I’ve been collecting original comic book artwork since I was in high school. Obviously I’ve never had any especially prominent pages in my collection. But I’ve obtained several nice pieces over the years, some of which have sentimental value due to the creators who worked on them or the storylines that they were from. Although I’ve unfortunately had to sell off some pages that I liked in order to help pay the bills, I’ve fortunately been able to hold on to others that really mean a lot to me.
One of these pieces is the original artwork that the super-talented Kieron Dwyer drew for the cover corner box art that appeared on the covers of Captain America #s 357 to 365, during the bi-weekly story arc “The Bloodstone Hunt” and its epilogue. It was also used as the front page image for the 2010 printing of the trade paperback.
(And it has suddenly occurred to me that “The Bloodstone Hunt” was originally published in the summer of 1989, nearly 25 years ago. Wow, it really has been that long, hasn’t it?)
I have always liked that corner box image. It perfectly summed up the unrequited love Diamondback, the bad girl from the wrong side of the tracks, had for the all-American icon that was Captain America. I remember being 13 years old, seeing this on the covers of those issues, and thinking how striking & poignant an image it was. Also, at that age, I had a crush on Diamondback. What can I say… puberty, y’know? So obtaining the original artwork for this was really amazing. I’m grateful to Dwyer for his generosity.
As today is Valentine’s Day, it’s the perfect time to spotlight this piece. Cap and Diamondback were certainly an unusual pairing, but writer Mark Gruenwald did interesting work developing their relationship during his decade-long run on the series from 1985 to 1995.
Diamondback, real name Rachel Leighton, first appeared in Captain America #310. At first she appeared to be the unlikeliest of women to become involved with Steve Rogers. The product of a dysfunctional family and a traumatic childhood, Rachel turned to crime in her teenage years. She eventually adopted her costumed identity after her brother introduced her to long-time supervillain the Trapster. It’s implied that in exchange for the Trapster designing her weaponry, Rachel slept with him.
Diamondback joined the mercenary organization known as the Serpent Society, which brought her into conflict with Cap on several occasions. Their first meeting was hardly auspicious, as DB attacked Cap with poison-tipped diamonds, only to hesitate because she wondered “Do I really want to do this to such a hunk?” Shortly after, in another encounter, DB tried to force Cap into frisking her for the ignition key to her Serpent Saucer. The sexually conservative Cap understandably refused her advances, prompting the rebuffed DB to angrily reply “You cold fish!”
That would seem to be the end of that. But some time afterwards, when the nihilist subversive the Viper staged a violent take-over of the Serpent Society, DB realized the only person who she could rely on to help her out was Cap. After calling him in, DB assisted Cap in thwarting the Viper’s plan to poison Washington DC.
This led up to “The Bloodstone Hunt” a year later. While casing the Museum of Natural History, Diamondback comes across Baron Zemo and Batroc, who were seeking to assemble the scattered fragments of the mystical Bloodstone. Once again Diamondback had to call in Cap for assistance. The super solider reluctantly teamed up with her in pursuing Zemo and Batroc across the globe. Along the way, they also crossed paths with the brutal, sadistic mercenary Crossbones (who was co-created by Gruenwald & Dwyer) working in the employ of Cap’s arch-enemy the Red Skull.
I really enjoyed “The Bloodstone Hunt.” It was among Gruenwald’s strongest writing on the series. At the time Dwyer was relatively new to the comic book biz, but he was already doing great work, teamed with veteran Filipino artist Danny Bulanadi on inks. This arc established Diamondback as an ongoing member of the book’s supporting cast for the remainder of Gruenwald’s run.
I’ll readily admit that, in hindsight, the quality of Gruenwald’s work on Captain America was at times inconsistent. That included his approach to the relationship between Steve and Rachel, which had a hell of a lot of ups & downs to it. Nevertheless, on the whole I did like how he nurtured the character of Diamondback, over time transforming her from a one-dimensional flirty airhead to a nuanced, complex individual. To this day she remains a favorite of mine.
After Gruenwald departed Captain America in 1995, he was succeeded by Mark Waid, who brought Steve Roger’s long-time paramour Sharon Carter back from the grave. Within a few years, Steve and Sharon were back together as a couple. Since then, Diamondback has bounced around the Marvel Comics universe, serving not just as an occasional ally of Cap but also as a mercenary, a member of the Avengers Initiative and an agent of SHIELD. Although it seems unlikely that she and Cap are ever going to become romantically involved again, I still look back fondly on those old stories where the two of them were fighting crime side by side while trying to figure out their feelings for one another.