El Muerto (The Dead One), also known as El Muerto: The Aztec Zombie, is a fictional character and comic book superhero created by American comics creator Javier Hernandez and published through his own imprint Los Comex. The comic book follows the story of 21-year-old Diego de la Muerte, who while on his way to a local Dia de los Muertos festival in Whittier, California, is abducted and sacrificed by the Aztec gods of death and destiny only to return to earth one year later with supernatural powers. The character made his first appearance in a xeroxed black and white preview comic titled Daze of the Dead: The Numero Uno Edition (Feb. 1998). The initial series of El Muerto was met with critical success and the character's popularity has led to several adaptations in other media including a live-action award-winning independent film starring Wilmer Valderrama.
...[T]he straw that broke the camel's back, regarding Big Umbrella, was the fact that Diamond, the sole, national comic distributor with an exclusive contract with the national comic books direct market, chose to only carry some of the books.
Despite the break-up however, the indie comic-book creators still remain close friends and often collaborate on their independent works. Currently, Javier is finishing the official sequel, "El Muerto: Dead & Confused" which will be the first issue to be featured online before put to press. In an announcement found on his website, Hernandez declared "I've seen the future and its digital...", referring to his plans to release future issues of El Muerto in a webcomic format with collected issues being printed with an option to buy. In February 2008, the comic will be celebrating its 10th anniversary. The original "Numero Uno Edition" has since been reprinted in a special "King Size Edition" which along with the follow-up book "El Muerto: Mish-Mash" is available for purchase on the official website .
El Muerto was born Juan Diego de la Muerte, and grew up in Whittier, California. As a small child, Diego developed a fascination with the holiday of Dia de Los Muertos after watching a film titled "Los Muertos Tambien Lloran" ("The Dead Also Cry"). The film involved a man who returns from the dead on the holiday to visit his wife. When the clock is just about to turn midnight, the man decides he could no longer bear the pain of leaving his wife again for a whole year. In an act of desperation, the man kills his wife thinking they can exist together in the afterlife. However, when she dies the man begins to wither away and turn to dust as there is no one living who can keep his memory alive. About a year after seeing the film, Diego met, Issac "Zak" Silver. Zak was also a fan of the film and developed a growing interest in the Day of the Dead along with Diego. A secret pact was made between the two and they created an "Afterlife Contract" vowing that whomever should die first will visit the other and in turn the other would keep the visitor's memory alive. The film also sparked Diego's interest in Mexican art, history, and mythology. He would spend a number of hours at Pre-Columbian museums and exhibits, learning just about everything there is to know about the subject. When Diego became older, he became an altar boy at his church and held the longest uninterrupted service record at St. Mary's. Despite his beliefs, the study of Aztec mythology often led him to question his own religion. Leading him to wonder what his Aztec ancestors thought when their ancient gods were replaced with Catholicism.
Diego became 21-years-old on November 2 and wanted to have as much fun as possible- despite the fact his girlfriend of eight months had just broken up with him. Anticipating a local Dia de Los Muertos festival, Diego dons the guise of an undead Mariachi. He applies the traditional facial markings to give himself a ghoulish look and even gets a tattoo of a calavera skull on his left arm to celebrate the occasion, a inspired from an Aztec temple bearing the same design. After getting the tattoo, Diego eagerly calls his friends to see if they are to celebrate at the upcoming festival. Unfortunately, all his friends were busy on that particular night and had to "flake-out". Zak had become terribly ill but to make up for his absence lent his car to Diego for the evening. Undiscouraged, Diego planned to have the best time possible. Unbeknownst to Diego, the tattoo he marked himself with was actually an ancient Aztec symbol of death. While driving his friend's car to the festival, the vehicle is struck by lightning causing him to veer off-road and crash into a tree, killing him. He soon awakened in Mictlan to meet the Aztec god of death Mictlantecuhtli and the Aztec god of dreams Tezcatlipoca. It was there the god of death sacrificed Diego in an ancient ritual in which his heart was ripped out with an obsidian blade. Mictlantecuhtli then placed the still beating heart in a clay pot and permanently seared Diego's facial markings to his flesh. Soon after his horrific ordeal, Diego is cast back to earth via lightning bolt, exactly one year after his death. And so Diego de la Muerte was reborn as El Muerto. His costume once intended for fun was now his permanent appearance. Realizing his family and friends already mourned him, he concludes that it is best to leave his hometown and heads to Mexico, in search of answers.
El Muerto was adapted into a 2007 live-action independent film starring Wilmer Valderrama as the eponymous character, Angie Cepeda as Diego's girlfriend Maria, and Joel David Moore as Zak. The film also features the performances of Tony Plana, Billy Drago, Tony Amendola, Maria Conchita Alonso, and Michael Parks. The film was written and directed by writer-director Brian Cox with Javier Hernandez acting as Associate-Producer of the film. The film took a few liberties with El Muerto's origin story, adding scenes of a young orphaned Diego illegally crossing the United States-Mexico border and giving the hero additional powers of telepathy and a calming affect when in physical contact with another person.
The official premiere to the public was on March 1, 2007 at the Latino Film Festival in San Diego, California. Subsequent festival screenings included Toronto, New York, San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles. The film received a full-fledged theatrical premiere at Laemmle Grande Theatre on September 14, 2007 located at its downtown Los Angeles venue and was later screened at the first annual Whittier Film Festival where it won the Best Feature Film award. A straight-to-DVD release was distributed on September 18, 2007 by Echo Bridge Entertainment. Despite being titled "El Muerto" throughout its conception and subsequent film screenings, the DVD was later re-titled "The Dead One" (the English language translation of El Muerto) for marketing purposes. The original DVD release holds several special features including; seven original illustrations by special guest artists, DVD commentary, three original featurettes, a Spanish language track, a slide-show of the original comic, a DVD-ROM feature and an exclusive mini-comic. Currently, the DVD is being reissued under the film's original title, with the same special features. The possibility of a sequel is likely to depend on positive DVD sales.