El Diablo chases a desperado. Artist: Gray Morrow.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1970
Creators: Robert Kanigher (writer) and Gray Morrow (artist)
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Comic book heroes often maintain secret identities, even when they don't have plausible reasons to do so, …

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… like The Calico Kid (who later became The Ghost Rider). This is true not just of superheroes like Spider-Man and Captain Flash, but also of many westerns like The Masked Raider and Nighthawk and even future guys like The Space Ranger and Avenger. And very often, they set things up so you'd never in a million years suspect them of heroics, like Superman did by making Clark Kent look like a wimp, or Firebrand did with Rod Reilly appearing to be nothing but a wealthy wastrel.

In any contest of never-suspect-ness, El Diablo wins. In his secret identity, Lazarus Lane, El Diablo was in a coma.

A bank teller by trade, at least when he was awake, Lazarus got struck by lightning shortly after being nearly killed in a bank robbery. That's when his coma started, It ended any time hero work needed to be done in the neighborhood. That's when he'd rise from his bed, but on his El Diablo suit, and go forth to battle evil. As El Diablo, he was a Zorro-like defender the downtrodden masses of his 19th-century Southwest-American locale — a perfectly ordinary cowboy hero with a secret identity, just like Gunmaster or The Presto Kid, except for the coma.

A later retcon had it that the ability to rise from his coma came from a demon of vengeance that had taken possession of him.

El Diablo debuted in the second issue of All Star Western, a near-copy of an old DC Comics title which had started out reprinting 1950s Pow Wow Smith stories. In #2 (October, 1970), it introduced a pair of new series, Outlaw (lawman father vs. outlaw son) and El Diablo. The latter was written by Robert Kanigherr (The Metal Men.) and drawn by Gray Morrow (Big Ben Bolt). Kanigher was also responsible for other clever riffs on the secret identity schtick, such as The Trigger Twins, where a single hero had two secret identities.

He continued in most issues of All Star, where his creative team shifted to include Sergio Aragones (Groo the Wanderer), Len Wein (Teen Titans), Dick Giordano (Charlton Comics) and more. When the title was changed to Weird Western Tales, he continued, now by Cary Bates (The Flash) and Neal Adams (Deadman). He stopped when Weird Western was completely given over to Jonah Hex, with #18 (August, 1973). He appeared on only two covers, Weird Western #s 12 and 15.

Except for serving as the namesake of a modern-day superhero, El Diablo was forgotten for decades. In 2001, he was brought back in a four-issue mini-series from DC's Vertigo imprint (Swamp Thing, Hellblazer), which is aimed at mature readers. He also made an appearance with the animated version of The Justice League.

Lazarus/El Diablo has since been permantly written out of his position in the DC universe, at least to the extent anything there is ever held permanent. But his place has been taken by a third hero named El Diablo, so his trademark is still alive.


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Text ©2009 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.