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Zorro (Diego de la Vega).jpg
Cover to Dynamite Entertainment's Zorro #2 (March 2008) by Mike Mayhew
First appearanceAll-Story Weekly (August 1919)
Created byJohnston McCulley
Portrayed by
In-universe information
Full nameDon Diego de la Vega
OccupationNobleman, vigilante
NationalityNew Spanish / Mexican

Zorro (Spanish for 'fox') is a fictional character created in 1919 by American pulp writer Johnston McCulley, appearing in works set in the Pueblo of Los Angeles in Alta California.[1] He is typically portrayed as a dashing masked vigilante who defends the commoners and indigenous peoples of California against corrupt and tyrannical officials and other villains. His signature all-black costume includes a cape, a hat known as a sombrero cordobés, and a mask covering the upper half of his face.

In the stories, Zorro has a high bounty on his head, but is too skilled and cunning for the bumbling authorities to catch, and he also delights in publicly humiliating them. Because of this, the townspeople started calling him "El Zorro" due to his foxlike cunning and charm. Zorro is an acrobat and an expert in various weapons, but the one he employs most frequently is his rapier, which he uses often to carve the initial "Z" on his defeated foes, and other objects to "sign his work". He is also an accomplished rider, his trusty steed being a black horse called Tornado.

Zorro is the secret identity of Don Diego de la Vega (originally Don Diego Vega), a young man who is the only son of Don Alejandro de la Vega, the richest landowner in California, while Diego's mother is dead. In most versions, Diego learned his swordsmanship while at university in Spain, and created his masked alter ego after he was unexpectedly summoned home by his father because California had fallen into the hands of an oppressive dictator. Diego is usually shown living with his father in a huge hacienda, which contains a number of secret passages and tunnels, leading to a secret cave that serves as headquarters for Zorro's operations and as Tornado's hiding place. In order to divert suspicion about his identity, Diego hides his fighting abilities while also pretending to be a coward and a fop.

Zorro made his debut in the 1919 novel The Curse of Capistrano, originally meant as a stand-alone story. However, the success of the 1920 film adaptation The Mark of Zorro starring Douglas Fairbanks and Noah Beery, which introduced the popular Zorro costume, convinced McCulley to write more Zorro stories for about four decades: the character was featured in a total of five serialized stories and 57 short stories, the last one appearing in print posthumously in 1959, the year after his death. The Curse of Capistrano eventually sold more than 50 million copies, becoming one of the best-selling books of all time. While the rest of McCulley's Zorro stories did not enjoy the same popularity, as most of them were never reprinted until the 21st century, the character also appears in over 40 films and in ten TV series, the most famous being the Disney-produced Zorro series of 1957–1959, starring Guy Williams. Other media featuring Zorro include stories by other authors, audio/radio dramas, comic books and strips, stage productions and video games.

Being one of the earliest examples of a fictional masked avenger with a double identity, Zorro inspired the creation of several similar characters in pulp magazines and other media, and is a precursor of the superheroes of American comic books, with Batman drawing particularly close parallels to the character.

Publishing history

Zorro's debut in the novel The Curse of Capistrano (1919).
Zorro's debut in the novel The Curse of Capistrano (1919).

Zorro debuted in Johnston McCulley's novel The Curse of Capistrano, serialized in five parts between August 9 and September 6, 1919, in the pulp magazine All-Story Weekly.[2] The story was originally meant as a standalone tale, and 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.[citation needed] The novel was adapted as the film The Mark of Zorro (1920), which Fairbanks produced, co-wrote and starred in as Diego/Zorro. The movie was a commercial success,[2] and the 1924 reprint of McCulley's story by publisher Grosset & Dunlap used the same title, capitalizing on the movie's popularity. The novel has since been reprinted using both titles.

In response to public demand fueled by the film, McCulley wrote more than sixty more Zorro stories, beginning in 1922 with The Further Adventures of Zorro, which was also serialized in Argosy All-Story Weekly. Fairbanks picked up the movie rights for the sequel that year. However, Fairbanks's sequel, Don Q, Son of Zorro (1925), was more based on the 1919 novel Don Q's Love Story by the mother–son duo Kate Prichard and Hesketh Hesketh-Prichard, than The Further Adventures. Thus McCulley received no credit on the film.[3]

At first, production of new Zorro stories proceeded at irregular intervals: the third novel, Zorro Rides Again (not to be confused with the 1937 theatrical serial) was published in 1931, nine years after the second one. Then, between 1932 and 1941, McCulley wrote four short stories and two serialized novels. Zorro stories were published much more frequently between 1944 and 1951, a period in which McCulley published 52 short stories with the character for the West Magazine. "Zorro Rides the Trail!", which appeared in Max Brand's Western Magazine in 1954, is the last story to be published during the author's lifetime, and the second-to-last story overall. The last, "The Mask of Zorro" (not to be confused with the 1998 film), was published posthumously in Short Stories for Men in 1959. These stories ignore Zorro's public revelation of his identity.

The Curse of Capistrano eventually sold more than 50 million copies, becoming one of the best-selling books of all time. For the most part, McCulley's other Zorro stories remained overlooked and out-of-print until the 21st century. Bold Venture Press collected all McCulley's Zorro stories Zorro: The Complete Pulp Adventures, in six volumes.

Over 40 Zorro titled films were made over the years, including The Mark of Zorro, the 1940 classic starring Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone. The character was also featured in ten TV series, the most famous being the Disney-produced Zorro series of 1957–59, starring Guy Williams.[2] Zorro appears in several stories written by other authors, comics books and strips, stage productions, video games and other media. McCulley died in 1958, just as Zorro was at the height of his popularity thanks to the Disney series.

Fictional character biography

Douglas Fairbanks in the first Zorro film, The Mark of Zorro (1920), which was instrumental in the early success of the character
Douglas Fairbanks in the first Zorro film, The Mark of Zorro (1920), which was instrumental in the early success of the character

In The Curse of Capistrano, Señor Zorro became an outlaw in the pueblo of Los Angeles in California "to avenge the helpless, to punish cruel politicians, to aid the oppressed" and is dubbed the "Curse of Capistrano". The novel features extensively both Don Diego Vega and Zorro, but the fact that they are the same person is not revealed to the reader until the end of the book. In the story, both Diego and Zorro romance Lolita Pulido, an impoverished noblewoman. While Lolita is unimpressed with Diego, who pretends to be a passionless fop, she is attracted to the dashing Zorro. The main villain is Captain Ramon, who also has his eyes on Lolita. Other characters include Sgt. Pedro Gonzales, Zorro's enemy but Diego's friend; Diego's deaf and mute servant Bernardo; his ally, Fray (Friar) Felipe; his father Don Alejandro Vega, the richest landowner in California and a widower; Don Carlos Pulido and his wife, Doña Catalina, Lolita's parents; and a group of noblemen (caballeros) who, at first, hunt Zorro but are then won over to his cause.

In later stories, McCulley introduces characters such as pirates and Native Americans, some of whom know Zorro's identity.

In McCulley's later stories, Diego's surname became de la Vega. In fact, the writer was wildly inconsistent. The first magazine serial ended with the villain dead and Diego publicly exposed as Zorro. But in the sequel, the villain was alive and the next entry had the double identity still secret.

Several Zorro productions have expanded on the character's exploits. Many of the continuations feature a younger character taking up the mantle of Zorro.

McCulley's stories are set during the era of Spanish California (1769–1821)[4] and, although exact years are often vague, the presence of the Pueblo of Los Angeles means the stories cannot happen before 1781, the year it was founded. Some media adaptations of Zorro's story have placed him during the later era of Mexican California (1821–1848).

Character motifs

Zorro (Guy Williams) and Bernardo (Gene Sheldon) in Walt Disney's 1957–1959 Zorro television series
Zorro (Guy Williams) and Bernardo (Gene Sheldon) in Walt Disney's 1957–1959 Zorro television series

The character's visual motif is typically a black costume with a black flowing Spanish cloak or cloak, a black flat-brimmed hat known as sombrero cordobés, and a black sackcloth mask that covers the top half of his head. Sometimes the mask is a two piece, the main item being a blindfold-type fabric with slits for the eyes, and the other item being a bandana over the head, so that it is covered even if the hat is removed: this is the mask worn in the movie The Mark of Zorro (1920) and in the television series Zorro (1957–1959). Other times, the mask is a one piece that unites both items described above: this mask was introduced in The Mark of Zorro (1940) and appears in many modern versions. Zorro's mask has also occasionally been shown as being a rounded domino mask, which he wore without also wearing a bandana. In his first appearance, Zorro's cloak is purple, his hat is generically referred to as a "wide sombrero," and his black cloth veil mask with slits for eyes covers his whole face. Other features of the costume may vary.[citation needed]

His favored weapon is a rapier, which he also uses to often leave his distinctive mark, a Z cut with three quick strokes, on his defeated foes and other objects to "sign his work". He also uses other weapons, including a bullwhip and a pistol.

The fox is never depicted as Zorro's emblem. It is used as a metaphor for the character's wiliness, such as in the lyrics "Zorro, 'the Fox', so cunning and free ..." from Disney's television series theme.

His heroic pose consists of rearing on his horse, Tornado, often saluting with his hand or raising his sword high. The logo of the company Zorro Productions, Inc. uses an image of Zorro rearing on his horse, sword raised high.

Skills and resources

Poster for the serial Zorro Rides Again (1937), starring John Carroll as a descendant of the original Zorro
Poster for the serial Zorro Rides Again (1937), starring John Carroll as a descendant of the original Zorro

Zorro is very intelligent and can not only use a complex strategy, prepared before entering the battlefield, but also improvise plans in the moment of danger and combat. He never uses brute force and, indeed, more often than not he uses humor and psychological teasing to irritate his opponents, causing them to lose their emotional detachment and become too eager for revenge to be able to coordinate in action and in combat. He fools them by provoking them into his traps.

In addition to having exceptional tactical skills, he specializes in infiltrating heavily guarded enemy structures or territories, espionage and improvised explosive devices. His calculating and precise ability as a tactician allowed him to also use weapons as an extension of his skillful hand. He is also a weapons expert and a master of escape and camouflage. He is also good at deciphering numerous languages, both spoken and written. Zorro also masters body language, gestures and symbols, facilitating communication with locals regardless of ethnicity or language.

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. Keen intelligence and an acute power of observation are two main skills allowing Zorro to surprise, in order to defeat, establishment enemies.

His calculating and precise dexterity as a tactician has enabled Zorro to use two key weapons, his sword and bullwhip, as an extension of his deft hand. He never uses brute strength. Instead and more likely, he uses his fox-like and sly mind, and well-practiced technique to outmatch an opponent. He uses seduction as Zorro and coyness as Don Diego de la Vega, tricking his opponents to obstruct easy access to his true identity by using deception as masterful skill.

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. In Disney's Zorro television series the horse gets the name Tornado, which has been kept in many later adaptations. In most versions, Zorro keeps Tornado in a secret cave, connected to his hacienda with a system of secret passages and tunnels.

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 secret agent. 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. In Isabel Allende's Zorro: A Novel, Bernardo is the child of the de la Vega's Native housemaid, Ana, who forms a bond with Regina de la Vega, a former Native warrior who is converted, Christainized and married to Don Alejandro. Their dual pregnancies result in them giving birth the same night. Due to complications from birth, Regina cannot breastfeed her child, Diego, so Ana breastfeeds both boys, making them milk brothers. The two are shown to be inseparable, which helps Bernardo receive more formal education, and accompanies Diego to Barcelona. After a group of pirates invade the de la Vega home, Bernardo witnesses the rape and murder of his mother and a result stops speaking. Diego's grandmother White Owl concludes Bernardo refuses to speak as a form of mourning. He is shown to speak to Tornado in a spirit quest and later to a fellow native girl, Light-in-the-Night, whom he marries.


Zorro (Reed Hadley) in the serial Zorro's Fighting Legion (1939)
Zorro (Reed Hadley) in the serial Zorro's Fighting Legion (1939)

In The Curse of Capistrano, Diego is described as "a fair youth of excellent blood and twenty-four years, noted the length of El Camino Real for his small interest in the really important things of life." It is also said that "Don Diego was unlike the other full-blooded youths of the times. It appeared that he disliked action. He seldom wore his blade, except as a matter of style and apparel. He was damnably polite to all women and paid court to none. ... Those who knew Don Diego best declared he yawned ten score times a day." Though proud as befitting his class (and seemingly uncaring about the lower classes), he shuns action, rarely wearing his sword except for fashion, and is indifferent to romance with women. This is, of course, a sham. At the end of the novel, Diego explains that he has planned his double identity since he was fifteen:

"It began ten years ago, when I was but a lad of fifteen," he said. "I heard tales of persecution. I saw my friends, the frailes, annoyed and robbed. I saw soldiers beat an old native who was my friend. And then I determined to play this game."

"It would be a difficult game to play, I knew. So I pretended to have small interest in life, so that men never would connect my name with that of the highwayman I expected to become. In secret, I practiced horsemanship and learned how to handle a blade—"

"By the saints, he did," Sergeant Gonzales growled.

"One half of me was the languid Don Diego you all knew, and the other half was the Curse of Capistrano I hoped one day to be. And then the time came, and my work began."

"It is a peculiar thing to explain, señores. The moment I donned cloak and mask, the Don Diego part of me fell away. My body straightened, new blood seemed to course through my veins, my voice grew strong and firm, fire came to me! And the moment I removed cloak and mask I was the languid Don Diego again. Is it not a peculiar thing?"

This part of the backstory was changed in the 1920 film The Mark of Zorro: Diego is recently returned from Spain at the start of the movie, and Zorro later tells Lolita that he learnt his swordsmanship in Spain. The 1925 sequel Don Q, Son of Zorro expands on this concept by saying that: "Though the home of the De Vegas has long been on California soil, the eldest son of each new generation returns to Spain for a period of travel and study." The 1940 film The Mark of Zorro keeps the idea of Diego learning his swordsmanship in Spain, and adds the idea of him being unexpectedly summoned home by his father Don Alejandro when California fell into the hand of an oppressing dictator. Both ideas would then be included in most retelling of the character's backstory.

McCulley's portrayal of Diego's personality, with minor variations, is followed in most Zorro media.

A notable exception to this portrayal is Disney's Zorro (1957–59), where Diego, despite using the original façade early in the series, instead becomes a passionate and compassionate crusader for justice and simply masquerades as "the most inept swordsman in all of California". In this show, everyone knows Diego would love to do what Zorro does, but thinks he does not have the skill.

The Family Channel's Zorro (1990–1993) takes this concept further. While Diego pretends to be inept with a sword, the rest of his facade is actually exaggerating his real interests. Diego is actually well-versed and interested in art, poetry, literature, and science. His facade is pretending to be interested in only these things and to have no interest in swordplay or action. Zorro also has a well-equipped laboratory in his hidden cave in this version of the story.

In Isabel Allende's novel, Diego is a mestizo, the son of a Spanish aristocrat and a Shoshone warrior woman. Thus, as a child, Diego is caught between the divine right of nobility and the ways of his Native mother, grandmother and ancestors.


The historical figure most often associated with the Zorro character is Joaquin Murrieta, whose life was fictionalized in an 1854 dime novel by John Rollin Ridge. In the 1998 film The Mask of Zorro Murrieta's (fictitious) brother Alejandro succeeds Diego as Zorro. As a hero with a secret identity who taunts his foes by signing his deeds, Zorro finds a direct literary predecessor in Sir Percival Blakeney, hero of the Scarlet Pimpernel pulp series by Emma Orczy.

The character recalls other figures, such as Robin Hood, Reynard the Fox, Salomon Pico,[5] Manuel Rodríguez Erdoíza, and Tiburcio Vasquez. Another possible historical inspiration is William Lamport, an Irish soldier who lived in Mexico in the seventeenth century. His life was the subject of a fictive book by Vicente Riva Palacio; The Irish Zorro (2004) is a recent biography. Another is Estanislao, a Yokuts man who led a revolt against the Mission San Jose in 1827.

The 1860s, 1880s and 1900s penny dreadful treatment of the Spring-heeled Jack character as a masked avenger may have inspired some aspects of Zorro's heroic persona.[6][7] Spring Heeled Jack was portrayed as a nobleman who created a flamboyant, masked alter ego to fight injustice, frequently demonstrated exceptional athletic and combative skills, maintained a hidden lair and was known to carve the letter "S" into walls with his rapier as a calling card.

Like Sir Percy in The Scarlet Pimpernel, Don Diego avoids suspicion by playing the role of an effete dandy who wears lace, writes poetry, and shuns violence. The all-black Fairbanks film costume, which with variations has remained the standard costume for the character, was likely adapted from the Arrow serial film character The Masked Rider (1919). This character was the first Mexican black-clad masked rider on a black horse to appear on the silver screen. Fairbanks's costume in The Mark of Zorro, released the following year, resembled that of the Rider with only slight differences in the mask and hat.[8]

In 1860 Mór Jókai published his novel "Szegény Gazdagok" (Poor richmen), where the main character is the Hungarian Baron Lénárd Hátszegi, who is supposed to have the alterego of the "Fatia Negra" (The one with the Black face), an outlaw who robs local people during the night, and during the day lives an aristocratic life. The novel's character was inspired by the real life Hungarian Baron László Nopcsa (1794–1884), who according to the local legends had a similar type of alterego.[9]

Copyright and trademark disputes

The copyright and trademark status of the Zorro character and stories have been disputed. Most of the entries of the Zorro franchise are still protected by copyright, and many hundreds of copyrights are owned or controlled by Zorro Productions, Inc. but there are at least five exceptions: the 1919 novel The Curse of Capistrano, the 1920 film The Mark of Zorro, the 1922 novel The Further Adventures of Zorro, the 1925 film Don Q, Son of Zorro and the 1926 film In the Way of Zorro are in the public domain in the United States since at least 95 years have passed after their first release. Zorro Productions, Inc. asserts that it "controls the worldwide trademarks and copyrights in the name, visual likeness and the character of Zorro."[10] It further states "[t]he unauthorized, unlicensed use of the name, character and/or likeness of 'Zorro' is an infringement and a violation of state and federal laws."[11]

In 1999, TriStar Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures, sued Del Taco, Inc., due to a fast-food restaurant advertising campaign that allegedly infringed Zorro Productions' claims to a trademark on the character of Zorro. Sony and TriStar had paid licensing fees to Zorro Productions, Inc., related to the 1998 film The Mask of Zorro. In an August 1999 order, the court ruled that it would not invalidate Zorro Productions' trademarks as a result of the defendant's arguments that certain copyrights in Zorro being in the public domain or owned by third parties.[12]

Tessie Santiago as the Queen of Swords
Tessie Santiago as the Queen of Swords
The Mark of Zorro (1920), starring Douglas Fairbanks, is out of copyright
The Mark of Zorro (1920), starring Douglas Fairbanks, is out of copyright

A dispute took place in the 2001 case of Sony Pictures Entertainment v. Fireworks Ent. Group.[13] On January 24, 2001, Sony Pictures, TriStar Pictures and Zorro Productions, Inc. sued Fireworks Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, and Mercury Entertainment, claiming that the Queen of Swords television series infringed upon the copyrights and trademarks of Zorro and associated characters. Queen of Swords is a 2000–2001 television series set in Spanish California during the early 19th century and featuring a hero who wore a black costume with a red sash and demonstrated similarities to the character of Zorro, including the sword-fighting skills, use of a whip and bolas, and horse-riding skills.

Zorro Productions, Inc., argued that it owned the copyright to the original character because Johnston McCulley assigned his Zorro rights to Mitchell Gertz in 1949. Gertz died in 1961, and his estate transferred to his children, who created Zorro Productions, Inc. Fireworks Entertainment argued that the original rights had already been transferred to Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. in 1920 and provided documents showing this was legally affirmed in 1929, and also questioned whether the copyright was still valid.

The court ruled that "since the copyrights in The Curse of Capistrano and The Mark of Zorro lapsed in 1995 or before, the character Zorro has been in the public domain".[14] Judge Collins also stated that: "Plaintiffs' argument that they have a trademark in Zorro because they licensed others to use Zorro, however, is specious. It assumes that ZPI had the right to demand licenses to use Zorro at all." Judge Collins subsequently vacated her ruling following an unopposed motion filed by Sony Pictures, TriStar Pictures and Zorro Productions, Inc.[15]

In another legal action in 2010, Zorro Productions, Inc., sued Mars, Incorporated, makers of M&M's chocolate candies, and ad agency BBDO Worldwide over a commercial featuring a Zorro-like costume.[16] The case was settled ("each party shall bear its own costs incurred in connection with this action, including its attorney's fees and costs") on August 13, 2010.[17]

In March 2013, Robert W. Cabell, author of Z – the Musical of Zorro (1998), filed another lawsuit against Zorro Productions, Inc. The lawsuit asserted that the Zorro character is in the public domain and that the trademark registrations by Zorro Productions, Inc., are therefore fraudulent.[18] In October 2014, Cabell's lawsuit was dismissed, with the judge ruling that the state of Washington (where the case was filed) did not have jurisdiction over the matter.[19][20] However the judge later reversed his decision and had the case transferred to California.[21] In May 2017, U.S. District Judge Davila granted Zorro Productions, Inc.'s motion to dismiss Cabell's claim to cancel its federal trademark registrations.[22] Cabell did not appeal.

In June 2015, Robert W. Cabell's legal dispute with Zorro Productions, Inc. resulted in the Community Trade Mark for "Zorro" being declared invalid by the European Union's Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market for goods of classes 16 and 41.[23] This follows the 'Winnetou' ruling of the Office's First Board of Appeal[24] in which the Board of Appeal ruled that the name of famous characters cannot be protected as a trademark in these classes. Zorro Productions appealed the decision and, on December 19, 2017, the EUIPO Fourth Board of Appeal nullified the lower court's ruling, declaring the contested trademarks as valid, and required Cabell to pay the costs of the legal action, the appeal and Zorro Productions' legal fees and costs[citation needed]. Zorro Productions, Inc. owns approximately 1300 other ZORRO related trademarks worldwide[citation needed]. In May 2018, Judge Edward Davila processed a complaint by Cabell to find Zorro Productions infringed copyright on his musical.[25]


Texas Tech's The Masked Rider

The 1936 film The Vigilantes Are Coming features a masked vigilante with a costume similar to Zorro, which led several countries to name the movie after Zorro: the film was named Zorro l'indomptable in France, Zorro – Der blutrote Adler in Germany, Zorro – den blodrøde ørn in Denmark and Zorro – veripunainen kotka in Finland. The main character, The Eagle, is played by Robert Livingston, who would then play the actual Zorro in the movie The Bold Caballero, also released in 1936.The Vigilantes Are Coming "was a reworking of The Eagle, Rudolph Valentino's silent film."[26] In the film, Valentino plays the masked hero Black Eagle. The Eagle was based on the posthumously published 1841 novel Dubrovsky by Alexander Pushkin, the Black Eagle does not exist in the novel and was inspired by the performance of Douglas Fairbanks as Zorro in The Mark of Zorro.[27]

The Masked Rider, the primary mascot of Texas Tech University, is similar to Zorro. Originally called "Ghost Rider", it was an unofficial mascot appearing in a few games in 1936 and then became the official mascot with the 1954 Gator Bowl.

Being one of the earliest examples of a fictional avenger with a double identity, Zorro inspired the creation of several similar characters in pulp magazines and other media, and is a precursor of the superheroes of American comic books, Jerry Siegel has credited Zorro along with The Scarlet Pimpernel as one of the inspirations for the creation of Superman particularly the concept of his dual identity as mild mannered reporter Clark Kent, as Clark Kent's harmless facade and dual identity were inspired by the protagonists of such movies as Don Diego de la Vega in The Mark of Zorro and Sir Percy Blakeney in The Scarlet Pimpernel, Siegel thought this would make for interesting dramatic contrast and good humor.[28][29] Superman's stance as the Champion of the Oppressed and devil-may-care attitude during his early Golden Age appearances were influenced by the characters of The Mark of Zorro star Douglas Fairbanks, who starred in similar adventure films such as Robin Hood.[30]

Also being one of the earliest examples of a fictional masked avenger with a dual identity, Bob Kane has credited Zorro as part of the inspiration for the character Batman, which was created in 1939.[31] Like Don Diego de la Vega, Bruce Wayne is affluent, the heir of wealth built by his parents. His everyday persona encourages others to think of him as shallow, foolish and uncaring to throw off suspicion. Frank Miller's comic book miniseries The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and The Dark Knight Strikes Again (2001–2002) both include multiple Zorro references like the Batman inscribing a Z on a defeated foe. In later tellings of Batman's origins, Bruce Wayne's parents are murdered by a robber as the family leaves a showing of the 1940 film The Mark of Zorro, starring Tyrone Power.

Zorro inspired a similar pulp character known as El Coyote, which was created in 1943 by José Mallorquí. A sample superhero character called The Fox appearing in the Supers supplement of the GURPS role-playing system is also based on Zorro.

Poster from Man with the Steel Whip (1954)
Poster from Man with the Steel Whip (1954)

The Republic Pictures serials Don Daredevil Rides Again (1951) and Man with the Steel Whip (1954) features masked heroes similar to Zorro: Don Daredevil and El Latigo. Republic had previously released five Zorro serials between 1937 and 1949, but had since lost the licence for the character and could not use him anymore. The serial makes frequent use of stock footage from all five Zorro serials, with scenes originally showing Zorro now being interpreted as showing Don Daredevil and El Latigo: the result of this is that the costume and body shape of Don Daredevil and El Latigo keeps changing between scenes, even becoming female in scenes taken from Zorro's Black Whip (1944).[32][33]

The 1956 musical comedy The Court Jester features a masked freedom fighter called The Black Fox (played by Edward Ashley) who combines aspects of both Zorro and Robin Hood.

Hanna-Barbera Productions' animated series Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks (1958–1961) featured a Zorro-like character with a mask, cape and sword known in the episode "Mark of the Mouse" (1959). Hanna-Barbera Production's animated series The Quick Draw McGraw Show (1959–1962) features El Kabong, an alternate persona of the main character Quick Draw McGraw, which is loosely based upon Zorro.

In the animated series Justice League (2001–2004), a DC Comics character, El Diablo, bears a striking similarity to Zorro, in that he wears the same style hat, mask, sash and cape. The main difference is that his primary weapon is a whip. The Lazarus Lane version of El Diablo appears in Justice League Unlimited (2004–2006), voiced by Nestor Carbonell. While designed after his comic appearance, elements from Zorro's appearance were added in. Seen in the episode "The Once and Future Thing" (2005), he appears alongside Pow Wow Smith, Bat Lash and Jonah Hex.

In 2015, The M7 Con Western Convention, held at the Los Angeles Convention Center featured a segment on the history of Zorro in film and television. The presentation focused on the great Zorro actors including Douglas Fairbanks, Tyrone Power, Guy Williams, and Duncan Regehr. Maestro Ramon Martinez and actor Alex Kruz gave a live demonstration of the Spanish style of fencing known as La Verdadera Destreza. The two dueled live as Zorro and the Comandante much to the delight of the crowd.[34]

A cave that was used as a filming location in various Zorro productions is now known as "Zorro's Cave" and remains in place, now hidden behind a condominium complex, on land that was once the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., recognized as the most widely filmed outdoor shooting location in the history of Hollywood.

The DreamWorks character Puss in Boots, an anthropomorphic cat sporting high boots, a broad-brimmed and feathered sombrero, and a rapier, was also heavily inspired by Zorro (though ultimately based on the earlier Italian fairytale character of the same name). Portrayed by Antonio Banderas who also earlier played Zorro, he premiered as a character in Shrek 2 (2004) and in later sequels, as well as inspiring his own spinoff films Puss in Boots (2011) and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022).

Appearances in media

Stories by Johnston McCulley

The Further Adventures of Zorro, Argosy Vol. 142 No. 4, May 6, 1922.
The Further Adventures of Zorro, Argosy Vol. 142 No. 4, May 6, 1922.

The original stories were published in pulp magazines from the 1910s to the 1950s. Most remained unpublished in book form until the series of collected editions Zorro: The Complete Pulp Adventures, issued in 2016 and 2017.

Stories by other authors


The character has been adapted for over forty films.[35] They include:

American theatrical feature films

American film serials

Despite the title and a credit to McCulley, Zorro's Black Whip (1944), with Linda Stirling as an 1880s masked avenger known as The Black Whip, has nothing to do with Zorro.

Mexican films

European films



Note: Unofficial means not included in official film list at[36]


Zorro, el sentimiento de hierro (2019), fan film

Television series

American series – live-action

American series – animation

International series

Audio/radio dramas


Due to the popularity of the Disney TV series, in 1958, The Topps Company produced an 88-card set featuring stills from that year's movie. The cards were rare and became collectors' items. In the same year the Louis Marx company released a variety of Zorro toys such as hats, swords, toy pistols and a playset with the Lido company also making plastic figures.

A major toy line based on the classic Zorro characters, motifs and styling, was released by Italian toy giant, Giochi Preziosi, master toy licensees of the property. The toy range was developed by Pangea Corporation and released worldwide in 2005 and featured action figures in various scales, interactive playsets and roleplaying items. New original characters were also introduced, including Senor Muerte, who served as a foil to Zorro.

In 2007, Brazilian toymaker Gulliver Toys licensed the rights to Zorro: Generation Z, which was co-developed by BKN and Pangea Corporation. The toy range was designed concurrent and in association with the animated program.

In 2011, US-based collectibles company Triad Toys released a 12-inch Zorro action figure.


Zorro #01, 2008, by Dynamite Entertainment
Zorro #01, 2008, by Dynamite Entertainment

Zorro has appeared in many different comic book series over the decades. In Hit Comics #55, published by Quality Comics in November 1948, Zorro is summoned by Kid Eternity, but in this version has only a whip and does not wear a mask.[49]

Dell Comics published Zorro in Four Color Comics #228 (1949), 425 (1952), 497 (1953), 538 (1954), 574 (1954), 617 (1955) and 732 (1957). These stories featured artwork by Everett Raymond Kinstler (#497, 538, and 574), Bob Fujitani, Bob Correa and Alberto Giolitti.[50]

Dell also had a licence to publish Disney comics in the United States and, following the launch of Disney's Zorro TV series in 1957, published seven more issues of Four Color dedicated to Zorro between February 1958 and September 1959, under said licence, with the first stories featuring artwork by Alex Toth.[51] In December 1959, Dell started the publication of a standalone Disney-licensed Zorro title, which started the numeration at #8 and continued to be published until issue #15 (September 1961). The character then appeared in four stories published in the monthly Walt Disney's Comics and Stories (also published by Dell), one story per issue from #275 (August 1963) to #278 (November 1963): these were the last Zorro stories produced in the United States under the Disney licence. However, Disney produced more stories from 1964 to 1978 through the Disney Studio Program, a unit producing comic book stories exclusively for foreign consumption.[52] In addition to publishing translations of American stories and Disney Studio stories, many foreign publishers also produced their own original stories under the Disney licence: these countries are the Netherlands (1964–1967),[53] Chile (1965–1974),[54] Italy (1969–1971),[55] Brazil (1973–1983),[56] France (1974–1986)[57] and Germany (1980–1982).[58]

Gold Key Comics started another Disney-licensed Zorro series in January 1966, but, like their contemporaneous Lone Ranger series, it featured only material reprinted from the earlier Dell comics, and folded after 9 issues, in March 1968. The character remained dormant in the United States for the next twenty years until it was revived by Marvel Comics in 1990, for a 12-issue tie-in with the Duncan Regehr television series Zorro. Many of these comics had Alex Toth covers.

In 1993 Topps Comics published a 2-issue limited series Dracula Versus Zorro followed by a Zorro series that ran 11 issues. Topps also published two limited series of Lady Rawhide, a spin-off from the Zorro stories created by writer Don McGregor and artist Mike Mayhew.[59][60][61] McGregor subsequently scripted a limited series adaptation of The Mask of Zorro film for Image Comics.

A newspaper daily and Sunday strip were also published in the late 1990s. This was written by McGregor and rendered by Tom Yeates. Papercutz once published a Zorro series and graphic novels as well. This version is drawn in a manga style.

Dynamite Entertainment relaunched the character with a 20-issue Zorro series which ran from 2008 to 2010, written by Matt Wagner and drawn by multiple artists. The publisher also released an earlier unpublished tale called "Matanzas" by Don McGregor and artist Mike Mayhew. Zorro (here a 1930s descendant) also appears in the 2013 Dynamite eight-issue limited series Masks alongside the Green Hornet and Kato, The Shadow, and The Spider. It was written by Chris Roberson with art by Alex Ross and Dennis Calero.[62]

Dynamite Entertainment also published a seven-issue series titled Django/Zorro between November 2014 and May 2015, teaming Zorro with the character Django Freeman from Quentin Tarantino's movie Django Unchained (2012). The series was co-written by Tarantino and Matt Wagner, with art by Esteve Polls.[63]

In 2018, American Mythology took the license, launched the series Zorro Legendary Adventures, written by Jean-Marie Nadaud and drawn by Robert Rigot[64] and limited series Zorro: Swords of Hell, written by David Avallone and illustrated by Roy Allan Martinez.[65] The company has since released crossovers featuring Zorro with their other licensed properties, namely Zorro in the Land that Time Forgot featuring Diego De La Vega accompanying an expedition to the lost world of Caspak from the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels.

Collected editions

Over the years, various English reprint volumes have been published. These include, but are not limited to:

Stage productions

Approximately 65 separate Zorro live productions have been produced. These have included traditional stage plays, comedies, melodramas, musicals, children's plays, stunt shows, and ballets. Some examples include:


On the commercial release of the Zorro 1957 Disney TV series' Zorro theme, the lead vocal was by Henry Calvin, the actor who played Sergeant Garcia on the program. The song was written by Jimmie Dodd.

The Chordettes sang the single version of the song, complete with the "Sounds of the Z" and the clip clopping of Zorro's horse, which is heard at the song's end. The song hit Number 17 in 1958 according to the Billboard Charts.

In 1964, Henri Salvador sang "Zorro est arrivé." It tells from a child's point of view how exciting it is whenever a villain threatens to kill a lady in the television series. But every time again, to his relief, the "great and beautiful" Zorro comes to the rescue. An early music video was made at the time.

Alice Cooper's 1982 album Zipper Catches Skin includes the song "Zorro's Ascent" which is about Zorro facing his death.

The 1999 song "El Corona" by Suburban Legends tells the story of "Don Diego", the "hombre en negro" ("man in black"), a "tall Spaniard with a sharp sword" who was "down and out in LA" and defending the people from an unnamed corrupt ruler.

Video games

Role-playing games

See also


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  • Andes, Stephen Joseph Carl (2020). Zorro's Shadow: How a Mexican Legend Became America's First Superhero. Chicago Review Press.
  • Andrae, Thomas (1983). Creators Of The Superheroes. Hermes Press. ISBN 978-193256326-9.
  • Curtis, Sandra (1998). Zorro Unmasked: The Official History. Hyperion. ISBN 978-0-7868-8285-4.
  • Yenne, Bill (1991). The Legend of Zorro. Mallard Press. ISBN 978-0-7924-5547-9.