Monday, October 1, 2018

Zorro and Grimdark

Jon Del Arroz gives a brief introduction to the comics of pulp icon Zorro:
Zorro was created in 1919 by Johnston McCulley, with the short novel, The Curse of Capistrano, which ran in the magazine All-Star Weekly. The story was soon adapted to film, and the mad success of the movie made Johnston write a lot more stories (he wrote 5 serialized novels and 57 shorts in all). The first novel is very self-contained, and also ends with Zorro unmasking and revealing himself to everyone, as well as his betrothal to a woman Lolita, not leaving much room at all for the character to exist. McCulley simply ignored any continuity and wrote Zorro pretty much as if the first book never happened from there out. 
The story is about a man who dresses up as a vigilante and rescues Californians from a corrupt government in the early to mid 1800s. McCulley doesn’t pay much attention to actual history either, but creates a California suitable to his ideas. 
But despite several popular movies and serials, Zorro didn’t enter the comic medium until 1958, when the Disney show reenergized the character. it was the same year McCulley died, incidentally, when Dell launched its line based on the show with the Bernardo and the fat Sergeant Garcia as hallmark characters, Disney adding a lot to the Mythos. 
The first Zorro comic run came out through Dell, and is comprised of many short one-off adventures that range anywhere from 8 pages up to 32. It’s most notable for several issues drawn by famous artist Alex Toth, who added a beautiful signature touch to the work. The series ran for 15 issues total over three years and is currently collected in 2 volume: The Complete Dell Pre-Code Comics and The Complete Alex Toth by Hermes Press. Overall, these are fantastic comics, and well worth the read. I believe some of these are adaptations of Disney episodes, but I’ve been unable to source the Disney episodes of the show to confirm.
Meanwhile, Fletcher Vredenburgh revisits the origins of Grimdark fantasy:
The concept of Grimdark started as a satire on dark and violent fiction. When the space fantasy game Warhammer 40,000 was created, it consisted of nothing but jokes about what was considered cool and edgy at the time. “In the grim and dark future of the 41st millennium there is only war.” It’s misery and violence and endless atrocities ALL THE TIME and EVERYWHERE. There is no concept of good, only endless attempts to out-evil each other. It was stupid and it was supposed to be stupid.
A lot of modern dark fantasy is just plain old epic fantasy with layers of gore, sex, and charcoal gray morality slathered on. Then it's made out that those things, by their very presence, give a story greater significance and weight. One book I'm thinking of tells a very standard tale of reluctant heroes coming out of retirement to save the world, but somehow the addition of a lot of hot-button issues and some pretty sadistic sequences makes it a better, more important book? It's not an uncommon occurrence in my readings of grimdark fantasy. These stories are seen as more realistic, and therefore more relevant and more important. 
It should be clear that my biggest problem with grimdark fiction is the claim it is something deeper and more relevant and realistic. It's not. There are too many examples of grimdark fiction I've read and reviewed that don't reflect anything like the real world, unless the author's vision was of post-Mobutu Congo. (And as a side note, little of it actually is willing to go the extra mile and get that gritty and "realistic."
What little that does meet that mark strays into the realm of grimderp instead:
Depending on your own personal tolerances for grim darkness of course, it can be taken to the extreme, just like with all descriptive traits. There is a point in which it becomes more ridiculous than anything else, because everything is indefeasibly tragic all the time - the term for this being grimderp, which is explained further below.
On that note, 90% of all grimdark fics are grimderp since writers are under the impression that just making things dark makes it good writing. There are exceptions, but they are rare, because Sturgeon's Law is a thing. On the flip side, however, certain examples have reached the apotheosis of Grimderp and become gut-bustingly hilarious.
Careful with those 1d4chan links especially at work... 


  1. "The dark and violent aspects of grimdark help it reflect the human condition in all its complex glory, whereas heroic fantasy is limited to an idealized portrayal of good and evil."

    The fact that he considers it "idealized" is the tell.

    1. I didn't pound the gavel on the constant refrain of realism throughout the article, but those who are taking it seriously instead of as a joke are repeating the same mistake as Howells.