Who's Bat Lash?

Who's This? A gambler in the Old West.
The facts: In 1968, editors Carmine Infantino and Joe Orlando needed a cowboy star and came up with the name (short for Bartholomew) and the simple premise that his family had been wiped out (did they have Batman on the brain? the story doesn't say). Sheldon Meyer and (of all people) Sergio Aragonés were assigned to flesh it out and Bat Lash was introduced in Showcase #76, with art by Nick Cardy. From there, a series was greenlit, with Cardy plotting as of issue 2 (Aragonés would return to the character much later in a 2008 mini-series). That initial series lasted 7 bi-monthly issues. A pacifist ladies' man, his tag line was "Will he save the West, or ruin it?" He never got a fighting chance either way, but did appear in western titles on occasion, as a back-up in Jonah Hex, for example, or in sundry Weird Western Tales.
How you could have heard of him: Though he did show up in Jonah Hex's series in the 2000s and had his own mini-series then, his last appearance was a one off in the New52's All-Star Western.
Example story: Bat Lash #2 (December 1968-January 1969) "Melinda's Doll" by Nick Cardy with dialog by Denny O'Neil
Can't resist a snowbound western... but the action starts before the snowstorm, with Bat participating in a shotgun wedding, but he's paid some kids to ruin it so he can escape (checks) Old West Giganta?
They drop rats on the assembly and Bat jumps out the window. The father, who sounds like Yosemite Sam in my head, can't get a clean shot at him because the daughter loves him still and can't abide him getting buckshot. The stunt cost him every penny he had, so it's back to that lonesome road, looking for his next fortune...
At this point, I'd like to comment on what DC was doing with its niche historical books in this era, because like Anthro, this looks GORGEOUS. Obviously, Nick Cardy is a master craftsman, much underrated in my book, but like Anthro, Bat Lash has a watercolor feel to its coloring that really elevates the material. It also uses a western font for all the sound effects, which I find quite distinctive. Throwing his name into the art à la Will Eisner is also brilliant. This book has STYLE. (Right down to the rounded corners on the panels, which I don't much like - is the action supposed to feel televisual, or are they treating Bat's adventures as an extended flashback?)

So back to the story... Parallel to Bat freezing his ass off (his bride-to-be ripped off his coat), a mile away a wagoning marshal and his little daughter Melinda get into an accident. Dad has to go get help and apparently someone's after them, but before he gets shot down by them polecats, he hides her in a tree stump, and something in her doll. Obviously, Bat Lash is going to come upon the broken wagon and dead body moments later (ooh, a coat!), and have to haul little Melinda around for the rest of the issue. The traumatized child thinks he's her daddy on account of him wearing his coat. Don't forget the doll!
And he's stuck with her, as trying to fob Melinda off to people in the town of Serenity only gets him slapped as a deadbeat dad. Her real father's murderers watch from afar and wonder if the marshal ain't dead after all. Even close up, the "polecats" can't tell the difference (not even in the fact the marshal had BLACK hair). Turns out Bat Lash is a pacifist UNLESS you try to interrupt his dinner.
No, even then. He only shoots their guns out of their hands, and their belts off their waists. They run off embarrassed, trying to keep their pants up. The innkeeper lady confiscates his gun, despite the fact that the town's evil undertaker is loudly offering a free funeral to anyone who kills the marshal. All the exits are blocked, so Bat heads for a window and causes what I imagine is a classic Bat Lash comedy moment.
Strong pacifist Doctor Who vibes here. Let other people do the killing. Bat finds a hiding spot - and STILL Melinda finds him - from which he discovers the undertaker's criminal scheme. He's filling caskets with weapons to trade with Natives. His assistants are sent to the cemetery to make the deal. They are played by Laurel and Hardy.
As soon as they complained about the caskets weighing a ton, you sort of knew Bat Lash was hiding in one of them, Melinda in the other, and they give the two clowns a good fright, sending them running. Then the Natives show up for their guns, so they hide, and Bat is more than happy to pick up the bags of gold left behind. But there's someone else in the cemetery, lying in wait.
Could Cardy have killed a little girl?! It's enough to send Bat over the edge and he guns down the bad guys, including the undertaker (no wait, they're just captured, he's really good at disabling without killing). And no, don't worry, the metal cigar case inside the doll proved to be bullet proof. Bat finds the evidence against this "Samuel Styff" inside and brings the lot back to town to face justice. Melinda will stay with the innkeeper (who takes in orphans all the time), and Bat even pays for her keep with ONE of the bags of gold. Yes, things are coming up Bat Lash, and he even meets a beautiful girl who agrees to have dinner with him. His charms are working, when suddenly...
KIDS ARE THE WORST! But then his heart melts when she gives him the first flower of spring she picked as thanks for saving her life. And she now realizes he's not her daddy. He brings her home to Polly's Inn and Orphanage, the end.

So, did he save the West, or did he ruin it? Your call!

Who's Next? Catwoman's husband.

2 comments:

Man of Nerdology said...

My introduction to this character was interesting. I came to this character via the Tim Truman mini-series Guns of the Dragon. Very much a pulp adventure vs a dime novel western. Still interesting introduction. Liked his appearance in the Justice League cartoon when he was voice by Ben Browder as well.

googum said...

I really, really want to write "Booster Lash."

Booster Gold and Skeets go back in time to see Jonah Hex, and run into Bat Lash instead. One "friendly" game of cards later, Bat has won Booster's suit and Skeets, and promptly skips off to the future without him! Booster is forced to "cowboy up" and save the townspeople without his usual stuff; meanwhile, in the present, no one seems to have noticed the change, except his hair looks better and that 'fake' accent is super-annoying.

 

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