Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Book Review: Showcase Presents Bat Lash

You don't see a lot of western comics anymore. DC Comics' made a bold move with All-Star Western in the "New 52" revamping, and a few years ago Marvel had a fifth-week even that showcased some of their westerns. DC also had a few series of Jonah Hex under their Vertigo imprint. Marvel also put out the excellent limited series Blaze of Glory, which featured nearly all of their name western characters. But that's about it. But you don't see a lot of straight, old-fashioned western comics.

The genre once outsold super-heroes by a wide margin. Back in the fifties and early sixties, especially when TV westerns were the rage, publishing a western comic was money in the bank for a publisher. But times and tastes change. The character of Bat Lash was one of the attempts to try to move along with those changes.

"Will he save the West ... or ruin it?" was the promotional line used in advertisements for Bat Lash's first appearance, in the original Showcase #76. It was also on every single cover of his short-lived comic book. It was a bit over-reaching, no matter how you looked at it. Bat Lash was not out to save or ruin the West. He was out to make a comfortable living doing the least he could. Bat Lash was Bret Maverick and Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name rolled together with a dash of Don Diego. Bartholomew Lash was raised by an authoritarian father and a very educated other, becoming a smart and resourceful individual as an adult. He was by trade, most of the time anyway, a gambler. Most of his recorded adventures have him also playing the role of the dilettante; Bat Lash enjoyed the finer things in life and did his best to get them when he could. Almost every story has the seemingly foppish cowboy picking a flower for his hat, which was a symbol of life and what he was struggling for.

Bat Lash was created by the odd partnership of artist Nick Cardy and cartoonist Sergio Aragones. You probably have never heard of Nick Cardy, but Sergio Aragones came to the spotlight by his many humor pieces in Mad Magazine - he's the guy who draws the "Mad Marginals", those little cartoons in the margins of the pages. He also became known in comic books for Groo the Wanderer.  Nick Cardy was one of those artists you've probably seen the work of, but never knew who he was. He did a lot of work for DC in the sixties and seventies, having particularly long runs on Teen Titans and Aquaman. He drew the covers for almost every DC comics series in that period at one time or another. For Bat Lash's short-lived comic book, Denny O'Neil, best known for his award-winning work with Neal Adams on Batman, Detective Comics and Green Lantern-Green Arrow handled the scripts. The book also has a Bat Lash story from the omnibus title DC Super-Stars and the three-issue back-up feature from Jonah Hex.

Bat Lash was a character cut from the cloth of TV's Maverick. He was the quick-witted, flowery-talking not-quite-a-con-man who tried to do right when the situation presented itself, but remembered that his own survival was at stake as well. "A guy's gotta eat" he often thought to himself, and that bit of the scoundrel was always part of him.

I think most comic book readers would enjoy Showcase Presents Bat Lash. It is one of the cheaper volumes in that series at under ten bucks, and the black-and-white reprinting really allows the great ink work of Nick Cardy to shine. I've always thought the mark of a good comic book artist was if he work looked just as good when printed without color. Nick Cardy's definitely does so, and I think the stories, which are only slightly dated, are worth a good read as well.

by Rich Meyer

For those of you new to e-books and quiz books, here's one to tempt your trivial taste buds: 101 questions on comic books for all ages, all skill levels. 

Almost every major comic book company is represented: Marvel, DC, Gold Key, Charlton, Dell, etc., along with almost every genre of comic book, from super-heroes to funny animals!

The questions are interactively linked to the answers for easy navigation. 

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