regehr) Adam West makes an appearance as "Dr. Henry Wayne" who is astounded at the idea of riding out from a cave under the mansion to fight crime!)
Canon Discontinuity: At the end of "The Curse of Capistrano", the main villain is dead, and Zorro publicly unmasked, revealing his identity to everyone. By the third book, neither of those events had ever happened.
Canon Immigrant: The Zorro we know with his small hat, cowl and preference for using a sword is from the Douglas Fairbanks 1920 film and the pulp series was changed to reflect it.
Clothing Damage: A favorite trick of Zorro's, especially in the television series, where carving the flesh of his opponents would have violated broadcast standards. Or, in the case of the movie with Catherine Zeta-Jones, pure Fanservice.
In some of the novels, Bernardo also wears the Zorro costume in order to distract and mislead pursuers. Bernardo has also been known to play the part of Zorro to divert suspicion from Diego while he has an alibi (such as being imprisoned or questioned on suspicion of being Zorro). Zorro's friend and sometimes love interest/accomplice Lolita Pulido has also donned the mask.
In Isabel Allende's novel Diego has a second Zorro outfit and sword made for Bernardo to throw villains for a loop, and Isabel de Romeu butts in with Bernardo's Zorro costume when the villain is Dangerously Genre Savvy enough to have both Diego imprisoned and his men keep an eye on Bernardo in case he donned the Zorro outfit. The epilogue makes clear that in the end Diego is the main Zorro, but both Bernardo and Isabel would wear his costume if needed and can kick just as much ass as him.
In Zorro the Gay Blade, Don Diego and his brother Ramon both are Zorro. The brothers' father was too, although he's deceased at the time of the movie.
In The Mask of Zorro, Anthony Hopkins plays the original Zorro (Don Diego de la Vega) and Antonio Banderas is his trainee and later son-in-law, Alejandro.
In the 1997 animated series Diego de la Vega was not the first Zorro, but the original was unknown and shrowded in legend.
The brief TV Series Zorro and Son was actually about an older Don Diego training his son, Don Carlos, to take his place.
In one of the animated series episodes a soldier is about to be executed upon suspicion of being Zorro, when Zorro himself intervenes and frees him. The soldier in gratitude also assumes the identity of Zorro in another part of old California, so in this continuity there ends up being two Zorros at work in different places, thus reinforcing the secret identity of both.
Disney: Created the 1957 live-action series. Arguably one of the best known adaptations of the story.
Early Installment Weirdness: In his first appearance Zorro wore a sombrero and a poncho, his mask covered his whole face and he used a saber instead of a rapier but mainly threatened people with a pistol.
Elaborate Underground Base: In the comics written by Don McGregor (for Topps and Dynamite), Zorro has an elaborate underground base that rivals the Batcave.
Even Evil Has Standards: In the 1940 movie, Diego Vega comments on a sergeant's big bullwhip, saying that he commiserates his poor horse. The sergeant is shocked and reassures him: He would never whip his dear horse, the whip is just for peones who don't cough up their taxes quickly enough.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: The final shot of the original 1920 The Mark Of Zorro has Don Diego and his Love Interest smooching behind a kerchief. While their faces are concealed, the woman's hands flutter and contort in a way that suggests it's much more than a modest peck on the cheek...
Heel-Face Turn: Used nigh-literally at the end of Zorro The Gay Blade: The entire town has revolted, and the bad guys are reduced to the governor, his wife, and a single squad of soldiers protecting them from the surrounding mob. The captain of the squad, seeing which way the wind is blowing, orders, "About FACE!"... and the soldiers are now pointing their guns at the governor. (They thus turned on their heels for an about-face turn.)
Being able to carve a "Z" in an opponent's cheek with one fluid movement of his sword certainly counts.
The 1940 version also includes the famous bit in which Don Diego slashes a candle — with no apparent result — until he lifts the candle to reveal he has sliced it in two.
Itself hilariously parodied in The Court Jester, in which "Giacomo" blows on the candles, and they fall apart.
Zorro the Gay Blade also parodied this by having Diego slash at a candle, apparently missing, but as soon as the Aldante turns his back Diego picks up the severed candle and uses it to light his cigarette before discreetly putting it back.
In a Mexican Zorro film from 1975, Zorro slashes at a candelabra horizontally and then again veritcally. All the candles fall off, and the one in the center splits in two.
Meaningful Echo: In the 1940 movie: "to raise fat children and watch the vineyards grow" accompanied by the hurling of the sword so it sticks in a beam in the ceiling.
Minion with an F in Evil: Sergeant Garcia, at his most sympathetic. On his defense, he never is truly evil, he just follows his superior's orders. When the evil governor isn't around and the town is under García's control, life is much easier for everyone. On one occasion he even dresses as Zorro to try to free some unjust prisoners from his own jail!
Public Execution: Two of these are attempted in Zorro's Fighting Legion, one by firing squad, and the other by hanging. The Legion manages to save both potential victims.
Rearing Horse: The classic victory pose for Zorro is his black horse rearing up while Zorro thrusts his sword in the air.
Reasonable Authority Figure: Sergeant Garcia, full stop. Once the horrible Captain Monasterio is defeated, Garcia takes his place and things immediately become way nicer than before. It's too good to last, as The Eagle soon arrives...
The Remnant: Colonel Augustus Barton and his renegede Confederate bushwhackers in The Lone Ranger and Zorro: The Death of Zorro from Dynamite Comics.
The Kaiketsu Zorro anime had one. Technically, it was just Diego putting on his costume really fast, kind of like Tuxedo Mask.
The Filmation version also had one.
Utility Belt: Albeit an example that doesn't involve an actual belt. On most occasions, Zorro is armed — at minimum — with a sword, a knife, a pistol, a bolo, a lariat, and a set of lock-picking equipment. He often also carries a rope and graple-hook. Sometimes he'll have even more weapons and equipment than that. In the pulp stories, Zorro has a pistol as a backup weapon, but with the technology limitations of the time, seldom relies on it.