Friday, June 1, 2012

Mexico's...Santo El Enmascarado De Plata

From the tremendous success of his wrestling career as Santo, Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta was approached in 1952 by editor Jose Guadaloupe Cruz to produce as series of comics based on the character. Using a technique he developed years before of collage and photo composition for his comic books, the Golden Age of Santo debuted on September 3, 1952. In the origin story we have a masked avenger helping the defenseless citizens of Santa Cruz from crime lords, when our hero is mortally wounded one night by a gangster, he struggles to return home to his young son. Santo requests the boy to carry on the legacy wearing the famous silver mask, as the tale jumps sixteen years in the future to see the new Santo avenge his father's murder. Starting out fighting common criminals in the first issues, the series later took a weird turn in the 1960s as Santo now fought supernatural forces and weird villains. Sporting painted covers by  Jose G. Cruz, there were plenty of witches, vampires, mummies, zombies, werewolves, and an occasional troll to fight our wrestling hero. Since Santo and the supporting characters were photographed, cut, and pasted onto the comic pages, while the weekly villains were usually drawn into place, it created a different "scrap book" effect that provided interesting compositions not seen in other comics.

Devoted to the Virgin of Guadaloupe, Santo and his famous silver mask developed a legend that if his true face was ever shown, he would die a violent death, and this religious connection gave him supernatural strength to deal with the many demons and dangerous animals he confronted. Published twice weekly, the wrestler was now becoming more famous outside the ring than in, especially with his first feature film produced in 1958, and his extremely popular fifty two supernatural and sci-fi movies to follow up until 1982. The later comic stories had Santo support a larger cast including his child protege, Bobby, Argo, an alien friend, Kyru the white sorceress who loved him, Ik the troll from the center of the earth, and other zany characters. The villains of the issues were just as colorful with Cahuatzin, head of the ancient Aztecs, Manya, the evil red witch, Tubek, the hypnotist criminal, Ali Gazah, the magician guru, and Kroto a murdering scientist, just to name a few.

Later, after a falling out between Cruz and Huerta, a young bodybuilder named Hector Pliego donned the silver mask that now sported a snake shaped "S", a new belt, knife, and other changes to round out the whopping eight hundred and sixty four issues of this second series. The third incarnation of the feature debuted in 1976 with the Colombian reprints of the Mexican issues by Editor Icavi and later continued by Editor Vord for two hundred eight six issues before it last series with Editor Cinco in a smaller digest format. Jose G.Cruz who was the driving force as a comics editor, artist, screen writer, and actor, was never one to pass up a good image  for his Santo covers. His many artistic swipes were numerous and easily spotted on the comics whether it be from a Hammer horror movie to the classic Star Wars, but that was part of the charm from this unique "common man" character that became a pop icon in Mexican culture having his comic run continuously for thirty five years finally ending in 1987. 

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