Tuesday, August 2, 2011

'Bat Lash' is lighthearted reading of Wild West

Showcase Presents: Bat Lash (DC Comics, 2009)
Writers: Denny O'Neil, Sergio Argones, Len Wein, and Cary Bates
Artists: Nick Cardy, Dan Speigle, George Moliterni, and Mike Sekowski
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

"Bat Lash" is one of the many titles and characters in DC Comics' long publishing history that was deserving of greater success than it enjoyed. The series centered on the title character, a drifter who moved from town to town in the Wild West of the 1860s, trying to avoid trouble but always finding it... usually because of an attractive woman or because of his sense of right and wrong couldn't let him stand by while innocent people suffer.

From the collection of Alex Johnson

Collected in this budget-priced, black-and-white book are all of the initial Bat Lash tales from 1968 and 1969 (including his debut appearance in "DC Showcase" and every issue of his short-lived solo series), another try-out tale from the late 1970s, and a trio of back-up tales from "Jonah Hex." Skipped entirely are the stories where Bat Lash served as an ongoing supporting character in the excellent "Scalp Hunter" series from "Weird Western Tales" (which I hope means DC Comics will be collecting those as well, even if it's a slim hope because the Political Correctness Brigade would probably freak out over the title), so there's a little bit of a disconnect from the 1960s stories where he's a shiftless rogue to the ones from the 1980s where he's a professional gambler.

The tone of the "Bat Lash" series has been compared to some commentators to the TV series "Maverick," but a more accurate comparison would be to the second-tier Italian westerns of the late 1960s and early 1970s. If you enjoy the Terence Hill and Bud Spencer Western vehicles, I think this is a book that will be right up your alley.

Most of the stories in the book feature art by Nick Cardy. His is a style that never impressed me on his superhero work, but his covers and artwork on DC horror titles like "Witching Hour" immediately spring to mind when I consider comics art that is top-notch. With "Bat Lash," he is just as great, and these are comics I admired as a kid and that I admire even more as an adult. Whether Bat Lash is comically trying to escape death at the hands of a fling's angry husband, or tragically carrying a dying child across the desert, Cardy invokes exactly the right mood at the right time. His artwork is so effective that you can even just look at the pictures and get what is happening on the page, story, mood, and all. This is work that many modern comic book artists should be forced to study and internalize as most of them can't tell a story if their lives depended on it.

"Showcase Presents: Bat Lash" is slimmer than most of the DC Comics books in this format, and it can be digested in a single long afternoon. However, the price is right, and if you're a lover of Westerns or just good comic books, it's a book you want to pick up.

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