â€œWill he save the west–or ruin it?â€
That was the tag line that was used in various DC Comics house adds back in 1968, and they heralded the coming of the western hero known as Bat Lash. His first appearance in a story was in Showcase Presents #76 from 1968 and quickly graduated to his won title that same year. He is one of the most unique of DCâ€™s western heroes and his early western adventures where recently reprinted in the current Showcase Presents format.
How do the early adventures of Bat Lash stand up, over forty years later? Letâ€™s find out after the jumpâ€¦
A few weeks back, I had randomly picked a comic from my LCS to take a chance on and was surprised to find that the Marvel Comicâ€™s western bookÂ Kid Colt still held some of the old sparkle that had been so interesting as a kid. So the next day, I returned to the comic shop and picked up another western that had caught my eye. This time it was the Showcase Presents: Bat Lash, and I am glad I picked it up.
First off, the only exposure I had to Bat Lash as a child was when he would be mentioned in the Direct Currents page of the old DC comics. For the longest time, my mind had the character pictured as a cross between Zorro and Batman, and it was not until years later that the image was dispelled. Bat Lash is something far simpler than that, but at the same time he holds more depth than many of his contemporaries.
Bat Lash is a character of contradictions. He is a western hero, but he goes against the common concept of a western hero by not being grim and gritty. No, instead he goes to the other extreme and is a peace loving man who enjoys the finer things in life.Â In fact, his first adventure published in Showcase Presents #76 shows him as something of a dandy.Â He is first seen in the arms of a beautiful girl, and it quickly becomes evident thatÂ he is not afraid to defend himself, but that he would rather avoid violence is at all possible.Â In fact, his first adventure shows him arriving to a small (population 120) town shortly after shooting a game pheasant. His biggest concern is not to find a bar with the nearest bottle of whiskey and assert his manliness over the townfolk, but to find a good cook to prepare his prize.Â As he explains to the local saloonâ€™s waitress, â€œâ€¦the best recipe for pheasant in aspic calls for steaminâ€™ the bird in a good broth, seasoned with galic and parsely butter..then yâ€™baste it with gelatin consommeâ€™ till it jellsâ€¦â€
Well, as you can imagine, this brings quite a reaction form the regular rough and tumble town folk and they quickly begin to make fun of Bat Lashâ€™s gentle ways. But Bat quickly shows that, despite the fancy clothes and the flower in his hat, he can take care of himself. Teaching the bar some manners by soundly thrashing the table full of jeerers, he decides to help his meal along a little by purchasing some of the ingredients at the local general store.Â You quickly figure out that this is a town scared. Bat proceeds through the town gathering his ingredients, and also taking out the local town roughs as he goes, all seeming unknowingly, as they are simply obstacles to his goal of a pheasant dinner with a beautiful lady. After he essential takes out the rest of the town (the bad men are about the only ones left) he finally gets to set down to his pheasant dinner. While preparing a toast, Bat offers his bite of the pheasant to the beautiful waitress, who recoils in terror, it was POISONED!
Apparently she was the mastermind behind the plot to run everyone out of town so they could concentrate on the money they where getting from â€¦ somewhere. Itâ€™s never really clear where the money was being stolen from, but by the end of the story you have Bat slipping the mastermind in jail, where she screams curses of revenge. Only, once he is gone, she admits that he was the only man who ever made her feel like a woman, and a lone tear rolls down her cheek. You never really find out what criminal activity was happening in the town, but you donâ€™t really care. The story is an imaginative introduction to the character and sets his tone for the rest of his appearances in the collection.
Bat Lash is quickly established as a man who likes the better things in life. He enjoys a good meal, a good song and a good woman. In fact, women are a major plot point in this series. Sometimes its Bat Lash saving a damsel in distress, sometimes its him discovering that the pretty young prairie flower he had been courting is actually a she-devil intent on all sort of mischief, but women are often the plot motivator in his series. He is a western pimp daddy, right down to the flowered vest and the daisy in his hat.
And his horse? Well, no Tornado, Silver, Trigger or even Paint here, his faithful horse is named Daisy! Not a very cowboy hero name for a horse, now is it? But it fits his character. As a matter of fact, the comedic value of the book is as much fun as the gunfights. But the kicker on the comedic aspect is as different as the character himself. Although Batâ€™s ways seem strange to his fellow cowboys and range riders, he is never the target for the reader to laugh at. Instead, it is often how the situation is handled by Bat Lash that gives the comedic quality.
But the writer is quick to show that Bat Lash is not all wine, women and song. The most powerful story in the book is one that starts off with Bat Lash being the center of a shotgun wedding that is suddenly set upon by a rain of mice from above which allows him to escape his blushing bride and her shotgun toting father.Â This comedic beginning belies the turn the story takes as Bat finds himself watching over an orphan who is being pursued by a group of outlaws. Despite his best efforts, Bat finds himself caring for the little girl, and takes bloody, tear filled revenge when he believes she has been killed by the gun dealers.Â It is a powerful story that shows the true Bat Lash, underneath the pursuit of pleasure; he has a heart as big as the prairie.
The Showcase Presents presentation is a wonderful format to spotlight little known characters in, and the Bat Lash edition is no different.Â This volume contains twelve stories reprinted from the original Showcase Presents #76, the original Bat Lash series 1-7, DC Special Series #17 and back-up stories from Jonah Hex #49, #51 and #52.Â At two-hundred forty pages, it is currently the lightest of the Showcase Presents books, and the lower price tag, $9.99, make for an exceptional buy.
The Showcase Presents issue and the original Bat Lash series are all written by Sergio Aragones with art by Nick Cardy.Â Sergio Aragones is best known for his work on Mad Magazine and as the creator of the independent barbarian comedy comic character Groo, but he has done a fair amount of work outside the comedic, his western stories being among some of the best.Â With Bat Lash, a character he is said to have pretty much created to order, he is responsible for giving him that fine balance between the comedic, dramatic and action type story.Â With the visuals, Nick Cardy is best known his work on the 60â€™s Teen Titans title as well as Aquaman, a run on The Brave and the Bold and humor magazines such as Mad, Cracked, Crazy and National Lampoon. In my opinion, the art of Bat lash is some of the best, as he draws upon his â€œseriousâ€ style of his superhero work and pairs it with his comedic art from the various humor magazines.Â The panel structure and details are a treasure to look at, and harken back to a different day of artistic integrity and storytelling.
The later stories in DC Special and Jonah Hex, are Denny Oâ€™Neil and Len Wien with one story being plotted by Wein and scripted by Cary Bates, The DC Special art is supplied by George Mouterni and the Jonah Hex stories are by Dan Spiegle. While these stories are good, they have a different tone than those scripted and or plotted by Aragnoes.Â The art also is a departure, and while no less enjoyable, does not have the same balance of action and comedy that the original series had.
Physically, he volume is a treat. It is the size of a small local phone book, and the black and white newsprint pages allow you to enjoy the raw talent of the artist inside. Also, I calculated that, on average, collecting these issues individually in at least fine condition would run well over $100, so the $10 price tag real bargain.
So, in short, if you are a fan of the western format, or even of movies like Maverick starring Mel Gibson, pick up Showcase Presents: Bat Lash. It is a great look at a different side of the western genre and a great gateway comic for exposure to more titles. The initial stories are great, but the back-up stories bring the volume down just a little, so I am going to give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.