Tuesday, March 14, 2006

El DIABLO #1 DC Comics, 1988

I have a weakness for doomed comic book series’ that are constructed around a new interpretation of dormant intellectual property. You know what I’m talking about – comics like Manhunter, Blue Beetle, The Question, and this series - El Diablo.

Rarely has there ever been a comic that was so clearly going to be cancelled. El Diablo was the story of Rafe Sandoval, a rookie city councilman in Dos Rios, Texas, who tries to improve his community by day as a councilman and by night as the masked urban legend El Diablo. Our hero has no superpowers except for a mean right hook and a pure heart, and instead of supervillains, El Diablo takes on arsonists, drug dealers and immigrant smugglers in his quest to make his city a better place to live. El Diablo was a low-key, character-driven book that starred a hero who was actually a pretty swell guy. If there is one hero who would not look out of place drinking a beer and chatting with Grandpa at a backyard barbeque, it’s El Diablo.

So of course, the series was doomed. Kids don’t want to read that shit. Dave maybe, but not kids.

Written by ubiquitous eighties scribe Gerard Jones with art by Mike Parobeck, El Diablo was perhaps published before its time. I’m not certain who the intended audience was for this book, which spent a lot of page space devoted to interplay between the citizens of Dos Rios and comparatively little to explosions, beheadings, ninjas, and tits. El Diablo spent as much time with Councilman Sandoval, an ethical man snared in southern big-boss politics, as it did on his alter-ego’s nocturnal adventures. The series was like a playful mix of a Robert Penn Warren novel and Zorro.
Have I mentioned the lack of tits?

Well, the kids may not have eaten El Diablo up, but I loved it. Jones’ peppy story and bantering dialogue found a perfect match in Mike Parobeck’s art. The late Mr. Parobeck did his usual kick-ass job on the series, delivering his patented clean-line art and excellent composition. I can’t imagine anybody but Mike Parobeck drawing El Diablo.

Check out the first appearance of El Diablo, below:

If you ran a statistical analysis of all first-issue comic books starring a single character published in the last 20 years, you would find that in 75% of those books, the first appearance of the hero entails stopping a mugging or beating the crap out of some bad guy. Not El Diablo. The first time we see him, he’s chillin’ in a booth in a darkened taqueria. That alone should tell you a) why this book was so cool, and b) why it got cancelled.

The simple fact of the matter is that El Diablo just did not kick enough ass. He’s a costumed hero, and as such will inevitably be compared to other costumed heroes. If there’s one common trait among costumed heroes, it is that they all violently solve their problems. El Diablo? Not so much. I mean, don’t get me wrong, he’s not above using the Five Knuckles of Justice, but you get the impression that El Diablo would rather talk things out.

And that, my friends, makes him a pussy.

Sorry, but it’s true. Kids don’t want to read about guys like El Diablo.* I mean, look. The guy has a hard time with a shaky, gun-toting crackhead:

That’s just part of an excellently drawn scene where El Diablo tries to disarm this whacked-out teenager who has just blown a gringo away. I love El Diablo’s facial expression when he realizes the gun is empty. Man, Parobeck ruled, didn't he?

Anyway, it’s a great scene, but again I have to return to my theme: kids don’t want to see a masked vigilante who is trying his best to stop a drug-crazed punk without hurting him, they want to see drug-crazed punk’s brains go supernova and then cyborg ninjas come out of nowhere and there are explosions and breasts.

I loved El Diablo, but I’m too cynical to think that a book like it could last very long in a marketplace crowded with Deathkiller 3000 and Jugular Hex: Sexborg Assassin Supreme.** I’m not sure that there has ever been a demand for a book about a Mexican-American superhero/politician/community activist. If said superhero/politician/community activist was a woman and wore a little fishnet outfit? Maybe. Can she turn her fingernails into laser knives?

Now we’re talking.
*Who are these "kids" I keep referring to? Not even I know.
**For all my holier-than-thou talk, I would totally buy a comic called Jugular Hex: Sexborg Assassin Supreme.


Angry Android said...

It really is a shame that a relatively wholesome book can't cut it. Then again, look at when it was published. How can El Diablo survive post-"Dark Knight Returns" Frank Miller? Oddly enough, I think it's lack of immenent danger doomed El Diablo, and really, kids want larger-than life things happening in comics, not stuff they can see on the evening news.

graig said...

Is this kicking off your Mike Parobeck tribute week which you promised us months ago...? Because Parobeck was a man ahead of his time, and though there are many many many pale pale pale imitators of his style, none come even close to equalling him.

You've got Batman Adventures, Justice Society, the Fly (a personal fave), that Bloodlines Justice League Europe annual, some X-Men mini-series thing and a few other odds... each one of them (at least visually) brilliant.

As for El Diablo and doomed-from-the-beginning books (see also Black Condor, Chase, Bloodhound), they're usually my favourites as the writers have greater freedom from editorial interference (usually because the editors know its going to be kaput within a year)

gorjus said...

I thought El Diablo was fantastic. Mainly because of the super-clean, honest, human (and humane) art by the dearly missed Mike Parobeck.

But mainly because you had a good guy, a relatively normal guy, who wanted to help people out. I thought that was so great and so refreshing.

Maybe it was a leeeeetle slow, though.

Guildenstern said...

Maybe Rafe will could find a home in the Wildstorm Universe...he sounds vaguely like a character from Ex Machina.

Anonymous said...

So, wait.

Does Jugular Hex assasinate Sexborgs or is s/he a Sexborg that's also an assasin?

What? Yes, it makes a difference!

Word Ver: "ipseovia"
The winner of this year's Eurovision Song Contest.

David said...

Any idea what happened to the character afterward? I remember he was in a JLA recruitment drive during the Giffen era.

The Fortress Keeper said...

I share your love of doomed series - heck, I even liked the Erik Larsen relaunch of Nova because it harkened back to Marv Wolfman's version of the character rather than the grunge-lite Goo Goo Doll fans preferred.

El Diablo was a well-done portrait of an all-too-human hero, so of course it was canceled!

Chance said...

El Diablo was fantastic! Much love for the Texas councilman who fought crime fairly poorly in his off hours! It had some ambitious storylines and yes, was doomed to be cancelled. I wish there was a TPB.

Rick said...

Wow, Kid Rock looks the same now as he did in 88.

David Campbell said...

Sorry - Jugular Hex is a sexborg who is also an assasssin, not an assassin who kills sexborgs. She is the best sexborg assassin there is, which is why she is sexborg assassin supreme.

SanctumSanctorumComix said...

All I can think about after looking at EL DIABLO is New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson donning a cut-off version of MOCKINGBIRD'S wild headpiece and running around in a Mariachi outfit (complete with fringe-accented vest) smacking arsonists upside the head with a guitar...like EL KABONG!

(c'mon! Who doesn't LOVE El Kabong!?!? I DEFY you to watch those old Quickdraw McGraw cartoons and not laugh your friggin ASS off at his trademark: Ka-BONG!!)

Anyway...I never bought this book, even though I was working in an antiquarian bookstore/comic shoppe at the time and COULD have gotten them on the cheap.

I KNEW it was DOOMED though.
I HAVE bought books I KNEW were going to bite the dust within a year (sometimes that's actually an ASSET, knowing I won't have to plunk down frogskins every month), but the concept of this one just did nada for me.

I had a friend who would buy ANYTHING Mike Parobek did (before his sad, premature passing) and I'm not sure if even HE bought this title.

That said, his first appearance sitting in the little booth was a nice touch.

Now, WHERE can I get my Chrome-enhanced, holographic-foil, 3D-edition of JUGULAR HEX : Sexborg Assassin Supreme # 1 ?!

ANYthing with that title is gonna be good.

word verification:

The Toltec / Mayan godling-assistant to Quetzalquatl who is the patron diety to El Diablo!
Hey..not EVERYONE gets KHONSHU dammit! Them's the breaks!


Bully said...

Jugular Hex is a she?

Man, that puts a whole diff'rint spin on things. I was totally picturing a whole different kind of series before you told us that.

Anonymous said...

This is, on every level, the perfect riposte to the '80's idea of grit="realism." It's such a perfectly reasonable misunderstanding on the part of the creators! People said that they wanted realism and adult issues with their superheroes so...Hey comic book geeks! You want to see what would happen if a superhero took on realistic problems in a real-world way? Check out El Dia...wait! Where are you going? Government satellite conspiracies involving sexed up ninjas isn't realism! If only we'd been more up front with them. By 'realism' we just meant we wanted to see someone's jaw kicked off his face so his tongue realistically hung off his head realistically spurting blood, and for everything else, we still want juvenalia, revenge fantasies and T&A. Thank god they finally figured that out.

SanctumSanctorumComix said...


Let me clarify...

El Diablo's patron diety is the lowly assistant godling; "lryqqu"

Not Quetzalquatl.

THAT would be cool and kick-ass.

El Diablo ripping out muggers hearts and showing it to them while it's still beating?

THAT funny-book would NOT get cancelled!

But, he had the godling equivilent of the night janitor who cleans out public restrooms with a toothbrush (his own).
NOT as impressive.

Just thought I'd clear that up BEFORE any confusion set in.

NEW word verification:


The mystic name of lryqqu's mystical bathroom cleaning toothbrush!

NO. Not EVERY mystical artifact is Mjolner!
Sometimes you get a mort like "ARUAVU" - Cosmic Cleaner of Crusty Clogs!

"Let he who is worthy that can heft the bristles of ARUAVU shalt possess the POWER of lryqqu!"
*(cue thunder and flushing SFX)


philip said...

In that last page you posted, I dig how the shadow of the hat continues outside of the frame. Gives it a funky 3-D effect. I also like how even El Diablo's hair relaxes when he realizes the gun isn't loaded. Parobeck always did really nice stuff, but somehow I missed this book entirely.

Now, if anyone wants to write a comic called "Shadow of the Hat", be my guest.

glen davis said...

I think if memory serves, this is the series that made the cowboy Vigilante an old man.

Chawunky said...

We need more bolo-sportin' crimefighters.

Actually, it's a pretty striking costume.

Jason Fliegel said...

Just so I'm clear on this, hypothetically, Jugular Hex could be hired to assassinate another sexborg, right?

David Campbell said...

That is correct, and happens to be the plot for issue #5.

Patrick said...

I have never heard of this book before, but the combination of Parobeck art, the unusual pitch and the Texas setting mean I will track some issues down.

Thanks for yet another cool find, Dave!

Haole said...

Is El Diablo has no superpowers, how is it that he's leaping six feet off the ground when he dives at Kid Crackrock?

If Bill Richardson were El Diablo, he'd have three plates of food at him at the taqueria. And he'd disarm the crackhead by shaking his hand.

Haole said...

Wait... Dave, are you saying that the Vigilante as an old man first appeared in Issue 5 of El Diablo... or are you saying that Jugular Hex will assassinate another sexborg in Issue #5 of the upcoming Jugular Hex: Sexborg Assassin series?

Sorry to contribute to beating the Jugular Hex joke to death, but man... it couldn't be worse than most of the X-Books right now.

zailo said...

Your Jugular Hex bit makes me think that you should review the horrible post-apocolypse "Hex" soon.

"msoyhva" I believe is the name of the minor Aztec god Msoyhva

Dan Coyle said...

If lovin' El Kabong is wrong, then I don't wanna be right.

Haole said...

Dood, Graeme McMillan gives you a shout-out in an e-mail he wrote to Dan Didio about DC having a blog to replace Crisis Counseling. He posted it on his new column's website:


That he did this on the day you praised EL DIABLO pretty much guarantees you the job, if DC is interested. Although they'll probably ask you to cut down on the use of such non-corporate friendly words as "Fuck" and "Tits."

Jay Nickola said...

This post makes me want to say, as an occasional viewer of "King of the Hill:"

"Vaya . . . CON DIOS!"

Sleestak said...

I'd totally buy a comic called 'Exploding Headless Large-Breasted Ninjas', ya'know.

NiolK said...

I want to draw Jugular Hex: Sexborg Assassin Supreme. I'm not very good but man can I draw a pair o' tits.

Spencer Carnage said...

I share your love of doomed series - heck, I even liked the Erik Larsen relaunch of Nova because it harkened back to Marv Wolfman's version of the character rather than the grunge-lite Goo Goo Doll fans preferred.

I do not like the Goo Goo Dolls, damn it.

Chris Bowden said...

DC had a couple of great, weird little series around at this time that they didn't know what to do with, Haywire & Tailgunner Jo come to mind as intelligent unique comics that were just really out of place in the 90s

Skipper Pickle said...

Tailgunner Jo was excellent. It deserves a TPB.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

I've come around to the opinion that what America needs are more two-fisted city councilmen.

Zoning disputes would be a lot more interesting.

"Ha! Your condominium towers are too tall for that neighborhood! And I, The Crimson Head-Smasher, will not allow it!"

"Crimson Head-Smasher, you are no match for me, the Atomic Wedgie! By the beard of Zeus, those condos will be built! Those laws have been superceded by Regulation 342-12(a) section nine!"

Here in DC, all we get is Marion Barry. Comedy, not action-adventure.

successlessness said...

Jugula Hex: Sexborg Assassin Supreme minus the R sounds even better. Because you know it guarantees boobs bigger than her head.

Steven Taylor said...

All I can think about after looking at EL DIABLO is New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson donning a cut-off version of MOCKINGBIRD'S wild headpiece and running around in a Mariachi outfit (complete with fringe-accented vest) smacking arsonists upside the head with a guitar...like EL KABONG!

The above paragraph is, if I may say, totally Airwolf.

(Not to mention laugh out-loud funny).

Alexi Sivana said...

I absolutely love El Diablo and Mike Parobeck. In fact, I've been searching high and low (eBay,even!) for a page of original art from that book. If anyone knows where I can find some, especially the issue where and aged Vigilante shows up...

Pleeeeeease let me know!

Other doomed favorites: Question, Black Condor, the original version of Ragman, Parobeck's later JSA series (old farts version).

DC Comics: We make comics too good for our own good.

word veri: wfakewaw

Chris Griswold said...

Yo, check what your boy is up to these days:

El Diablo 1

El Diablo 2

Awesome, right? Still fighting the good fight!

Mister Sinister said...

El Diablo is like DC's mexican Night Thrasher. He just needs some cool guys to chill w/ until he gets killed by Shrapnel (DCs answer for Nitro, or vice-versa)

Apparently in that one picture he has Manhunter's super-Martian-breath.

He should be exiled to being in the disgraceful JLAntarctica
(it's a place to put people to forget about them)


something Starfire would yell

Mister Sinister said...

wasn't Jugula Hex the daughter of freak-face Jonah Hex?

But she sounds bad to the ass

Have Frank Miller & the ghost of Jack Kirby & Stan Lee work on that

but...if we create this...

all other comics will become boring & stupid. it will be the KING OF COMICS!



the sequence of an Adam West Batman fight (this is the villain)

Anonymous said...

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