The character of El Mestizo is semi-legendary in British comics and, mostly, rightly so. In an era where threatened white fanboys squeal at the temerity of women and members of other ethnicities to be represented in films and comics, it’s easy to think that we’ve spent the last 40 years singularly failing to challenge them.
Well, El Mestizo is absolutely a challenge to any hint of white supremacy that might or might not lurk in the comic world and this is from 40 years ago, spawned in the kind of army comic (Battle Picture Weekly) that had jolly Tommies socking it to the Hun in every other story. An ex-slave, with a natty Mexican (and Jimi Hendrix) inspired dress sense, and natty Mexican inspired signature weapon, the eponymous hero fights during the American Civil War for no one other than himself. Feared and courted by both sides, and more than a match for any Union, Confederate or bandit deserter force that comes after him, El Mestizo is a classic superhero in ability and the very archetypal Spaghetti Western anti-hero in outlook.
El Mestizo was the creation of the sadly departed Carlos Ezquerra, already the creator, in image at least, of the equally anti-heroic Judge Dredd and soon to be creator (with Dredd’s John Wagner) of the equally Spaghetti Western Strontium Dog. As you might expect, the visuals in El Mestizo are just as strong, and the hero, whose Peacocking period dress sense was genuinely inspired by Jimi Hendrix, looks just plain amazing. His signature weapon, the Bolas, has also always been one of this reviewer’s favourite overlooked ranged weapons too, so extra kudos there.
The sense of place and time is fairly authentic, for a rip-roaring roller-coaster adventure, and explores many of the themes that existed at the fringes of a war where huge battles like Gettysburg tend to steal all the glory. That said, the stories suffer somewhat from their original setting in a weekly comic where they had just a handful of pages, wedged in between hun-bashing, to build character (which barely happens), further the plot (sometimes done in the space of a ‘later…’ dialogue box), and explore moral complexities (mercenary attitudes and disloyalty are bad… er …unless you’re El Mestizo, in which case they’re bad-ASS).
Given the unusual setting, we can see why El Mestizo might not have set the world of comics alight back in the ‘70s, but that also makes it all the more of a shame that the Peacocking anti-hero didn’t. These stories are great fun but most of all they show a promise that petered out, albeit to be picked up in part in the 2000AD masterworks, like Strontium Dog, that followed.EL MESTIZCO / AUTHOR: ALAN HEBDEN / ARTIST: CARLOS EZQUERRA / PUBLISHER: REBELLION / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW