Pop stuff: What I'm reading, watching, hearing, etc.

Alex Toth's Zorro: The Complete Dell Comics Adventures

If you've read much about Toth, you knew he was an opinionated cuss and very critical of comics and comic art --  including his own.

One of his biggest frustrations with comic book stories, and the Zorro scripts he was given at Dell in particular, was that they tended to place words over image. Toth felt that, in a visual medium, pictures should drive the story, not words.

In these stories, which should be a perfect match for Toth's love of swashbuckling adventure and his ability to put beautiful, flowing action on the comics page, you can't help but relate to his frustration.

We should be getting big panels of Zorro sword-fighting up and down staircases, swinging into action. leaping off balconies and running across moonlit rooftops. Instead, we get page after page crammed with six panels of talking heads practically crouching under crowded word balloons.

Part of this is a product of the time, the late 1950s, when comics tended to be word driven and pictures came in second. Dell's editors didn't appreciate the caliber of artist they had on hand. If only they'd let Toth follow through on his desire to cut some of the words and move forward more of the story with his visuals, which there's no question he could have done.

So, as much as people tend to praise Toth and his work on this series, in my view it's not the artist presented at his best. It's not even that entertaining of a read. Occasionally, there a nice plot twist or a funny scene. But I kept thinking how much better it could be.

Speaking of which, the production values in this new color edition from Hermes Press is taking some hits in online customer reviews. Some folks prefer the black and white/gray-scale version published by Image Comics in 2001. I missed that one, though it's still available and I may need to pick it up. Toth's art looks very good in black and white -- he was a master at balancing the two tones. The Hermes edition reviewed here looked ok to me, but there's no question that the colors, "remastered" from scanned art, overpowers the line art and images are somewhat murky and blurred in spots.

If you love Toth, there's no question you'll want to see these stories in one form or another. But be prepared to be a little underwhelmed. The stories here don't compare with much of his other work, including the great Zorro pin-ups and stand-alone illustrations he did throughout his career just for fun. In these, at least, he had room to let his imagination, and Zorro's cape, flow.