Blame it on the Cartoon Network’s Mucha Lucha for my even giving El Zombo Fantasma a second glance. Or credit it, depending, but if not for it, this book wouldn’t have even registered on my radar and that would have been my loss. I’d never heard of El Zombo‘s original 3-issue run, published under Dark Horse’s Rocket Comics imprint, but I’ve liked the [completely unrelated] cartoon the few times I’ve seen it, used to love wrestling back in the earliest days of Wrestlemania, and have been on a zombie/undead kick recently, so I was intrigued by both the cover and the premise.
An entertaining salsa of genres, Dave Wilkins and Kevin Munroe have created an engaging superhero whose wearing of tights makes sense for once as El Zombo Fantasma was “the most famous and notorious Mexican wrestler on the planet.” A villain, actually, the kind the crowd loves to hate, and he feeds off the attention, basking in the spotlight. He’s murdered after taking liberties with a title match he’s paid to throw, losing by disqualification instead of taking a fall, delivering a brutal move on the champion, Captain Courageous. When his murderer approaches, he at first mistakes him for a hypocritical fan, “asking for my autograph after spitting on me at the show.”
Fast forward a year, key moments of his life flashing before him as he falls into some sort of purgatory, and El Zombo is presented with a deal:
“Let me make this just as monosyllabically wrestler-friendly for you. If you no help girl and be good, you come back here and you go to hell for rest of… um… oh, yes… time.”
The girl in question is Belisa Alejandra Marguerite Consuela Chi-Chi Montoya, a 10-year old spitfire and one of the most wonderful characters to pop up in comics in ages. While El Zombo’s name is on the marquee, this is as much Belisa’s story as his, and like Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense went toe-to-toe with Bruce Willis, she more than holds her ground here as her own destiny is intertwined with her unorthodox, revenge-seeking guardian zombie.
Munroe spins a fun tale, compact but not light, with more character development in a 3-issue story than many comics deliver over several years’ time. These are characters you care about and, when the story ends, want to see more of. Wilkins’ character designs are distinctive and his layouts are as energetic as the Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat vs. “Macho Man” Randy Savage bout at Wrestlemania III. Oddly, his style fluctuates between the textured, almost 3-dimensional look of the cover to a flat, cartoony style, seemingly at random. It’s not terribly distracting, though it is an odd choice that makes me wonder if having three different inkers credited, including Wilkins himself, had something to with it.
As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve come to accept that the good old days of ongoing series are pretty much a thing of the past for anyone but the Super-Spider X-Bat group of “icons,” and that mini-series are the only hope for a comic like this. Considering Dark Horse’s track record with characters like Hellboy, though, hopefully there’s a chance I’ll see new adventures of El Zombo, and his precocious ward, Belisa, sometime in the near future.
El Zombo Fantasma (Dark Horse Books, 2005; $9.95) Written by Kevin Munroe; Art by Dave Wilkins, Sean Galloway and Theron Jacobs; Colored by Tony Washington; Lettering by Michael David Thomas.