This Column Originally Ran On Comics Bulletin
Jason Sacks and Daniel Elkin are back again to examine, celebrate, and mourn some of the weirdness that was comics past. After spending the last few weeks going through some of the odder 1970's Marvel Comics output, today they turn their attention to a short lived series that lives on in the heart of Jason, the wild Western adventures of one Bartholomew Alouysius Lash. Both Jason and Daniel got their hands on DC SHOWCASE PRESENTS BAT LASH and the result was the following conversation.
Jason Sacks: Will he save the West ... or ruin it?
You could kind of say the same thing about me. I'm a handsome rogue, aren't I? AREN'T I?
Daniel Elkin: Yes. Of course you are. Of course you are.
You know, as I was reading DC Showcase Presents Bat Lash, I kept expecting someone to answer the question whether he would save the West ... or ruin it. I never really got an answer on that.
Sacks: It's one of those deep philosophical questions, like Yam you who you yam, or can a person be happy with old and slightly upsetting animatronic creatures in their house?
Elkin: Blow me down, that's fodder for a couple of different columns. In the context of THIS column, though, what do you think the answer to the question is?
Sacks: Well, you know I'm a fan of these comics, else I wouldn't have recommended them to you, so rather than influence you with my biases, what do you think the answer is?
Elkin: I guess he saves it, doesn't he? Bat Lash's foppish mannerisms, powerful right hook and prowess with a six-shooter brings all sorts of eventual calm to the chaos that he seems to fall into on a constant basis. Of course, his misogyny may not have helped the Women of the West, but I guess back then that wasn't as much of a concern.
Elkin: Well said.
Sacks: Well thank you, Elkin! The body count in this comic is a bit apocalyptic, but then again this is definitely a Western
Elkin: It's not a Western if the bodies aren't hitting the floor.
So, on Wikipedia, Sergio Aragones is quoted as saying this about Bat Lash's origins:
“They called me and said 'Sergio, we need a western, we need a cowboy called Bat Lash. Think about it'. So I did, I thought the character. The way I work, things pop in my head pretty fast, so as I was sitting with them in the restaurant, I was describing how the character was. So Bat Lash was born right there, in the restaurant. ... One of the things they wanted, they wanted to be 'different,' a different Western, but they didn't know how, so I came up with a guy that had good taste for food, and music, and loved flowers and nature. And was a crack shot. ... But he was no clown. The idea when I wrote it was that he was man with a sense of humor, but he was not a clown. He would do things that will (make) other people become the butt of humor, but not him. The humor should be the result of (Bat Lash's') action.”
Sacks: I thought the stories in this book did exactly that. Do you agree with me that Bat is a truly larger than life figure who really seems to come to life on the page?
Elkin: Absolutely. And a lot of that has to do with the pretty spectacular art by Nick Cardy (who, I found out, did the movie poster forApocalypse Now). Sure, Cardy ain't no Ploog, but he can draw him one mean gun fight.
Sacks: Man, I'm crazy about this Cardy art. He drew a slew of movie posters, usually for comedies, and was one of the finest cartoonists of his time. This work is just immaculately lovely, isn't it?
Elkin: It is. I don't think I would have enjoyed the tales of Bat Lash as much had someone else done the art (except, of course, Ploog). He captured the adventure, the humor, and the weirdness just right with his pencils. I was quite impressed.
Sacks: The way he draws faces and dramatic settings and the wonderful way he depicts the old west is just wonderful to me. I wonder if Ploog ever drew a Western? If he didn't that's a great loss for humanity.
Elkin: Everything Ploog DIDN'T draw is a loss for humanity, if you ask me.
So, do you want to talk a little about the individual stories in this collection?
Sacks: Sure, there are only ten or so after all ...
I'm just hungry for some pheasant in aspic now. That look on Lash's face on page 7 is just awesome. He's lustier for that bird than he is for some of the women in this book.
Elkin: Heh. What a great introduction to a character.
Sacks: "How can I get it across to you guys that I wish to be left alone!! I hate violence!!" as he beats the crap out of a bar full of drunks.
Elkin: And the flower he wears in his hat and is so concerned about -- do you think this was sort of a nod to the hippies or some other thing that Aragones and O'Neil were trying to do with the character?
Sacks: I think it's an attempt to add some color and culture to the character - show that he sees himself as a man who has some depth.
Elkin: Which gets me to his "origin" story in the collection, and the whole thing at the end with his brother, Tom. That got to be a little unnerving, I think. And then the series ended so suddenly.
Sacks: That's such a wonderful story, so full of human drama and energy and raw intensity. I love his confrontation with his sister and that spectacular last panel where Bat really and truly looks haunted.
Elkin: The confrontation at the end with his brother Tom ... and then his leaving without ever knowing it was him. ... His last words of the whole series are: "Nothing makes any difference, anymore..."
Sacks: It's a different Bat in that story - more intense, more driven, and we see why he adopted his playboy carefree attitude. It's all a front to hide his deep lack of personal connection to the people he loves. It's such a smart bit of psychological insight, and kind of shocking to find in a comic from 1969 or so. This really was bleeding edge for a Western character in that era.
Elkin: In such a carefree context as well. It also brings to mind the whole story earlier in the collection with the little girl, Melinda, who witnesses her father being gunned down, and then, in a dissociative fugue, mistakes Bat Lash for her father.
Sacks: Man, that was such a sad story. Poor girl. We see a whole different side of Bat in that story too -- a protector and helper. It may be the only story in the book where Bat seems authentically heroic.
Elkin: It takes him a bit of time to get to that level though. He has to work through some of his own selfish issues first. This is pretty complex stuff, isn't it, when you think about it?
Sacks: You're right, there's way more to Bat than meets the eye. He's so complex that he barely seems like a comic book hero of the 1960s.
Elkin: Then again, there was the Judge Nero story. ...
Sacks: Yeah, such a wacky story in the middle of everything else. Kind of a non sequitur.
Elkin: Kind of a WTF?
Sacks: Yeah, right?
Elkin: Nick Cardy sure knew how to draw him some purty ladies, though. Or is it spelled "purdy"?
Sacks: Maribel in Agua Preieta is a hot Latina women with fire running through her veins.
Elkin: You could light your cigarillo with her blood! Hey Sacks, did you ever see the James Garner show, Maverick?
Sacks: Only a few episodes.
Elkin: From what I recall, it kinda had that Bat Lash thing going on.
Sacks: Will James Garner save the West... or ruin it?
Elkin: Jim Rockford, PI will save everything. EVERYTHING!
Sacks: James Garner was a man's man, I love that guy.
Elkin: Too bad they never made a Bat Lash movie back then -- Garner would have been perfect. I wonder which came first, Maverick orBat Lash?
Sacks: Probably Maverick, so maybe Aragones was influenced by him? Actually, that was a pretty big show at the time that shows were really pervasively big, so I'm positive that he was influenced by that show.
Elkin: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That's why I drive a gold Pontiac Firebird and live in a mobile home in Malibu. But I digress. One of the interesting things that happened while I was reading this collection was that my 14-year-old son saw me reading it and was flabbergasted by the idea that Western Comics were ever once popular.
Sacks: I honestly have trouble with that, too. I vaguely remember Westerns on TV but don't remember ever buying a Western comic ever.
Elkin: It's the ebb and flow of pop culture. Everyone wants to make a superhero movie now (especially after $The Avengers$) -- in 5 years, NOBODY will want to make one.
Sacks: I hope they'll at least make a Bat Lash movie before the trend dies!
Elkin: But is Bartholomew Alouysius Lash really a superhero?
Sacks: Ha, he's anything but a hero, isn't he? But oh baby, he's all man; I wish I were that much of an alpha.
Elkin: I had a feeling that was why you chose this collection to go through today, Sacks.
Sacks: Ha, he gets all the hot chicks. I'm taken, sorry ladies.
Elkin: If I were to star in a Western movie, I would be more like Gene Wilder in The Frisco Kid.
Sacks: Ha! Not Blazing Saddles?
Elkin: Naaaah. Wilder is too cool in Blazing Saddles. Definitely The Frisco Kid.
Elkin: Thanks for pointing me in the direction of Bat Lash, Sacks. I really enjoyed it and there is no way I would have come across it on my own. It's a bit of a lost gem.
Sacks: I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I thought this would be a nice break after all the horror comics we've been reading recently. This really is a special series, I think.
Elkin: I wish it hadn't been canceled after only 7 issues. It would have been interesting to see where Aragones and O'Neil took the character, especially since he seemed to be getting a bit darker around the edges towards the end there.
Sacks: It will always be one of those lost mysteries, my friend. Buried in a silver mine.
Elkin: Dig Dirt, Daisy!
Jason Sacks is Publisher of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on twitter at @jasonsacks, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on Facebook