This review contains marked spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »
In case your missed our previous review of the Showcase Presents volume, Bat Lash was one of DC’s Bronze Age Western characters, appearing in his own short ongoing and as a backup in the Jonah Hex title.
He was never quite as popular as disfigured bounty hunter, but perhaps reassured by the critically acclaimed contemporary Hex ongoing, DC brought Lash back for the 2008 miniseries collected here in Bat Lash: Guns and Roses.
Also returning is one of the character’s original creators, Sergio Aragonés who co-wrote this story along with Peter Brandvold. John Severin illustrates, along with some assistance from Javi Pina and Steve Lieber on a couple pages, and Steve Buccellato coloring the work.
This story is a prequel to the original comics, as readers were originally introduced to Bat Lash as a bit of a wandering troublemaker (or trouble-receiver, perhaps.) While some of his backstory is fleshed out in the relatively thin showcase – the character hasn’t really had a long solo publishing history – this series tells his tale in full detail.
So it’s kind of like Bat Lash: Year One. Did the character need an origin story?
I’m not sure, but seeing the creators on the cover was enough to get me excited – two comic creators I hold in high regard (Aragonés and Severin, who I will always remember for their Mad Magazine connections, though they both have long and impressive resumes) along with a western novelist of some renown, Brandvold.
Unfortunately, I have to say I didn’t enjoy this story as much as I thought I would.
I didn’t even feel that the portrayal of Native Americans and women was too offensive (I know, right? It’s a Western!)
In fact, the most likable character here is Lash’s friend Two-Moons and the most satisfying violence in the book comes at the hands of surprisingly not-so-helpless damsel-in-distress Dominique.
There are a couple major problems. The first is that the book just seemed to drag on a bit. There’s a chase scene that seems to take forever, for example.
I’m spoiled – the amount of story here would have been told in just one issue of Jonah Hex or maybe a two-parter of a Bronze Age western.
If the character development was more subtle or there were more twists in the plot, I could see the reasoning behind a six issue series, but by the end I was getting pretty impatient for things to wrap up.
My second issue is that while the villains are certainly vile, they were also fairly predictable. I suppose that only a few of the characters actually did anything unexpected, but a good western rides on its villains (or if it’s really good, the questionable nature of who is a villain or hero.) There’s two main “bad guys” and both are immediately recognizable.
It’s possible that after being introduced to each character, you could write out what happens to them on a piece of paper and put it in your pocket. At the end of the book, you’ll probably have been right on all except one count.
The characterization of Bat Lash is acceptable, though I have to say he’s just not the same character from the older stories – which is more in line with his portrayal in the Hex ongoing. The shift is a little jarring but I can understand the change.
Here’s your spoiler warning. If you don’t want to have any real plot revealed, don’t read the text between the next two images. Alternatively, skip to the verdict.
Still with us? Right. If you’ve been at this site long, you know I’m a bit of a continuity nerd. Not so much that I can’t enjoy a story with contradictions or that I care whether something is in or out of continuity, but enough that if I read something in an order that makes a latter story bad, I get annoyed.
I’m not sure how much my enjoyment of this volume was curtailed by my prior experiences with the character. In Showcase Presents: Bat Lash, we learn that his family has died. We also see that Bat Lash is a wandering, wanted man who jumps from woman to woman like some people pick over a buffet.
Much of the story here hinges on his undying love for Dominique, the daughter of one of our two main villains (who also happens to hold a grudge over Lash’s father because he won Lash’s mother.)
If we read Lash’s previous stories, we know that A) there’s no way he’ll end up with Dominique, so even if she survives, they’re not getting together and B) obviously Lash’s family will die at the hands of either or both of the villains. Plus Lash will end up as an outlaw.
Knowing the ending conditions can be interesting, if the they come about in ways we hadn’t predicted. Here everything goes down just as I thought it would, with only a few very minor twists. And one thing – Bat ending up an outlaw, is kind of shoehorned in right at the end (because the entire town is on his side almost until that point where he wings a Texas Ranger while hunting down one of the villains.)
It seems like that problem could have been straightened out, even, so it doesn’t feel quite right. And even with all that, I still feel weird about how he ended up being such a lecherous lad in the later stories.
So I feel like I may have enjoyed this story more without reading the prior stuff first (hence my moving it on our DC Reading Order.) But some of it also seems like it wouldn’t be as enjoyable without knowing where he ends up – especially the ending, which just seems kind of forced on Dominique.
Ok, end rant. Back to the review.
To sum up the spoilers, I feel like this book is in the curious position of being both more and less enjoyable with previous experience of the character. I was excited to learn more about Lash, but couldn’t help being a bit disappointed in that regard.
The other side effect of making this a more straightforward (and longer) tale, is that a lot of the slapstick humor of the original stories is totally gone here. There are a couple moments (mostly to do with some failed hangings), but for the most part the story plays it straight. Since Bat Lash always seemed like the sillier of the DC Westerns, that was also disappointing.
The art is worth seeing. Severin has been in this game some time and his meticulous hatching is something I quite like.
He crafts some spectacular night scenes and his towns are alive with little stories implied for each background character. The detail can be mesmerizing and when I look through the book just for the art, I find myself staring at a particularly detailed door or curtain just as often as the expressive faces.
The faces seem to change shape a little more than I’d like them to and the hatching doesn’t seem to work as well on people as on scenery, but there are many instances of absolutely perfect expressions – some much more moving than the accompanying dialogue or events.
I enjoyed the book more looking through it for the art than I did while reading the story – and I don’t remember liking the art as much while actually reading it.
It’s not horrible. I think some people will enjoy it a lot.
I’ve got to be true to my gut though. It just wasn’t the Bat Lash I was hoping for.
I’m rating it a bit higher than my personal enjoyment level because I feel that I may be unfairly biased due to my recent reading. It’s just nowhere near as good as the contemporary Jonah Hex run, and seems downright plodding compared to the quick pacing of that title.
It’s the in continuity modern origin of Bat Lash. He doesn’t show up in too many places in the DCU, though, so if you skip it you won’t really be at a disadvantage.
It can be read as a stand-alone story if you wish.
It’s going to have to be up to you – you may want to read Showcase Presents: Bat Lash first. It contains stories published decades earlier. But I think it might actually make you enjoy this book less.
If you liked this story at all, and have the stomach for a little more brutal violence, you’ll love the the contemporary Jonah Hex series. And it’s well worth giving the excellent Bronze Age collection, Showcase Presents: Jonah Hex, a shot as well.