Science Fantasy Friday: Real Heroes Wear Masks

Mexican cinema is rarely the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of classic sci-fi B-movies, but for several decades, that’s where the real heroes fought aliens, zombies, vampires and werewolves.

A real hero could be recognized immediately – not with his cleft chin or spit-curled hair, but with his mask.

They are the luchadores, the masked wrestlers gaining increasing fame (if not yet popularity) in the states thanks to Nacho Libre and Mucha Lucha, but for fans of these fighting heroes, one stands above all others: El Santo.

And he didn’t fight alone.

By his side against hordes of monsters were fellow heroes Blue Demon, Tinieblas, Mil Mascaras and dozens of others, each striving for fame on their own or as Los Campeones Justicieros.

This mask doesnt bleed - for vampires!
This mask doesn’t bleed – for vampires!

The greatest luchador’s long and storied history, popular comics and movies have been detailed all over the net, but what is it about these masked men that helps them remain so popular among fans.

For many, their personalites are interchangeable. Like American wrestlers, some are heels and others faces, but for the most popular there are common threads:

  • Their faces are never shown (even if their real names are known).
  • They dress well, with suits and ties (along with their masks) when not in the ring.
  • They love women, but never give themselves completely.
  • They live by a code of honor even if they act unpleasant.
  • They are more powerful than other men, but they are only human.
  • They fight monsters.
Santo, no! Leave it on!
Santo, no! Leave it on!

Imagine Batman if he stayed in character and in mask as a millionaire playboy. Wolverine if he didn’t have claws and had nothing to do with mutantkind. Hellboy, if he was human. They are the perfect heroes without the baggage of a backstory.

Fighting crime and looking good.
Fighting crime and looking good.

Admittedly, this can make them flawed as far as modern American cinema goes, but for generations of children, that was all they needed in a hero.

The tradition has spread to the U.S. in bits and pieces, but few have grasped the concept. Some scratch the surface, others flatter through imitation and some use them as stock villains.

The greatest luchador created north of the Rio Grande is not too far from Santo’s shadow. Sonambulo stalks the night, dressed in coat and tie, fighting the inner demons that plague the minds of innocents. How long will it be before more masked heroes bring this tradition to the U.S.? How long before a movie can capture the pop culture hearts of audiences? Hopefully not too long.

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