Cinco de Mayo Luchadore Comics Special: Viva Santo!
Thanks to Dark Horse's wise decision to release "Hellboy in Mexico" on Cinco de Mayo, the anniversary of Mexico's victory over the French, I've been spending even more time than usual thinking about luchadores, and it's led me to one unassailable conclusion: El Santo was awesome.
For American audiences, most people familiar with Santo know him from the 52 movies in which he (and occasionally his fellow luchador enmascarado Blue Demon) battled against various threats that included Frankensteins, Draculas, and the occasional lady vampire, but he was also the subject of a series of comic books published in Mexico. All told, there were thirty-five years of Santo comics (totally four volumes published one after the other), and to call them wildly popular would be an understatement: At their peak, the Santo comics were published three times a week and sold over half a million copies each.
Like American super-hero stories, the Santo books involved masks, tights, and people flying around (the Santo of the comics displayed super-powers he unfortunately lacked in the ring), but unlike their North-of-the-border counterparts, they weren't illustrated. Instead, they were done as fumetti-style photo-collages, using actual pictures of El Santo pasted onto various backgrounds. And while you might think that would make them seem more realistic, you'd be wrong: the overall effect is something more akin to surreal, mind-bending genius.
Especially when you consider that Santo's threats included, among other things, fighting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Santo's battles weren't all Biblical, though, although in my research I discovered that he at least occasionally received instructions directly from the Virgin Mary herself. Instead, he fought evil in all its various forms, whether it meant he was...
...choking out a crocodile...
...suplexing a witch off her broom...
...Or straight up bodyslamming a mummy.
Even the covers were insane. According to SantoStreet.com, the '70s ones were particularly amazing, "including: #59, which is pictured above, #88 -- a Star Wars rip-off, #98 -- Santo amidst a hoard of Hammer monsters, including the snake woman from The Reptile and Christopher Lee's vampire from Horror of Dracula, and #119 -- which shows a scantily clad young girl, who is clearly masturbating while looking a picture of our wholesome hero."
Sadly, the comics themselves are pretty rare, thanks largely to cheap printing and the fact that no actual "original art" exists to allow reproduction; the backgrounds were often re-used, with the photos of Santo being peeled off, replaced, and occasionally swapped out for Fake Santo, a stand-in publisher Jose Cruz used when he lost the rights to photos of the genuine article. But with a a new Santo cartoon series--wherein Santo faces off against clones of his greatest foes manufactured by a mad scientist -- maybe something'll turn up.
In the meantime, Keith Rainville has an excellent rundown of the Santo comics and their cultural impact (including the wave of lucha comics that followed, starring guys like Huracan Ramirez, Mil Mascaras and the almost ubiquitous Blue Demon). It's highly entertaining and highly informative stuff, if you're interested in lucha comics.
And really... who isn't?