Batton Lash talks 'Radioactive Man' and 'Supernatual Law'

Wed, January 30th, 2002 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher

Click to enlarge.
[The original American Flagg ad]
The original "American Flagg" ad.
[Batton Lash's rough cover layouts]
Batton Lash's rough cover layouts to "Radioactive Man #5"
[Howard Chaykin's finished black and white cover]
Howard Chaykin's finished black and white cover.
[Radioactive Man #5]
The finished "Radioactive Man #5"
2002 Bongo Entertainment, Inc. The Simpsons & ™ Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
Without a doubt creator Batton Lash has his hands full these days. The creator of "Supernatural Law" is busy working on many different comics projects and with a variety of industry professionals you might not expect. First off, the next issue of "Radioactive Man," the Superman-like figure from "The Simpsons" published by Bongo Comics.

"I'm writing Bart Simpson's favorite comic book -- Radioactive Man! As you know, the conceit of the series is that each issue is from a different era of comics history," Lash told CBR News. "Previous issues have been from March 1953 with a horror theme, May 1966 with a spy/go-go theme, and so on. Currently, I'm beginning the sixth issue, which will be from 1962."

While Lash didn't want to spoil the story details of the 1962 parody, he was happy to discuss the next issue to hit the stands this March. In "Radioactive Man #5" fans will be treated to a tribute of Howard Chaykin's work from the '80s, "American Flagg." Seeing as how it's an '80s version of "Radioactive Man," Lash wanted to acknowledge a ground-breaking company of the time, First Comics, and what is arguably their most famous title.

"My thinking is that we have over 60 years of comics history -- surely there's something other than Silver Age Marvel/DC (or that other satiric target, early 90s Image Comics) to anchor a parody on! Don't get me wrong -- I love the goofy DC/Marvel Silver Age stuff as much as the next guy, but I also wanted to 'explore' other companies that are now gone but fondly remembered in their approach to comics. I should add that the 'American Flagg' issue of 'Radioactive Man' is more of a pastiche rather than a direct parody. I pitched this issue as being a Mort Weisinger story by way of Howard Chaykin."

In addition to the book and story pulling from "American Flagg" history, the cover is a direct satire of an ad that ran promoting the series. Plus, Chaykin agreed to illustrate the cover to this issue, fitting that job into an already busy schedule which includes working on the Vertigo series "American Century" and his job as head writer with the successful syndicated television show, "Mutant X."

"Howard was a pro when it came to my cover layout -- he had no problem working from it," said Lash. "In fact, he said that since I had already done the "thinking" for the cover, that would help him timewise to get the cover done. I was pretty pleased that Howard agreed to do the cover -- I thought it came out great and it looked like he enjoyed spoofing himself! I've always found Howard to be generous and he's always been very nice to me. Brutally honest -- but nice!"

Regular readers of Bongo Comics know that Lash only exercises his writing talents on their books, but hasn't lent his artistic skills directly to the page.

"I'd love to draw a 'Radioactive Man' or a 'Simpsons' story just for kicks, but quite frankly, I'd think my art would be too 'off model' to satisfy Bongo. But I do extremely detailed layouts of my scripts with the understanding that the artist assigned will follow it. (Some pencillers don't mind this and some do!) So, in a sense, I do have a hand in the art and I'm happy with that."

In addition to working at Bongo, Lash is still publishing "Supernatural Law" through his own Exhibit A Press which chronicles the careers of Jeff Byrd and Alanna Wolff, two lawyers who fight to protect the rights of monsters and creatures of the supernatural. Self-published since 1994 the book is still going strong, has been option by Hollywood for a major movie production and within the pages of the book there are some exciting developments yet to come.

"I seem to have a very loyal audience that follows every issue. I also seem to pick up readers with each new issue -- they either have just discovered it or are finally giving in and figuring that if it's lasted this long it might be worth checking out! I think that a lot of people who never bothered with 'Supernatural Law' did so because they thought it was a one-gag idea (lawyers who represent monsters and the supernatural). However, when they try it out they discover that it contains a wide variety of stories and they find the main characters interesting and likable. Anyway, I'm glad to say that once people actually read it (and it is a comic for people who like to read, since it has wordplay and lots of plot twists), they stay with it."

[Supernatual Law #33]
Detail of the cover to "Supernatural Law" #33 by Lash, Sim and Gerhard.
In "Supernatural Law #33" Lash is joined by self-publishing legends Dave Sim, the creator of "Cerebus," and Gerhard, who contribute to the cover of this issue. Lash explained how this all came to be.

"I originally had the idea of a demon discovering God, becoming a born-again Christian in the process (much in the way serial killers on Death Row would suddenly become religious). As the idea developed, I thought it might be funny that the demon would look like Cerebus, as a nod to Dave Sim's recent Bible awareness. It just progressed from there: What if the demon were misogynistic and would speak only to Jeff Byrd and shun Alanna Wolff? I thought that would make for an interesting story. People who have never read Cerebus would take 'Huberis the Dybbuk' at face value, while "insiders" will get the references. And, hopefully, both parties will be entertained!"

Sim's reaction to the Huberis character caught Lash by surprise.

"His reaction could've knocked me for a loop. He's on our comp list, and as soon as he read issue 32 (where the Huberis character was introduced), Dave called and offered to ink the Huberis figure if the character was going to be featured on #33's cover! (With Gerhard offering to do the background!) Dave admitted he might be setting himself up, not knowing what the outcome of the story will be. I think Dave's a good sport (I would imagine he'd have to be, considering some of the takeoffs he's done in Cerebus!) and he was very encouraging. Confidentially, the target of my parody in 'Supernatual Law #33' is not so much Cerebus -- it's who Wolff & Byrd and Huberis run afoul of (and to find that out, you'll just have to wait and see the issue)."

Trade paperback collections have become a standard in the comic industry, reprinting past hard to find issues in a single volume. Lash does this with the "Supernatural Law" books as well, and with his latest TPB releases he's taking it a step further.

"The trades are our long-term investment," said Lash. "'The Vampire Brat' and 'Sonovawitch!' represent the new way I'm approaching a collection. In fact, I'll add pages and redraw panels. In general, I 'remaster' the originals (to borrow DVD lingo) to create a better book."

Lash has also contributed a story to "September 11, Volume 1," the tribute book published by Dark Horse, Chaos! Comics and others in stores now.

The first page of Lash's contribution to "September 11, Volume 1."
"I got an e-mail from Image publisher Jim Valentino in late September. He was passing along the call for contributors Dark Horse sent out. The timing was right--I was still reeling from the events of 9/11, so I wanted to do something.

"Scott Allie (editor of the project) gave me two pages. I decided to do a piece based on a silly 1976 incident involving the Twin Towers and the Bicentennial that I kept thinking of on the days following 9/11. Incidentally, it's really odd to think of the '70s as a more "innocent" time -- because it absolutely wasn't! Yet, in light of recent events and the world situation we're in now, the '70s now have that 'glow' of a simpler era, much like the '50s had in the '70s. My only conclusion was that the world was never simple -- only I was!"

While Lash now resides in Southern California, he was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and is thus intimately familiar with the city and its people. On the day of the attacks Lash and his wife Jackie Estrada weren't in the comfort of the So. Cal. homes, but found themselves right in the middle of Manhattan. Lash shared with CBR News his experience on the day of the attack and what it took to get back home.

"The weekend before the attacks, we were on the East Coast visiting my parents in Brooklyn. On Monday, September 10th, Jackie and I went to Manhattan and checked into a midtown hotel. We were going to stay in the city until Thursday, then take the train to Washington, DC, to go to Bethesda and exhibit at SPX. The 10th was Jackie's birthday and I took her to see the great guitarist Les Paul at the Iridium. We had a great time -- in fact, it's safe to say that everyone there seemed like they were having a terrific time. It was a classic fall New York evening. When we left, we walked through Times Square. The streets were still wet from an early evening shower, but it was beautiful night. Times Square was positively glowing, and New York was radiant in all its splendor. It was inconceivable to think of what was in store for New York -- and the world -- in less than twelve hours.

"The morning of the 11th, Jackie and I had breakfast at the hotel coffee shop. We were looking forward to spending the day meeting friends and walking around Manhattan. After breakfast, Jackie went back to our room while I paid the bill. In the background and under the general din, I became aware of an urgency coming over the kitchen radio -- something about a plane crash. By the time I got up to the room, Jackie had the TV on. I walked in just as the second plane hit. From that moment on, we were riveted to the TV -- from CNN to all the local news stations. It was hard to believe all this was actually happening -- and downtown from us!

By 3 o'clock, we had to just get out and walk around. Looking back, it was so surreal -- almost as if we were in a bizarre, disturbing dream. To see fighter jets -- as the only aircraft allowed in the skies -- fly over Manhattan, ready to protect the city, was both frightening and breath taking. To see a stunned crowd looking up and reading the famous news ribbon on One Times Square announcing 'Nation In Shock As Twin Towers Are Destroyed' made me think of bad sci-fi movies, but this was horribly real. There were no vehicles on the streets. The entire city was at a standstill. I never experienced anything like it.

"Despite it all, I felt I was very fortunate to be in New York that day. My immediate family -- parents, siblings, nieces, nephews -- are all in the greater New York area. I would've freaked if I was in San Diego, not being sure what exactly was happening. Even though I live in California, my heart still belongs to New York. I've always loved the city, and never in my life was I prouder to be a New Yorker than I was on September 11. I thought everyone in the city rose to the occasion. In the worst day of New York's history, the best came out of its citizens.

"Jackie and I stayed in Manhattan until Thursday. We were supposed to check out of the hotel that day anyway, to go to SPX (which, of course, was canceled). We headed back to my parents' house in Brooklyn. At first, no cab would go there, because access back into Manhattan would be difficult. But we learned that the subway was running into the outer boroughs again -- so what the hell! We didn't have that much luggage and we got the southbound F train with no problem. We did get a real jolt, though, as the train left the city. It went over the Manhattan Bridge and we got our first close view of the skyline sans The World Trade Center -- a tremendous, smoldering cloud of smoke was in its place. It was pretty grim. Jackie and I stayed with my family all weekend. Again, despite the awful tragedy, I wouldn't have traded that weekend with my wife and my family for anything.

"We were able to get a direct flight to San Diego out of JFK first thing Monday morning. We were a little nervous, but in retrospect, that was probably one of the safest flights of all time! Security was incredibly tight and all airline personnel was doing their best to reassure the passengers. Everyone applauded when we landed safe and sound in San Diego."

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