Jai Nitz & Phil Hester - Introducing El Diablo

Nitz & Hester Talk El Diablo

It's a rarity in comic books. A brand new character given his own mini-series within one of the main superhero universes.

Yet with El Diablo, the six-issue mini-series by writer Jai Nitz that kicks off in September, DC Comics is introducing a new character to current continuity. Drawn by penciler Phil Hester and inker Ande Parks, the mini-series will focus on a modern-day gang leader who dons the mantle after meeting the original El Diablo.

Nitz, best known recently to DC readers for being the writer of the Spanish issue of Blue Beetle, pitched the idea for the El Diablo comic to DC and got an immediate yes, yet another rarity. Described by Hester as being like a "middle ground" between Vertigo and DC, El Diablo promises to be nothing if not different, with its Robin Hood approach to heroism and its focus on a young newcomer to the DCU.

Newsarama talked to Nitz and Hester about the mini-series to find out why this idea was one that DC green-lighted for its own mini-series, and what readers can expect as it hits stores in September.

Newsarama: Jai, this is a big break for you to be working in the DCU, isn't it?

Jai Nitz: It's extraordinarily exciting to be doing something in mainstream DC that everybody's super excited about. Phil Hester and Ande Parks and Guy Major were the art team on Green Arrow and Nightwing together, and they are getting the band back together. And I get to be the lead singer. And that's awesome, because people are really responding to it.

NRAMA: So you've gotten a lot of positive feedback from fans?

JN: When we talked about El Diablo in Chicago, people were really excited that there is going to be something unique and different coming out from DC that is still in continuity. A new character with a new take on superheroes. I think fans appreciate that. Of course, it helps to be on the team with Phil and Ande. I did a panel where they introduced people like Greg Rucka, Gail Simone... and they got these big hands. And then they introduced me: Jai Nitz! And people were like, who? We don't know who that dude is. But then when I was asked, "what are you working on?," and I'd say, "I'm working with Phil Hester and Ande Parks," everyone was like, hey! We love seeing those guys doing something at DC again! So it's exciting to work with guys I know, guys I like, guys that I know fans like. The people who really get comics get their stuff. I just hope that, when they see my stuff, I've succeeded in keeping them entertained and that I'm telling the kind of great story we're hoping to tell in El Diablo.

NRAMA: Now before people get confused, this is a modern El Diablo, right? Because the original El Diablo, Lazarus Lane, lived back in the days of Jonah Hex.

JN: This story and this character are set in the modern DCU in 2008. It is a brand new character in the modern DCU. And the original El Diablo from the 1870s is still around; he's just 170 years old. People are like, how's that possible? And my answer is, a guy from Krypton's flying around, so you're probably not going to have a problem with why this guy's so old. But it is not set in the 1870s. It is not an old-timey Western comic at all.

NRAMA: What can you tell us about this new El Diablo?

JN: This new El Diablo is named Chato Santana, and he meets up with the old El Diablo character. Chato is a modern-day Robin Hood. He's a drug dealer and kind of an awful human being who puts kids in the line of fire for his gang, but in his neighborhood, he's respected and helps people out. It's a little bit of a clash of culture where if he were in my suburban neighborhood, I would think he was a menace, but if I were in his neighborhood, I would think he's the president and the most awesome guy in the world. So I'm trying to take some of the stuff people see in the real world and applying it to a comic book character where he's not a walking stereotype.

I always make the joke that I've always said I wanted to create a hispanic comic book character who is like one of my cousins -- somebody that could be related to. But then here, the first thing out of my mouth when I pitched this to DC was, "So he's this drug dealer..." [laughs] So my cousins will love to hear that.

But he's really unique because, whether or not he's a good guy depends on your point of view.

NRAMA: How does Chato run into the old El Diablo, and what happens when he does?

JN: I don't want to give too many details. You'll see in issue #1 how Chato becomes the new El Diablo. But there is a good reason why the old El Diablo is there. It makes a lot of sense. I guess I can tell you that a very hateful federal agent named Jason Aaron is trying to do these awful things to Chato. And one of the things he does is to put him in this hospital room in a bed next to this 170-year-old man. And you'll have to read the book to see the meaning behind that and how it all happens from there.

NRAMA: Hmmm... that name Jason Aaron sounds vaguely familiar. Would this federal agent be named after comic book writer Jason Aaron?

JN: Yeah! Well, the evil federal agent in Jason's comic Scalped is named Agent Nitz. He's named after me. So the evil federal agent in our book is named Jason Aaron.

NRAMA: That's only fair.

JN: I think so.

NRAMA: Let's talk about how you landed this gig, Jai. It's so rare to see a brand new character get its own mini-series. How did this come about?

JN: I've known the editors at DC for a number of years, and I met a few more recently. And Jann Jones at DC was talking to me about what I would really like to do. She said they like getting people on board who are really passionate about a project. And I said I really want to do a Hispanic comic character, someone who I really like and care about and am really passionate about. So she said I should pitch one. And right then I reached in my bag and said, here you go! And I handed her a pitch for El Diablo. She said, OK, I'll get it on Dan DiDio's desk. Five minutes later, Dan read it without my knowledge. She just gave it to him and said, "Read this." The next thing I knew, Jann was telling me I had a meeting with Dan in 15 minutes to pitch the character. And he loved it so much that he edited the first issue himself.

NRAMA: What was it that caught his eye?

JN: It's different. It's new. It's a new take. It's something that, when people saw it and understood the idea behind it and the story we're telling, they knew it was something different and something they didn't expect.

NRAMA: Phil, you got to design these characters for Jai?

Phil Hester: Yeah. I was there at the beginning, doing designs on the new character. At one point, it looked like a lava monster, and at one point it looked like a cowboy. And we finally ended up with our undead luchador from hell.

JN: [laughs] A Tex-Mex Ghost Rider.

PH: [laughs] Yeah. A Tex-Mex Ghost Rider.

NRAMA: Do you agree that the story is something unique?

PH: Definitely. The story is great. It's something I've been looking for for a long time now. It's kind of this middle ground between DC and Vertigo. It's the darker edges of the DC Universe, but still accessible without the Vertigo label attached to it. So it's a chance to do edgier stuff that's still superhero stuff. And that's where my natural aesthetics lie. So it's a good gig for me.

NRAMA: So that was the appeal of the story to you?

PH: Yeah, it's that. But I was also attracted to the project because it was going to have a little of everything I like to draw. It has action, it has intrigue... and the action isn't inconsequential. People get hurt for real and stay hurt. I mean, Chato suffers a traumatic injury in the first issue, and he suffers from it for the rest of the book. So it's got a little more edge to it than a superhero book where they knock down buildings but nobody gets hurt. It's got that sort of darker, realist appeal to it, and that's what appealed to me.

El Diablo #1 is due in stores on September 3rd. 

Twitter activity