A nobleman is nothing but a man, who says one thing and thinks another.
~ Don Diego in The Mask of Zorro.
Zorro (Spanish for "Fox") is the main hero of the series of books, comic books and movies of the same name; a masked outlaw living in Spanish colonial-era California he is portrayed as a defender of civilians against the tyrannical authorities as well as other villains.
He is famous for his sword, which he uses to cut a Z shape into wood or enemy clothing; this has become somewhat of a trademark of the hero. "Zorro" is the Spanish word for "fox" and is used to describe the hero's personality: clever and capable of taking great risks without seeming to care about personal safety.
Zorro debuted in McCulley's 1919 story The Curse of Capistrano, serialized in five parts in the pulp magazine All-Story Weekly. At the denouement, Zorro's true identity is revealed to all.
Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, on their honeymoon, selected the story as the inaugural picture for their new studio, United Artists, beginning the character's cinematic tradition. The story was adapted as the film The Mark of Zorro (1920), which was a commercial success. McCulley's story was re-released by publisher Grosset & Dunlap under the same title, to tie in with the film.
In response to public demand fueled by the film, McCulley wrote more than sixty more Zorro stories, beginning in 1922. The last, "The Mask of Zorro" (not to be confused with the 1998 film), was published posthumously in 1959. These stories ignore Zorro's public revelation of his identity. McCulley died in 1958, just as the Disney-produced Zorro television show was becoming popular.
Skills and Abilities
Zorro is an agile athlete and acrobat, using his bullwhip as a gymnastic accoutrement to swing through gaps between city roofs, and is very capable of landing from great heights and taking a fall. Although he is a master swordsman and marksman, he has more than once demonstrated his prowess in unarmed combat against multiple opponents.
His calculating and precise dexterity as a tactician has enabled him to use his two main weapons, his sword and bullwhip, as an extension of his deft hand. He never uses brute strength, more his fox-like sly mind and well-practiced technique to outmatch an opponent.
In some versions, Zorro keeps a medium-sized dagger tucked in his left boot for emergencies. He has used his cape as a blind, a trip-mat and a disarming tool. Zorro's boots are also sometimes weighted, as is his hat, which he has thrown, Frisbee-style, as an efficiently substantial warning to enemies. But more often than not, he uses psychological mockery to make his opponents too angry to be coordinated in combat.
Zorro is a skilled horseman. The name of his jet-black horse has varied through the years. In The Curse of Capistrano, it was unnamed. Later versions named the horse Tornado/Toronado or Tempest. In other versions, Zorro rides a white horse named Phantom.
McCulley's concept of a band of men helping Zorro is often absent from other versions of the character. An exception is Zorro's Fighting Legion (1939), starring Reed Hadley as Diego. In Douglas Fairbanks' version, he also has a band of masked men helping him. In McCulley's stories, Zorro was aided by a deaf-mute named Bernardo. In Disney's Zorro television series, Bernardo is not deaf but pretends to be, and serves as Zorro's spy. He is a capable and invaluable helper for Zorro, sometimes wearing the mask to reinforce his master's charade. The Family Channel's Zorro television series replaces Bernardo with a teenager named Felipe, played by Juan Diego Botto, with a similar disability and pretense.
While Superman popularized the concept of the superhero and established some of its tropes, Zorro is considered by some to be the archetype of the modern American superhero as he debuted in a pulp novel in 1919 (20 years before Superman debuted). Thus making him the one of the oldest superheroes still in publication.
His influence on the genre includes the secret identity, the hidden lair and the masked costume.
He is also referenced in fiction as the key event for Batman to become a hero after his parents were murdered in front of him on their way home from seeing the film The Mark of Zorro. In reality, Batman's creator Bob Kane stated in interviews that Zorro was one of the inspirations for the character.