Life in KC

Meet the Lawrence writer who created the Latino superhero in ‘Suicide Squad’

Lawrence comic book artist Jai Nitz co-created El Diablo, a character featured in the movie “Suicide Squad.”
Lawrence comic book artist Jai Nitz co-created El Diablo, a character featured in the movie “Suicide Squad.”

Regardless of the fact that he’s one of roughly 150 professional comic book writers in the biz, it’s more than likely you’ve never heard of Jai Nitz.

But that might change on Friday, when Warner Bros. releases blockbuster hopeful “Suicide Squad.” Based on the eponymous DC comic franchise, the film stars Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Jared Leto, who plays the Joker. It also features Jay Hernandez as El Diablo, a character Nitz created nearly a decade ago.

Trailing the release of the film on Aug. 10, DC will launch the first installment of a new comic series called “Suicide Squad Most Wanted: El Diablo and Boomerang.” The series was co-written by Nitz, who lives in Lawrence.

In other words: Nitz is about to be one hot property.

Comics crusader

“I’ve wanted to make comic books since I was a kid,” Nitz says about his long-enduring passion for the craft that drove him to work on mainstays such as “Batman,” “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “X-Men” and “Fantastic Four.”

Nitz loved superheroes as a kid. But he didn’t really relate to them.

“Growing up a Hispanic kid with no Hispanic superheroes to root for sucked,” he says.

As a comic book writer, he has delighted in writing stories for the Hispanic character Blue Beetle, a Texas teenager who discovers a mysterious scarab that imbues him with superpowers. Working on the character led Nitz to make history with DC’s first-ever book written entirely in Spanish.

About El Diablo

Nitz says he has always wanted to create a new version of the El Diablo character, which has gone through two earlier incarnations.

The first El Diablo, AKA Lazarus Lane, was co-created by Robert Kanigher and Gray Morrow. Nitz describes the character as a “white-guy Zorro knock-off fighting in the old West.”

The second El Diablo, AKA Rafael Sandoval, was co-created by Gerard Jones and Mike Parobeck. El Diablo 2.0 was a far cry from the original; a regular guy fighting his local government. He was Latino but didn’t have any superpowers, which Nitz considers “kind of lame.”

In 2007, Nitz set out to create what he saw as a “cool” Latino superhero. The third El Diablo — a fire-summoning former L.A. gang member seeking redemption for his crimes and illustrated by Nitz’s partner in crime, Phil Hester — erupted onto the scene.

Change is in the air

Nitz says that 10 years ago, his character was under the radar. But since then, a lot has changed in comics, pop culture and the mainstream’s interest in social justice.

“Writing about how the system is rigged if your skin is darker than white is something I want to talk about,” Nitz says.

“I think it’s a big deal for me,” he adds about the fact that a character he helped create is about to reach millions of people.

A wild ride

“If you introduced me two years ago,” Nitz says, “you’d say, ‘This is Jai Nitz. He writes comic books.’ 

“Now it’s going to be, ‘This is Jai Nitz. He created El Diablo from “Suicide Squad.” ’ … That will be bizarre.”

Nitz is preparing for the publicity, along with how “bizarre” it will be to pick up his sons at school and see their classmates wearing El Diablo shirts. But he isn’t ready to buy any castles in the sky quite yet.

Recently, Nitz spotted an El Diablo hat at a local gift store. He left without buying it.

When asked if he plans to return for the hat, he smiles.

“As soon as it’s on the sales rack,” Nitz says.