Thursday 13 January 2011

Diablo. Devilish dues for the attitudinal alchemist.

Fantastic Four #30, Diablo's first appearance and origin
Sometimes it takes your greatest heroes to let you down the most in life and, for some of us, none are greater than Stan Lee. One of the biggest - but I must confess least life-changing - setbacks I've ever experienced was when, during a TV interview a few years back, I saw Stan being asked if he'd ever come up with a super-villain who hadn't worked.

Like any sane man I of course expected him to fling out the name of one of the many inept foes Daredevil or Iron Man had come up against in their early days. Let's be honest, whose heart really chills to the thought of the Purple Man, Leapfrog or even the original Scarecrow who Iron Man had so much difficulty defeating because said villain was helped by a pair of crows? You can see instantly why a man in high-tech battle armour that allows him to tangle with the Hulk would have so much trouble tackling a man with two pet birds.

Instead, Stan produced what for me was the most unexpected name of them all.


How could this be true? Diablo was and still is one of my favourite Fantastic Four villains. In fact, take away Dr Doom and Annihilus, and Diablo goes straight to the top of my list. He was sneaky. He was devious. He had a castle.

For anyone unfamiliar with him, Diablo made his debut in Fantastic Four #30 where, rescued from a giant cork, he set about using his powers of alchemy to amass a vast fortune so he could hire an army and take over the world. While he was at it, he managed the admittedly not rare feat of turning the Thing against his fellow FF members, before a clearly jealous Reed Richards exposed him as a fraud whose potions only worked for a short spell.

After such embarrassment, and having yet again been defeated by a giant cork, a lesser villain would never again have seen the light of day.

But Diablo was no lesser villain and he reappeared, months later, to give life to the Dragon Man for no good reason at all before he and his creation fell into a frozen lake, never to be seen again.

When I say, "Never to be seen again," I of course mean it in the old comic book sense of, "Disappeared for a little bit before reappearing." I recall he later turned up in The Avengers #41 where he seemed to have forgotten he was an alchemist and, judging by his sudden fondness for doing things with disks, seemed to think he'd turned into the Wizard. Frankly, in this appearance he bore little resemblance to the man some of us had known and admired.

Thankfully, by Fantastic Four issue #118, he was back to his old self and hatching a vile plot that involved hypnotising the lovely Crystal into thinking she was on his side so he could take over one of those Latin American countries you can never find on any map. What happened to him after this, I have no idea as I don't recall him ever putting in another appearance in any of the comics I ever read but I like to think he was still out there, still hatching his schemes, ready for the day when he could again return to wreak more pointless havoc on an unsuspecting human race.

Diablo never had any reason for doing the things he did and his greatest enemy was a giant cork. These facts alone would've been enough to endear him to all super-villain fans.

But there was more.

Diablo had one more asset up his sleeve.

He had a great moustache.

Now, a great moustache might not seem like a make-or-break thing for a super-villain but the truth is that villains with moustaches were thin on the ground in the Marvel Comics I read as a kid. The Leader had one but it was so weedy you could only assume he'd grown it purely to prove he could. The Stranger had one but, aww, who ever cared about the Stranger? The Miracle Man had one and, like Diablo, was treated with a disgraceful lack of respect by his foes.

So, for his love of doing evil purely for the sake of doing evil, his fear of giant corks, and his big moustache, in my book, Diablo is one of Marvel's all-time great villains and I'll fight to the death anyone who says otherwise. Unless of course that anyone is Stan Lee. At the age of 88 he might still be young enough to beat me and, like any good super-villain, I have little stomach for defeat.

PS. Today's clearly fated to be Diablo Day because the latest instalment of the Internet's greatest quiz - The Department of Pointless Questions - involves an issue of the Fantastic Four that the aggro-loving alchemist loomed over like a colossus. Remember; you can't win if you don't enter.


Simon B said...

Even though Diablo had "loser" written all over him he did, as you say, have a very smart moustache, and I always enjoyed his appearances. And his inevitable, crushing defeats. In fact, when John "Company Man" Byrne took over the FF with issue 232, he brought Diablo back, making him at last a credible threat to our favourite foursome. For the space of one issue anyway.....

Steve said...

Discovering this gives me great pleasure.

Anonymous said...

Moustaches thin on the ground?

Why, off the top of my head, there's

Tony Stark
Dum Dum Dugan
The Stranger
Batroc the Leaper
The Wingless Wizard
J Jonah Jameson
That scientist fellow that Namor had on hand
Miracle Man (FF villain)

Still, one has to concede that Diablo did indeed have a snazzy mo - they could get Nick Cave to play him if they were going to do another FF movie.

B Smith