Western All-Star "El Diablo" Returns to DCU Proper

Mon, November 19th, 2007 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Jeffrey Renaud, Staff Writer

With the critical success and loyal following "Jonah Hex" enjoys and a "Bat Lash" mini-series from Sergio Aragones starting in December, it was only a matter of time before DC Comics pulled out some more heroes from its "All-Star Western" line, popularized in the early 1970s. And what better place to announce a six-issue mini-series featuring the return of "EL Diablo" than Arlington, Texas at Wizard World.

According to "Jonah Hex" #11 and #24, both set in the late 19th century, the original El Diablo -- Lazarus Lane -- once revived by a Native American shaman, now serves as the host body for the Spirit of Vengeance. Writer Jai Nitz ("The Batman Strikes!") told CBR News that while the original EL Diablo is back, he's now 170 years old. Along with him is a new El Diablo, who's more of a modern day Robin Hood -- infused with the Sheriff of Nottingham.

"The new 'El Diablo' is set in the DC Universe and interacts with existing heroes, villains, and organizations," revealed Nitz. "My El Diablo is named Chato Santana. To people like you and me he's a diabolical criminal/gang lord that won't think twice about murder, extortion, smuggling, or drug running. But to the people in his neighborhood he's Robin Hood.  Whether or not he's a good guy or a bad guy depends on who you talk to.  You'll have to read #1 to see how he becomes El Diablo.

"Chato is like a lot of charismatic criminals," Nitz continued.  "He's not a bad guy, he just plays by different rules than you and me because of the hand life has dealt him.  He's a gang lord; he does a lot of awful things, but you would too if you were in his shoes.  But that's why he's interesting.  Besides, who wants to read a comic book about an accountant that eats sensibly and never gets a speeding ticket?

"The new 'El Diablo' deals with rebirth, revenge, betrayal, justice, Hell, comeuppance, curses, and consequences. If you like stories about that stuff, you'll like 'El Diablo.'"

Nitz is the first to admit the obscure El Diablo may not have been his first choice for subject matter in his debut in mainline DCU.  "While there are literally thousands of characters in the DCU sandbox, most of them aren't available to new writers like myself," explained Nitz. "If you want to write 'Batman,' you have to compete with Grant Morrison and Paul Dini.  If you want to write 'Superman,' you have to compete with Geoff Johns and Richard Donner. 

"If you want to write 'El Diablo,' you have to compete with, well nobody.  So it's really a Darwinian series of events that brought me to the character.  On top of that it's a fine line between your editor saying, 'Sorry, but Bill Willingham is using that character' and 'I've never heard of that character.' So you have to pitch a character that is less recognizable than say Green Lantern, but more recognizable than Neptune Perkins. Look him up, kids."

(Alas, Neptune Perkins died in "Infinite Crisis" #3)

"Then you have to write a good pitch," Nitz continued. "That said, El Diablo is a cool name, he makes a good legacy due to the previous incarnations in the DCU, and offers a blank canvas as far as the character is concerned.  

"On top of all that, I'm Hispanic, and I want to do an authentically Hispanic character in the DCU.  There weren't any major Hispanic heroes while I was growing up. I remember El Dorado from the laughably politically-correct 'Superfriends.' Shockingly, that character never resonated with me.  I want to write a character that Hispanics can identify with but isn't a walking stereotype or an implausible goody-goody.  I want to write about a guy I could be related to, a guy that could be my cousin."

Despite the apparent abandoning of the Western incarnation of El Diablo, Nitz remains a huge fan of the era. "Jonah Hex will always be the gold standard for Western characters. Not only is Hex a cool character, but check out some of those stories," said Nitz. "You had artists like George Moliterni, Tony DeZuniga, and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez doing amazing work. Seriously, go check out Moliterni, that dude was amazing. I always marvel at his pages."

Nitz' long-time friend and mentor, Phil Hester ("The Wretch" and "Green Arrow"), is the artist on the "El Diablo" project. The writer calls the team-up a dream come true. "I've known Phil since I was 14-years-old and I'm almost, gack, 32 now," Nitz remarked. "So I've known Phil over half my life and as long as I've known him I have wanted to write comics for a living.  Phil, along with Ande Parks, the inker on 'El Diablo,' has been my mentor for comics and life in general.  He helped me with my first self-published book. And he introduced me to Nachie Castro, the editor on 'El Diablo.' Phil has encouraged me and pushed me for my entire professional career.  He is one of my best friends in comics. 

"Also, it should be noted, Phil is a brilliant writer.  Read 'The Wretch,' 'The Coffin,' 'Deep Sleeper,' 'Firebreather,' 'The Atheist,' or his new monthly 'The Darkness' book and you'll see. So I'm collaborating with someone that I deeply respect and completely trust.

"During the in-between phase of having the pitch approved but not having an artist, I wrote up a list of artists and sent it to Nachie. Nachie looks it over and says, 'You know, of all the artists on this list, Phil Hester was born to draw this comic.' I was ecstatic. Of course, Nachie was Phil's assistant editor back when he was drawing 'Green Arrow' and his editor on 'Nightwing.'  So Nachie really 'gets' Phil. It really helps when the editor has a good working relationship with the guy that was born to draw the comic.

"Put it all together and we should have a semi-literate finished product," joked Nitz, who continued, "There are plenty of future stories for this character and it's my hope that he hangs around the DCU for years to come."

Nitz has no plans to bring back any other DC characters from the Weird and Wild West like fan-favorite Pow-Wow Smith, who, like El Diablo, Jonah  Hex and Bat Lash, was featured on "Justice League Unlimited" in the episode, "The Once and Future Thing" Part 1.  

"Nope, sorry no Pow-Wow Smith," confirmed Nitz. "If you want to read about a Native American lawman you should be reading 'Scalped' by Jason Aaron and RM Guera from Vertigo. An interesting fact is Jason named the porn-loving FBI agent in 'Scalped' Agent Nitz after me. So, the main despicable government toady in 'El Diablo' is named Agent Aaron after Jason. Turnabout is fair play."

Nitz continues to work semi-regularly on "The Batman Strikes" and is also writing the all-Spanish issue of "Blue Beetle" that was also announced at Wizard World Texas. He also has a "Man-Thing" story in an upcoming issue of "Marvel Comics Presents."

For more on Jai Nitz, the writer invites you to visit his MySpace page.

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