Wednesday, 29 July 2009
Bat Lash probably holds the prize for "Most loved, well remembered title that only lasted a few issues and that nobody bought at the time anyway." Preceding Jonah Hex by a good four years, Bat Lash was the first of the Bronze Age cowboys, drawing inspiration more from the spaghetti westerns of Clint Eastwood than the John Wayne horse operas that gave rise to the likes of The Rawhide Kid, The Two-Gun Kid & Tomahawk.
The fantastic illo above was created when all DC really had was a title, and a vague idea, and seems much more Hex than the strip Bat Lash became. He was created by the committee of Carmine Infantino, Joe Orlando & Sergio Aragones, to be a different kind of cowboy hero. At least partially inspired by the Maverick TV show, Bartholomew Alouysius Lash was a charming, devil-may-care drifter who loved fine food, beautiful women and flowers, and not always in that order. He was also a peace-loving soul, unless riled. Really, he was a hippy cowboy, even looking vaguely like Shaggy from certain angles. "But he was no clown," says Sergio "The idea when I wrote it was that he was a man with a sense of humour, but was not a clown. He would do things that will make other people the butt of humour, but not him."
Bat first appeared in Showcase 76, in a classic introduction that told you exactly what kind of character you were about to meet.
Plotted by Sergio, written by Denny O'Neill, and illustrated at the top of his game by the truly great Nick Cardy, Bat Lash set out his stall pretty quickly, giving rise to the running gag that, if he asked somebody to hold his flower for him, then it was time to move the furniture and put the glasswear away.
It was a great, light-hearted, fun strip that didn't take itself too seriously, though both Orlando & Aragones expressed doubts about that very humour, particularly in the 2nd, Cardy plotted, issue of the regular title, where people fall into bathtubs and out of windows at an alarming, knockabout pace.
To be fair, as great as they are, there is a little repetition in the first few issues, as our suave hero is constantly rescued from jail/the noose by whichever panting babe's fallen for him that month. But hey, if Bat Lash is having fun, so are we!
But it all settled down into a fun, familiar groove, like here, where Cardy homages Tom Sawyer, as Bat hires the local rapscallions to get him out of a particularly tricky shotgun wedding.
More chuckles later on as Bat meets up with dangerous desperado Sergio Aragones, and the pair team up to go after the obligatory missing fortune in gold. By all accounts, Sergio simply couldn't think up a suitable name for this character, so used his own name for the rough draft, never dreaming O'Neill & Cardy would take him seriously.
The final two issues are a bit of a turnaround, as Bat's past ( only briefly hinted at in the previous issues ) comes to light via flashback's detailing the murder, and his subsequent revenge, of his parents that set him on the road to being an outlaw.
The final issue is even better, as he comes face to face with his long lost brother, now a souless bounty hunter, in a genuinely powerful story that takes you by surprise after the japery of the previous issues. Keeping up the cameo's by the way, is Sergio's dad Don Pasqual there as Bat's old pal.
Bat Lash only lasted seven issues, going the way of many titles at the time, though according to Infantino, it was huge in Europe where fans repeatedly asked for the the no-good gunfighter to return. In fact it often feels like a lost cousin to something like Lucky Luke, so it's no surprise the Europeans went for it in such a big way.
Bat did make a few return appearances, mostly in the back of Jonah Hex, like here in this excellent Len Wein / Dan Speigle story.
More recently, there was an even better mini-series going into more detail over the origin ( even explaining the hero's deep love of flora ) collected into this trade, with unbelievable artwork from John Severin, still proving he's got the chops at the grand old age of 86.
But now, finally, there is at last a Showcase edition. And if you're wondering how they padded out a Showcase with only 8 issues and a couple of backups, the answer is, they didn't. This is the first of the mini-Showcases, with less than half the usual page count, but easily worth twice the money. Although they, rather tight-fistedly, didn't include the Severin story, this is still indispensable stuff, and an example of a strip that really does live up to it's rep.