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El Mestizo Hardcover – 15 Nov 2018
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Battle produced characters such as D-Day Dawson, Major Easy, and Johnny Red. Names that are well remembered by readers to this day. But there were other series who didn't quite make those heights..
In 1977, artist Carlos Ezquerra had just finished a Rat Pack meeting Major Easy series, and wanted to try something different. So writer Alan Hebden, influenced by a certain Sergio Leone film, came up with such.
Battle usually featured World War two based stories. But this was set in the American civil war. The first war of the industrial age. A war of brother vs brother. A war of savage guerrilla raids. A war when black people were fighting for freedom and to show they could do what the white folks could.
But instead of a story with a single character on one of these sides, he came up with something different. A man in the middle who fights for himself. El Mestizo. We quickly learn that he was born a slave. Escaped and went to Mexico where he became a bandit. And now he's back north of the border.
Mestizo is a mercenary for hire. And he will do jobs for either of the sides in the civil war. Provided the price is right. And if it doesn't go against his own codes of honour. He will also play both sides against the other, or do things for others, if it will help him get what he wants.
He's black as well, and you didn't tend to get black lead characters in 1977, so this is nothing if not different.
The series quickly establishes all this and then gets up and running.
This contains all the weekly instalments, which run either three or four pages. Some are self contained and done in one part. Some carry a job over for a few weeks, but none of those tend to go more than three or four weeks.
Reading this now, it really does read like something that's ahead of it's time. Because it is so different in set up to the usual war stories of the day, it really is individual and unique. And it doesn't skimp on showing all the aforementioned horrors of this one individual war that I mentioned earlier.
It does, as with all comics of it's time, have characters who speak a lot of expository dialogue, but you get used to that. And remember these strips were designed to be read on a weekly basis, so they had to do such.
The art is as great as you would expect from Ezquerra. Given it was all done in black and white, there are some moments when the shading does make it a little tricky to distinguish if character's uniforms are grey or blue, but that's only a minor complaint.
Mestizo does remain a man of mystery for most of this, and that just adds to the character.
It didn't last more than a few months, and the introduction from Alan Hebden does say it was cut short. I do recall a letter of the time in Battle's letter page from someone saying they didn't want to read about people playing cowboys and indians. But be more open minded than they were, and you will find something unique and memorable here.
There are the sixteen weekly instalments here, plus an intro from the writer, and short bios of the two creators at the back. It doesn't have the usual long intros from writer Garth Ennis or the cover galleries and extras of the other Battle collections, and it would have been nice to have similar here. But it's still a good enough volume to be worth five stars without those.
I waited decades to read this character's story again. I wasn't disappointed.