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The Untold Truth Of Marvel's El Muerto

Sony surprised the world by adding yet another Spider-Man spinoff to their slate of super films with the announcement that rapper Bad Bunny will play the lead in an "El Muerto" film. The film will focus on a legacy hero who must prove himself worthy of the power-granting luchador mask previously worn by his father and other family members.

The move is an interesting one for Sony. The company has had clear success on its own with "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," the Venom films, and its partnership with Disney to add new Spider-Man movies to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some may have scratched their heads and wondered when the far-from-well-known "Morbius" was announced, but it's likely that even the most dedicated comic fans had to look up El Muerto because he's only appeared in two comic books! With that in mind, it's time to shine a light on all things Juan-Carlos "El Muerto" Sanchez.

He comes from a long line of heroes

El Muerto may have only appeared in two comics — 2006's "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man" #6 and #7 by Peter David and Roger Cruz — but readers learned quite a bit about the man under the mask and the history of power passed down through his family generation after generation. First, let's talk about the mask itself. The full extent of its powers remains a mystery, but it does grant him enhanced strength that he utilizes to great effect alongside his wrestling abilities.

His fighting skills may be enhanced by the mystical mask, but they are also conditioned by lifelong training. That training is overseen by his father, Marcus Estrada de la Garcia, who was the El Muerto before him. In addition to seeing Marcus as the previous wearer of the El Muerto mask, there are also mentions of Sanchez's grandfather and great-grandfather also playing the part of a luchador superhero! For unknown reasons, the mask can not simply be passed from parent to child. Instead, the candidate has to prove themselves to a mystical being known as El Dorado. However, failure in this task often leads to death.

El Muerto never wanted the power

Though trained by his father since childhood to take over the mask of El Muerto, Sanchez wanted nothing to do with the inheritance. In fact, hearing about it his whole life terrifies him as a boy and leaves him constantly scared. Even so, he absorbs as much of the training as he can and stands by his elder.

However, when the time comes for Sanchez to step forward and prove his mettle to their mysterious benefactor El Dorado, the young man refuses to fight. El Dorado threatens to kill Sanchez for failing so spectacularly. Though dedicated to the legacy, the current El Muerto throws himself into action to defend his son's life. Unfortunately, he winds up with his head separated from his body in the process. Instead of taking the mask and moving on, El Dorado gives Sanchez one more chance and a decade to show his worthiness. If he fails in that time, he will lose his life just as his father did.

El Muerto intended to unmask Spider-Man

El Muerto makes his debut on the larger stage of the Marvel Universe 10 years after that encounter with El Dorado. He has been tasked with not only building himself into a fearless warrior in that decade but also besting another masked fighter and revealing their identity to the world in a "Mascara contra mascara" bout, which translates into "mask against mask," as Wolverine helpfully explains.

To set up an encounter with Spider-Man, El Muerto saves the life of the Daily Bugle's J. Jonah Jameson. At that point, the publisher is once again peeved at the Web-Slinger because he briefly believes that his son, John Jameson, might be under the webbed mask. Between feeling thankful towards El Muerto and wanting to knock Spidey down a few rungs, he sets up a charity match between the two. However, it soon goes sideways when one of the Wall-Crawler's new powers sends a semi-poisonous dart into El Muerto's leg, knocking him out and landing him in the hospital. 

There, El Dorado appears to collect Sanchez's head, but Spider-Man jumps in to defend his former opponent. The pair teams up to defeat their golden foe and — well, that was it! They seem to leave as cohorts, but El Muerto has not appeared outside of any encyclopedia-style entries since then.

He appeared during a weird time in Spider-Man's life

If you happen to read these two issues before you watch "El Muerto," or even if you're just looking at the images in this story, you'll notice some unusual aspects of Spider-Man's then-status quo. For one thing, he is teaching high school at this point. In addition, he is still married to Mary Jane Watson, and the couple lives in Avengers Tower at this point because he is still on the superhero team. Most visually apparent, however, is that he's also wearing what's known as the Iron Spider costume, which is so named because Iron Man created it. That relationship is reflected a bit in the MCU films, though there was more of a teacher-student dynamic between Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark and Tom Holland's Spider-Man in those films.

Then there's that whole thing where Parker's body produces a way to knock El Muerto out even without him planning to. That is a result of a crossover called The Other that reveals Peter's true nature as a Spider-Totem, a supernaturally enhanced being with connections to the Web of Life, which exists to connect the multiverse. Though many subsequent Spidey writers have left this bit of the hero's history alone, Dan Slott did utilize the details in the "Spider-Verse" story, which inspired the animated film. All of this also takes place during Marvel's Civil War crossover, which inspired "Captain America: Civil War," the film that introduced the world to Tom Holland's take on Spider-Man.

He's played by someone with some wrestling experience

As you might expect, the news that Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny — also known as Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio — would be playing El Muerto resulted in a variety of responses from fans. Some have concerns about a non-actor as the figurehead of not just a film but as a key part of an expanding big-screen universe. Some may only know him as the most-streamed artist on Spotify, while others have only seen him in Corona commercials with Snoop Dogg, but he does have some acting experience. Sure, most of the credits on his IMDb page refer back to music videos and soundtrack appearances, but he did appear as a lookout in "F9: The Fast Saga" and as Arturo 'Kitty' Páez in four episodes of "Narcos: Mexico."

One more checkmark in Bad Bunny's ledger comes from the fact that he has actually wrestled! And not just in some backyard match, he teamed up with Damien Priest to take on Mike "The Miz" Mizanin and John Morrison for WrestleMania 37 in 2021. Even better? The Miz praised him by saying, "Nobody worked harder than Bad Bunny. He was nonstop all day, every day. Whether he had to fly out for the Grammys, win a Grammy, then fly right back and get into a WWE ring, he would do it. Training wise, he trained very hard, and I think everyone saw how hard he trained when we had that match at WrestleMania." 

If he brings that kind of intensity and dedication to the role of El Muerto, at the very least the action scenes should be solid.

El Muerto is a part of Sony's Spidey spinoff series

So far, Sony has done an interesting job of working with what they have with the Spider-Man characters. The deal with Disney to allow Tom Holland's Spider-Man to swing through the MCU has resulted in three well-received solo films, not to mention his appearances in "Captain America: Civil War," "Avengers: Infinity War," and "Avengers: Endgame." The most recent installment of the solo series, "Spider-Man: No Way Home," even managed to embrace the multiverse and bring in characters from the previous big-screen arachnid adventures produced by Sony.

At the same time, the studio has moved forward with Spider-Man spinoff movies without including the Web-Head himself. "Venom" and "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" established Tom Hardy's Eddie Brock and built on his relationship with the alien symbiote he's bonded with. Meanwhile, "Morbius" introduced Jared Leto as the titular living vampire. While that film certainly had its positive and negative aspects, its credit sequence went a long way towards not only further connecting the Sony and Marvel Cinematic Universes but also establishing the long-desired Sinister Six project.

Though there are plenty of outlying questions about the universe as a whole, Sony seems intent on bringing a variety of relative unknowns up to the big leagues. In addition to "El Muerto," the studio also has plans for a Dakota Johnson-lead "Madame Web" film and the "Kraven the Hunter" big-screen offering. How will the super-powered luchador fit into this tangled web being woven by Sony? Only time — and box office results — will tell!