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By | Friday, December 3, 2010 | 7:34 pm | 0 Comments | Blog > Reviews
Find This Book At:
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Includes Issues: Bat Lash 1-6
Issue Dates: February – July 2008
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This review contains marked spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

This book has nothing to do with Batman. Just getting that out of the way.

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.

It’s put together well enough. The plot is straightforward, a classic Western with fleshed out characters and conflicts.

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.

3 of 5 stars. It’s a classically executed western with a predictable plot.

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.

Essential Continuity:
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.

Read first:
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.

Read next:
If you’re following my DC Universe and DC Westerns lists, you’ll read the Showcase volume next.

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.

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By | Friday, December 3, 2010 | 10:37 am | 0 Comments | Blog > Database Updates

Bat Lash Guns And RosesAfter reading it, I’m moving Bat Lash: Guns and Roses to before Showcase Presents: Bat Lash.

The book was produced after, but comes chronologically before the Showcase volume.

Sometimes this works for reading order, but this time I think it makes more sense to read this book first.

Of course, that’s assuming the book is worth reading at all. I’ll review it tonight.

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By | Thursday, December 2, 2010 | 10:47 pm | 15 Comments | Blog > Reviews
Find This Book At:
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Amazon (Softcover)
View our database entry
Includes Issues: Jonah Hex 25-30
Issue Dates: January – June 2008
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This review has very light spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

Jonah Hex is not a hero. Let’s just be clear on that.

He’s a vicious monster, a maelstrom of violence and twisted morality.

There’s that outward appearance of calm, the silence of a man of the desert.
But it’s the eye of the tornado.

On the trade dress of Luck Runs Out, the fifth Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray written Hex collection, the back cover boldly proclaims “justice can be brutal.” The front cover features a Wizard magazine quote – “more than a simple cowboy book… there’s something inside for everyone’s taste.”

But it’s questionable if any true justice can be found on these pages and there are moments gruesome enough to make those with a light palette gag.

And it’s the best modern Jonah Hex I’ve seen yet.

While Hex may not be a good man, he’s more often than not the “good guy” in these tales. It’s still the same west he started out in, but all that wanton killing in the Bronze Age comics just seems a lot darker in this post-Vertigo world. Luck Runs Out tells some of the darker stories – a couple downright insane.

In fact, this book is proof that DC doesn’t need a separate imprint to tackle the kind of horror it once reserved for it’s “adult” line. I was surprised that it doesn’t say “For Mature Audiences” anywhere on this trade – perhaps that’s simply assumed in today’s comics.

As the first issue collected here, My Name is Nobody is Gray and Palmiotti’s attempt to deal with some of the past events in the first Jonah Hex series and bring them into the contemporary ongoing. I haven’t read any of the uncollected works, so my knowledge of these plotlines is secondhand at best, but I felt the story stood on its own.

The violence is of the more standard western shoot em’ up variety and the darkness here is mostly to do do with the sadness of Hex’s character, what his life has brought him towards.

If you’re not used to the jumping around in time yet, Hex’s gray haired visage might surprise you – as might his absent minded dialogue with his horse.

Without giving away too much, I think the story was the right way to start this volume.

It’s not Hex’s end, perhaps (which has already been told, though remains uncollected) but it explains much and allows the events included in this book to play out with a stated moral.

For the big nerds in the audience, there’s an amusing in-story reference to a prior Hex creator.

Russ Heath draws a relatively smooth faced Hex, but his action is sharp and the man knows his way around a sad cowboy.

Rob Schwager, our dedicated colorist, lends a dull sunset and muted purples and blues that add much to this parable.

The next bit is absolutely terrible and probably the best of the book. I almost tried not to like it, but it’s just very well done. The title is Four Little Pigs: A Grindhouse Western and the subtitle is perfectly descriptive. This is the Hex issue for horror movie fans (and while I’m not, it won me over with its excellent execution. Er, storytelling and art.)

As with any good horror film, the plot is both straightforward and entirely reliant on a few good twists, so I won’t discuss it in detail beyond the teaser images I’ve chosen to display. Suffice it to say that on his bad days, Hex makes some very interesting decisions.

I’m happy to tell you how much I loved the art, though. Worked by the team of Giuseppe Camuncoli (credited on layouts) and Stefano Landini (finishes), it’s disturbing, perfectly stylized, and beautifully, if not quite tastefully, detailed.

The faces here are perfect. That panel with Hex (the one I used to head this review) is one of my absolute favorite drawings of him. The man looks like a veritable zombie in these pages, a fitting visage for the rawhide angel of death.

Even suffering from this skull-like half grin, he’s more expressive here than I’ve ever seen him. Sometimes subtly, sometimes wildly, always spot on. Great stuff.

The other characters are all superlative – just look at that sheriff, perfectly full of shit.

The following story is well placed, as Star Man is as close as we get to an upbeat story in this volume. Again, no real boy scouts here, but at least human motivations and characters I can cheer on.

The “Star Man” is a great creation. A bit of classic western and comic style vigilante origin all mixed up. I hope we get to see more of him.

Jordi Bennet illustrates this one, and it’s a good fit. I think that he has a problem with drawing women that don’t all look exactly the same, but there aren’t many in this sequence (though there’s definitely one passing by the front of a panel near the start just so we can get a good look at her tits in the foreground. Bad Jordi, Bad!)

Much of the first half of the story takes place in a city, showcasing Bennet’s seedy streets and interiors. And the man has quite the knack for drawing a huge variety of hats atop frowning faces.

I thought this was my favorite issue at first, though Grindhouse pulled me back (kicking and screaming, I assure you). So perhaps it’s a tie or Star Man is my second favorite.

What follows, Townkiller, rivals Grindhouse for it’s disturbing conflict. It’s perhaps more personal this time, and it’s tough to say which shows a worse side of the protagonist.

While the first story could be a bit of a guilty pleasure, this one is dark to the core. It’s right though – “true” to the character and the world he inhabits. So don’t misunderstand me when I say it isn’t enjoyable – like a tragedy or the middle act of an epic, it’s a story that works, lending texture to the myth of the man.

The art here feels more realistic, less stylized, and Hex looks demonic, his scar burning a deep red, with gnarly stubble lining his face. John Higgins makes the violence close and personal, with almost every panel as close to a character’s face as possible.

Either the editorial team has had an amazing amount of luck when it comes to choosing artists or, more likely, Palmiotti and Gray are real pros when it comes to playing to the strengths when picking a script for an illustrator.

Nope! There’s more. This book is packed with story for such a deceivingly thin volume.

Return To Devil’s Paw brings us back to the scene of Hex’s nighttime manhunt collected in Only The Good Die Young. The previous story wasn’t really my favorite and the plot here isn’t the stand out of this volume, but much of that is probably because of the startling strength of the other tales.

In this book, it might play the role of the “daily life” tale – while it might be a crazy adventure in any other cowboy’s life, this is almost a regular day for Jonah Hex.

It’s relatively predictable, but satisfying, a bit of military/indian conflict and some expected, if unsaid, “I told you so.” I mean, Return? Since when was that a good idea? Leave it to the bureaucrats.

The art is a huge part of this tale’s strength, bringing it from the ‘meh’ point of the book back up to the level of the other stories. It’s phenomenal, full of intense detail, rippling action, and masterfully rendered scenery. It’s a good thing there is a rotating team on these books, because I’m not sure anyone could churn out the quality of ‘ work here on a monthly basis – of course, if he HAS been doing this on a monthly basis somewhere, will someone please tell me?

Finally, Jordi Benet is back for Luck Runs Out, which lends its title to this trade. It starts with this sadly hilarious title illustration and includes a two page spread showing the life and times of Mr. J. Hex – just how he got to this point.

While the plot here is about some would be train robbers that run into our binge drinking anti-hero, this story ties right back into the first. It ends the volume on a perfect note.

While the other stories in the book have dealt with what Hex has lost, what he’s made of, how low he can go, the reasons he drags himself up, the fate he has waiting for him – this story states what he’s got and why we can’t stop watching.

I enjoyed every one of these issues individually and it was amazing how well they all tied in together. Especially considering their serial nature, rotating artist staff, and jumping about in time.

As it is, this is a collection defined thematically. It may not tell the whole story, but it does a masterful job of setting the mood.

Old time fans may chose to believe that a similar book could be created showing a more upbeat side of the man (and there are amusing and morally understandable moments in this trade), and I feel that may be true – I hope that the writers tackle that challenge at some point.

But even for a normal human, there are dark depths in life, and this book explores the cavernous expanses of Jonah Hex.

5 out of 5. This kind of book may not be for everyone (and at first I wasn’t even sure it was for me) but it’s an extremely well crafted collection. Even though each story is self contained, they all work together to paint a tragic picture of a tormented man.

It’s amazing the amount of story they manage to jam into each issue and still maintain a modern feel – for 12.99 cover, it’s quite a deal.

As a bit of a lightweight gore-avoider, I struggled briefly with this volume. For the most part, I honestly think a lot of stories would be better without violence. But this is what it is and I admit I enjoyed it immensely.

Just know what you’re getting into.

Essential Continuity:
This book is absolutely essential for understanding the contemporary Jonah Hex.

I’ve heard that some people think the one early part is a bit of a let down based on past stories, but I personally think that the mundane aspects of it are perfect – not all tragedy is born of bloodshed, some is carried only by silence and regret.

Read first:
While this may be a quintessential Hex book, I’m not sure if it’s as enjoyable out of context. I’ve read all of this stuff and really dug it (obviously) but I think you may be able to jump right in on this one.

Nevertheless, read Showcase Presents Jonah Hex and/or Jonah Hex: Welcome to Paradise.

Follow that up with Jonah Hex: Face Full of Violence, Jonah Hex: Guns of Vengeance, Jonah Hex: Origins, and Jonah Hex: Only The Good Die Young.

If you want the full story, you may need to pick up individual issues of the original Jonah Hex ongoing. I haven’t read these, so I can attest that the book is enjoyable without them. 

Read next:

Following along with the DC Reading Order, the DC Westerns, and Jonah Hex‘s own list, your next book will be .

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By | Thursday, December 2, 2010 | 6:56 pm | 6 Comments | Blog > Features

I’ve finished sorting the posts into the new categories, replacing the temporarily changed formatting, and all the updates are complete.

Highlights are the re-optimized homepage and the ability to see much more review content before the “fold” (ie where you’d have to scroll down in your browser.)

So now that you’ve looked over the changelog in the last post and seen the new site for yourself, what do you think?

[poll id=”5″]

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By | Thursday, December 2, 2010 | 3:21 pm | 8 Comments | Blog > Database Updates

Brraaakoom! A whole mess of updates, redesigns and tweaked features!

This list is gonna be a lot to get through, but here goes!

Removed the HEADER!!??

This is going to strike a lot of you as very strange, but I’m going for it.

I just don’t think branding is very important! Getting to the content quickly matters more, so I’m removing the giant TRADE READING ORDER banner and everything else in the header. The top of the page is now the navigation bar.

This goes against a lot of web design currently in practice, but with so many people finding this site through google results, stumbleupon, and other social media, getting to the content as quickly as possible without a jumble of unrelated text up top – well, that matters! I’m going to try to keep the site identifiable, but in ways that don’t take up that much space.

It’s funny that without a big old banner up top, it feels like a site isn’t really done – but I’ll get over it.

I moved the Search and the Weekly Giveaways from the header to the right sidebar.

There’s at least 40 other changes, minor and major. Click here for the full list!

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