Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Lucha Libre: Mexican Pulp

My week long Twitter ban is up, and boy do I have some shit to impart to you guys! So okay, this requires a bit of background. I'm GM'ing an AD&D campaign with Moldvay rules, and I just lost half the readers, but keep with me for a minute here. This has led me to want to get into other games systems, specifically The Hero System, thanks to Greg and Allen at Dawn Somewhere recounting their adventures using this RPG system in The Burland Campaign. So I started digging and found out that The Hero System is a little bit more complex than I'd originally thought. I also found out that in 5th edition they came out with a supplement specifically designed around Luchadores. 

I don't know what it is, but I've always loved the concept of the Luchadore. The mysterious masked wrestler. I never knew much about the history or the actual lore or the Mexican culture around luchadores, but I sure as fuck knew that their masks were cool as shit and they could work a ring like nobody's business. I used to watch the WCW back in the day (yes I'm an old man), and Rey Mysterio Jr. was one of my favorite wrestlers. So when I saw the Lucha Libre Hero Supplement, I couldn't resist, and digging around in this thing I got one of the most shocking history lessons in my life.

Well, not "shocking" in the sense of "oh my god how could they do this," but "shocking" in the sense of "oh my god how did I not know about this before now?" In the supplement they spend a fair amount of loving time recounting the general history of Lucha Libre, and it's clear the dudes who wrote this supplement are in total love with this cultural phenomenon from south of the border. I even took a bit of time to check their history independently, and from what I can gather without reading actual history books it checks out. So what did they reveal?

Oh, my dudes.

This is the granddaddy Mexican pulp treasure trove.

So it started out as actual wrestling in the classical sense. Two guys get into a ring and grapple around with one another until someone wins. Then it developed into a kind of soap opera/stage play kind of thing, with white hats and black hats, basically what we have with American professional wrestling, only most people were wearing masks. But then the filmmakers got involved, and from there it evolved ("devolved" is too negative a word to use here) into a grab-bag free-for-all of every kind of wild bullshit imaginable. 

It started out small, with a few people making personally funded movies a la Night of the Living Dead, with no budget but lots of heart and soul. They were also trying to capitalize on the popularity of Lucha Libre at the time, and good on them for seeing a market and playing to it. But then, with the popularity in Mexico of movies like Dracula, some weird shit started getting added to the mix, and these masked men became folk heroes akin to John Wayne, Wyatt Earp, or Daniel Boone, with the great El Santo (The Saint) being at the top of the pile.

And they threw literally everything they could think of at these guys. They were wrestlers in their day jobs, but by night they kept the masks they wrestled in and fought crime, or supernatural threats to the populace, or mad scientists, or fucking space aliens. It was all over the place. They took a bunch of different genres, from scifi, to horror, to noir, to crime drama, to [insert genre here], and just kind of jammed Mexican wrestlers into them.

And I don't know about you guys, but this sounds like some of the coolest shit in the world to me. The big draw here was that these guys weren't chosen by destiny. They weren't Slayers, or The Chosen One, or magically gifted with supernatural powers to slaughter evil.

They were regular dudes.

Like El Santo.

El Santo has kind of become a folk hero in Mexico, to the point of having a statue of him built in his home town. But he wasn't supernaturally strong, or super fast, or really super anything except super determined to punish evil and protect people. Be it spies, mafia hitmen, vampires, mummies, zombies, mad scientists, whatever, these guys were the physical manifestation of everything good, virtuous, and manly about Mexican culture, and they were here to kick evil in the dick despite not having any actual superpowers. They got by on their strength, tenacity, virtue, and willingness to help people, not some ring of power or [insert power trope from American comics here]. 

They were just regular dudes standing up to protect innocent people from the forces of evil.

Now I should mention that I'm insanely new to this. I'm just going on what I've read in the Lucha Libre Hero book and some independent research mostly via wikipedia articles. But I have no real reason to distrust their veracity, so I am, of course, extremely excited about this. And I definitely had to bring this treasure trove of absolute pulp weirdness to the PulpRev's attention.

I realize that some may already know more than me, but bear with me while I sperg out about that new thing I learned that's super fucking cool. Add in to the discussion, please. More information is always a plus in these situations. But the thing that I wanted to get into here is the pulp aspect of these stories.

And by "pulp aspect" I mean that pulp ethos that we all jaw on about at length anytime we can get someone who'll let us talk their ear off about it. The total, complete, batshit insane, "anything goes" style of story. 

Why would Mexican wrestlers be fighting vampires?

My friend, a better question would be this: Why wouldn't they?

Same goes with any of the other villains I've listed, and more. There is literally no reason to have Mexican wrestlers and not have them fight all kinds of wild shit while just being regular guys.

For example, in the one (1) movie in this genre that I've watched, which was the shitty dubbed version of El Santo v Las Mujeres Vampiro, there's an entire scene where he gets into a legit, no shit wrestling match with a werewolf(?). The werewolf assumes the identity of El Santo's actual opponent, and proceeds to attempt to kill El Santo in the ring until Santo unmasks him and the authorities intervene. Santo doesn't have super strength, he's just some guy. An athlete. A wrestler determined to protect people from these hellspawned fiends. 

It gives his heroism that much more impact because he isn't some supernaturally badass vampire hunter. He's El Santo, the Mexican Wrestler/Part Time Superhero. Kind of like The Punisher, minus all the guns and slick tech and PTSD. Like if Punisher had to wrestle all his enemies into submission. 

I realize that I'm presenting this badly, but it's a combination of drunkenness and just finding out about this and being so monumentally excited about it. But this kind of thing seems to be right up the PulpRev's alley.

We talk a lot about the false distinctions between genres, and how it's perfectly okay to mash fantasy and scifi together to create an interesting setting or story, and here I find out that the Mexicans have been doing that for damn near a century! It makes me wish I'd gotten into this thing a lot sooner, and I think that there are a lot of lessons we can take from the Lucha Libre films. They weren't shy about any of this, and it's given me a lot of ideas for stories as well as tabletop campaigns. 

But I truly do think we can learn a lot from the Mexican filmmakers of days gone by, and use this influence to improve our own craft. These folk tales of strong, manly, masked gentlemen protecting the weak and helpless because, well, that's just what they do is incredibly fertile ground for the PulpRev to plant story seeds in. 

So I hope you'll join me on this journey of exploration into Mexico's Lucha Libre phenomenon, because there's a lot there to work with, and a lot of story ideas to be had. A few stories in the PulpRev Sampler follow this template, perhaps unknowingly, and it's entirely possible that we could revive the glory days of Lucha Libre and bring it to an American audience for whom it never really caught on, for one reason or another. There is infinite potential here for stories of regular guys doing good because it's what they're supposed to do, and I think it'd be worth it to take a look at what our friends to the south have been doing for the past century.

So if you're an indie horror film buff, or a wrestling fan, or just someone who likes stories about regular dudes vanquishing evil, there's a metric shit ton of material here to draw from. Not just the El Santo flicks, which are fairly numerous because this guy is basically Mexico's Elvis, but the other wrestlers in the genre. 

I'm not saying we need to start writing the most batshit insane adventure stories imaginable about Mexican wrestlers...

But I am saying that we could do far worse than writing the most batshit insane adventure stories imaginable about Mexican wrestlers. 


  1. A lot of what we are trying to recapture in the PulpRev is storytelling that still exists elsewhere. A lot of what we have lost in American storytelling was lost because of the specific actions of specific people, and the way those actions ripple out.

    I'm going to be a giant-ass dork and make another comparison - OSR D&D and Tunnels & Trolls. D&D has gone through mutation after mutation, been all kinds of crazy shit, and in the end it was just in the last decade or so that the OSR woke up, looked back to the old stuff, and said "Wait, we can play like this?"

    Meanwhile Tunnels & Trolls is over here, still under control of its own batshit awesome/crazy creators, still doing its Old School thing sans revolutione...because it never went away.

    Same thing with Mexico and Lucha Libre, China and Wuxia/Xianxia, France with its Lovecraftiana, and so on.

  2. There is an official WWE D20 RPG called "Know Your Role" (I happen to have a copy because I know one of the writers). I've never tried running it, but it has very extensive rules for different moves and for handling big, over the top combats. I can see combining it with a D20 modern horror system to create a Wrestlers Against Darkness campaign.

    Personally, I'd do it as Roadshow campaign, with the characters being a travelling group that does matches all over the country in small/medium sized cities and finds new supernatural/unnatural threats in every city.

    I think it could be a blast.

  3. For those interested, try Lucha Underground on Netflix. It's more Grindhouse than pulp, and more telenovella than WWE, but it's a more accessible intro to lucha for non-Spanish speakers than CMLL or the AAA dumpster fire.

    1. I was about to post just this. What I've seen of Lucha Underground is exactly what I liked about wrestling growing up. It definitely beats the modern product McMahon puts out now.

    2. Thank you for the tip, guys. I'll check it out!

  4. & there's always lucha if you know where to look.

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