The Black Diamond and Bumper, astride their horses.


Original medium: Comic Books
Published by: Lev Gleason Publications
First Appeared: 1949
Creator: William Overgard
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By the late 1940a, at publisher Lev Gleason's company (The Claw, The Silver Streak), like in the rest of the American comic book industry, the few remaining superheroes were being de-emphasized. Crimebuster, never much of an adopter of superhero schticks, was getting …

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… less superhero-like issue by issue, while Daredevil was getting squeezed out of his own title by The Little Wise Guys. But even while this was going on, some of the western heroes, who were among the genres displacing the superheroes, were maintaining superhero tropes such as costumes and secret identities.

Gleason's own Black Diamond was such a cowboy hero. He started out as a boy named Bob, headed West on the newly-opened train with his mom and dad, but they were wiped out by an Indian raid so quickly, their names weren't even mentioned. He was raised by the only other survivor of the train incident, Lloyd Vale, who got married just so he could officially adopt the boy. Twelve years later, the elder Vale was murdered by the man who'd engineered the raid, Jeff Hawkins, who tried to pin the crime on the now-grown Bob.

Wearing a mask and a distinctive outfit, to protect his still-living adopted mother, Bob brought Hawkins to justice, being named the area's U.S. marshal, a job he accepted only on condition he be allowed to retain his mask, in the process. For a crime-fighting monicker, Bob named himself after a gem Hawkins had been given to seal his friendship with the raiding Indians (which had fallen into his possession), a black diamond. To ensure correct credit for his heroic deeds, he left a playing card of that suit on the scene.

The Black Diamond first appeared in Black Diamond Western #9, published by Gleason with a cover date of March, 1949. The first eight issues had been titled Desperado, a name at least suggestive of the stories in Gleason's Crime Does Not Pay, which were told from the crooks' points of view. His creator was William Overgard, who later became better known for newspaper comics such as Steve Roper & Mike Nomad. Overgard also created Rudy, a strip about a retired show-biz chimpanzee.

In the following issue, The Black Diamond met Bumper, a circus strong man who became his closest friend and constant companion. Another cast member had been present in the first story, a golden palomino Bob had trained since birth, who had actually saved his life on more than one occasion. The horse's name wasn't given at first, but in a reader contest, he was dubbed Reliapon.

Overgard continued to work on The Black Diamond for the next year or two, but was eventually replaced as the character's writer and artist. Later creators who worked on The Black Diamond include Myron Fass (Captain Marvel), John Forte (Bizarro), Bill Walton (Tales of the Zombie), Dick Rockwell (Steve Canyon) and Doug Wildey (Jonny Quest).

The Black Diamond was one of the more enduring stars Lev Gleason put out, published regularly from his 1949 debut until the company folded seven years later. The last issue was #60 (March, 1956). The cartoonist who wrote and drew that one was Pete Morisi (Kid Montana).

In 1983, AC Comics (The Avenger, Haunted Horseman) published the comic book adventures of a would-be movie superhero, who would have been named Black Diamond if she'd ever made it onto the screen. This Black Diamond, who was completely unrelated to the one in '50s comic books, later had an adventure or two with AC's Femforce, but otherwise has had little or no impact on popular culture in any medium. The early 21st century Black Diamond Detective Agency, also a movie tie-in, is similarly unrelated.


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Text ©2009-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Lev Gleason.