Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Showcase Presents Bat Lash

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Showcase Presents Bat Lash (DC, 2009).

I was looking forward to this book for several reasons. For starters, I hadn't read a single page that's been reprinted in it before. I was familiar with the character of Bat Lash, a Western dandy of a gunslinger, from some appearances he'd made in some of DC's other cowboy comics in the early 1980s. I enjoyed at least the concept of a flower-loving drifter who repeatedly gets caught up in violent skirmishes in crowded saloons, but never saw his original appearances.

Much later on, I learned the character was co-created by the great Sergio Aragonés and drawn by the great Nick Cardy, and DC has finally reprinted all of his original adventures in one handy Showcase Presents volume, and it's a cracker. I've always enjoyed Cardy's work, but there are some pages in here which knocked me on my socks. Most memorable is a great splash page where the camera is above a crowd of kids scampering around the roof rafters looking down on a big mob of people below them with their guns drawn on Bat Lash, and it's just a marvel to see such a vibrant, original composition in what could have been a much more humdrum drawing.

Most of the stories are co-written by Aragonés and Denny O'Neil, and they're all incredibly entertaining. Bat Lash is, at his core, a hippie a hundred years early. He just moseys from place to place playing cards, picking flowers and romancing the ladies, not wanting to get into trouble but finding astonishing amounts of it. He's not too far removed from Maverick, which remains, more than half a century later, one of the nine or ten best shows ever made for American TV, so I think that's a good comparison to make. It's got that same sense of subversion, putting a protagonist in play who really doesn't want to do anything heroic, but acts out of self-interest and a rascally desire to undercut authority.

Bat Lash was not a hit back in the sixties. The character first appeared in an issue of the original Showcase anthology before getting his own series, which only lasted seven issues and was canceled in 1969. This collection reprints all eight, along with two later appearances. One of these was a 1978 story that appeared in a later anthology series, written by O'Neil, and another was a three-part adventure scripted by Len Wein that appeared as a backup feature across three issues of Jonah Hex in 1981. Even without Aragonés and Cardy, these are still very good, entertaining stories.

The collection is one of two currently available in DC's Showcase Presents line which have gained the fan nickname "Skinny Showcases." Instead of the usual 500 pages for $17, these reprint about 250 pages for ten bucks. It's an ideal solution for characters like Bat Lash who don't have a great deal of material available for reprinting, but the stories are so darn good they deserve to be seen again. Honestly, the originals are clearly among the best comics that DC published in the 1960s, and so ten bucks is a pretty small price to pay to see them again. Highly recommended.


Tohoscope said...

Nick Cardy. He was damn good.

Patrick Dean said...

I was so dang glad DC put this book out. I have his Showcase appeareance and two issues of the original series, but the rest have always been too expensive to pick up. Now let's get that Angel & The Ape coolection!