|"Showcase" #76, the first appearance of Bat Lash|
"Will he save the west â€“ or ruin it?"
That was the question DC Comics posed when they introduced their newest Western hero in 1968's "Showcase" #76. Bartholomew Aloysius Lash, better known as "Bat Lash," had more in common with Bret Maverick than John Wayne. Laconic, fond of gourmet cooking, and rarely without a flower in his hat, Bat was nonetheless a first-class gambler, a crack shot, and a rogue equally loathed by outlaws, lawmen, and the many lovely ladies he left in his wake.
Written by comics legend Sergio Aragons, and illustrated by master artist Nick Cardy, Bat Lash only lasted seven issues in his own book, but despite this brief run, Bat made a memorable impression on readers with the offbeat combination of action, comedy and drama that characterized his stories. Several decades and a guest appearance on the "Justice League Unlimited" cartoon later, Bat Lash is finally back in a new miniseries premiering later this year, co-written by Aragons and Western novelist Peter Brandvold.
|"Showcase" #76, page 3|
Like Lash, Brandvold tries to inject some new life into the well-traveled Western genre. "The problem with the western market is that it's been slow to change," Brandvold said. "There's still an old-fashioned quality about many of the books being published. Some are just too corny and slow. I'm trying to change that in my own small way by writing gritty, adrenalin-pumping stories - dark, violent, and sexy stories - about compelling, three-dimensional characters."
|"Bat Lash" #2 cover by Nick Cardy|
Although he wasn't a comic book fan growing up, Brandvold became interested in comics through one of the industry's most acclaimed writers - Mike Baron, the Eisner-winner writer of "Nexus" and "The Badger," whom Brandvold describes as "my good friend, neighbor, hiking, and drinking pal." Baron introduced Brandvold to comics, and in the process, introduced him to a whole new type of writing.
|"Bat Lash" #4 cover by Nick Cardy|
Brandvold soon decided that he wanted to try creating comics of his own. "I not only got interested in comics, I got absolutely obsessed with them - nearly went broke buying them - and decided I wanted to try my own western comic series," Brandvold recalled. "Mike also put me in touch with Michael Wright at DC. I simply told Michael I'd like to pitch a western, and I can't remember if it was Michael or Dan Didio, but someone suggested I pitch Bat Lash. So I researched the character and pitched an origin story."
|"Bat Lash" #6 cover by Nick Cardy|
Brandvold is quick to praise the "tongue-in-cheek, madcap quality" of Aragones' writing on the original series, along with Nick Cardy's work, which he calls "art of the highest quality." "Each page of Cardy's comics is like a lone piece of perfect art," Brandvold said. "My favorite cover is the one for #2, where Bat and a little girl are hiding behind a tombstone in a snowy cemetery, and an Indian holding Winchester is skulking past. That's a terrific, moody cover. It teems with story! You really wanna tear into the issue. A favorite moment is when Bat invades the Mexican - is it a prison? I forget - and he hangs from the cannon. That's like something out of a Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis movie."
|"Bat Lash" #6, page 17|
Brandvold has found that the differences between writing comics and novels offers both limitations and opportunities. "Obviously, in comics you're working primarily with images and dialogue," Brandvold said. "The limitations are that you really can't get into the character's head for any length of time, like you can in a novel. But in a novel, you have to make the prose extra vivid, since you're not working with actual images on the page, and the best novels are series of word pictures. In a novel you get 'voice,' a rhythm to the prose, and there's really no voice in a comic. Comics, too, are more stripped down, sort of like a motion picture.
|"Bat Lash" #6, page 29|
Joining Aragons and Brandvold is artist John Severin, an industry legend who's no stranger to comic westerns, having recently illustrated the controversial "Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather!" at Marvel. Working with Severin is a dream come true for Brandvold. " Concerning Severin, this is how blessed I am," Brandvold said. "When I first started reading comics in earnest, I was reading all the westerns I could get my hands on - a lot of European stuff like 'Blueberry' by Charlier and Moebius, 'Tex' from Italy, and 'Morgan Kane' by Kjell Hallbing from Norway. Another, and probably my favorite series, was 'Desperadoes,' written by Jeff Mariotte right here in the good ole USA. I was reading his first trade paperback, 'Quiet of the Grave,' and didn't even know who the artist, John Severin, was, but I kept thinking, 'If I ever get a chance to write a western comic book series, wouldn't it be great if this fella Severin drew it?'
"Well, I loved Severin's art so much - he had such a keen eye for the western landscape and horses and men and such a feel for story, and he obviously loved to draw so much, as much as I loved to write - that I researched him on the Net. I really wasn't surprised to learn that he was one of the top two or three writers in the business, and that he'd been doing this for over fifty years, but I was absolutely inspired that, well into his 80s, he obviously still had such a passion and proficiency for his life's work. The problem was, I didn't think I would ever get the opportunity to work with such a craftsman and such a legend. But, here I am working not only with Severin but another legend, Sergio Aragon s! Who'd have thunk?! I've never met Severin, though he lives only sixty miles from me. I have to tell you, I'm a bit of a bumpkin - associate mostly with my dogs, wife, and a few long-suffering friends - and I'm worried I'll make a fool of myself if I go down there. But I've made a fool of myself before, so one of these days I'm going to give him a call and throw caution to the wind!
"I'm very excited about the project and the fact that, on my first comics project, I'm working with two giants in the business. To be talking plotting over the phone with Sergio Aragons and then to have an artist like John Severin penciling my scripts is an indescribable thrill!"
Brandvold, who says the current "Jonah Hex" series at DC is "my favorite comic right now in any genre," hopes that his "Bat Lash" miniseries catches on with fans. "I hope we can continue it, run one a month like they're doing with 'Jonah Hex,'" Brandvold said. Even though Bat Lash once threatened to ruin the West, in comics, at least, he might help save it.
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