Bat-Lash: The Peace Loving Cowboy

By all rights, Bat Lash should never have existed and certainly should never have been as popular as he was.  Here was a Western character who was handsome, enjoyed fine food and wine, loved beautiful women, and disdained violence.  And yet, Bat is still popular nearly FORTY years after his first appearance.  Some of the reasons for that are as interesting as his character itself.

In 1968, DC Comics were starting to realize that they had a problem.  After having been the dominant comic book publisher for decades, they were actually starting to face some serious competition.  Marvel Comics were very quickly gaining a larger portion of the comic market share and a rabid fan base that were flocking to their new way of making comics.  At DC, this was incomprehensible.  How could these weird little comics be selling so much?  To the workers at DC, in their establishment uniforms of suits and ties, it made no sense.  So, like any company in trouble, they scrambled about for anything different that might sell.  They wanted something, anything to click with the new breed of comic reader that were leaving DC comics by the score.  One of those new concepts was Bat Lash.

His appearance was announced by a house ad showing a gangly figure, in silhouette, coming menacingly towards the reader.  The ad read, “Bat Lash.  Will he save the West, or ruin it?”  But it gave no other information.  The ad was purposefully done to evoke echoes of the Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns that were gaining popularity at the time.

Carmine Infantino

It would turn out that the ad had been created by then DC Editorial Director, Carmine Infantino, before anyone had any real idea what the character or the series were going to be about.  All that existed at that time was the name: Bat Lash.

A decision had been made to try a new kind of Western.  Something that was different from the old John Wayne type and especially different from the Rawhide Kid and other Marvel Western characters.  But no one could quite agree on what that ‘different’ Western would be.

A script for the first issue was written by comic legend Sheldon Meyer (Sugar & Spike) but was so hated by Infantino that it was completely discarded.  Reportedly, Meyer would draw out his scripts so it is especially sad that this first script no longer exists.  It is at this point that history, and memories, become muddled.

According to Carmine Infantino, “Then there was Bat Lash.  I didn’t plot the first one but it was so badly written that I rewrote the whole script over the finished drawings of Nick Cardy.  That series I plotted until the very end.  It was my favorite.”1 And yet Infantino does not have plotting credit in the books or on the Grand Comics Database.  It is possible that he discussed plot ideas with the books editor, Joe Orlando, and the writers without doing complete plots.

Joe Orlando during his EC days in the 1950s.

Orlando remembers the creation of Bat’s first issue somewhat differently.  “The first story was written by Shelly Meyer and Carmine didn’t like it.  Carmine’s idea was a tough Western gunfighter with a gentleman’s soul who like good food, flowers and women.  So we both rewrote the premise (my italics) and then I turned it over to Dennis O’Neil for the final rewrite.  After that I used Sergio Aragonés to lay out the plots and Denny would dialogue it over Nick Cardy’s pencils.”2

This, in turn, contradicts Sergio’s own memories of being brought into create Bat Lash during a lunch meeting with Infantino and Orlando:

“They called me and said, ‘Sergio, we need a Western, and we need a cowboy called Bat Lash.  Think about it.’  So I did… The way I work, things pop in my head pretty fast, so as I was sitting with them, I was describing how the character was.  So Bat Lash was born right there, in the restaurant.

Sergio Aragones

“They wanted to be ‘different,’ a different Western, but they didn’t know how, so I came up with a guy that had good taste for food and music, and loved flowers, and nature… and was a crack shot.”3

Regardless of the process, a plot and direction were determined for Bat Lash and a script was given to Nick Cardy to draw and probably dialogue.  The final result would appear in DC’s try-out title, SHOWCASE in issue #76.  And Sergio was right, Bat Lash WAS different.

Everything about Bat Lash set him apart from the typical Western character.  He was handsome, well-groomed (for a Western character) and was not especially heroic.  Bat’s first appearance comes as a jilted boyfriend sneaks up behind Bat who is passionately kissing his girlfriend.  Spinning around, Bat shoots down the attacker and makes a quick escape out of town.  On the road, he shoots a pheasant and decides to take it to the nearest town to have it cooked for his supper.  What results is a humorous adventure as Bat tries to arrange a good dinner with a beautiful saloon-keeper as the townspeople try to flee a band of marauding bandits.  Throughout the story, Bat constantly tells everyone who he hates violence but is provoked over and over again to shoot or otherwise fight his attackers.  In the end, Bat traps the saloon-keeper who was actually the brains behind seizing the town and gets her locked up but he is without his fine meal and wine.

For most of the original Bat Lash stories, that is the usual formula.  Bat gets tangled up with a beautiful woman, behaves like a rogue and usually turns the tables on his foes by the end.  Except that this was nothing that had been seen before.  In many ways, Bat was the first anti-hero.  Someone who accomplished good deeds without really meaning to and having his own welfare and benefit being most important.  He is not above stealing, shooting and double-crossing anyone to get what he wants.  Bat Lash is selfish, egotistical, a liar and a thief. He is often shown playing cards in a saloon, drinking and being surrounded by beautiful women.  Bat is a scoundrel and is far more entertaining than the “gruff bad man with a heart of gold” that fills so many Western comics.

Two months after his appearance in SHOWCASE #76, Bat got his own series with BAT LASH #1.  It would only last for seven issues but is a run that is still remembered fondly today.  Considering the lag time between publication of a comic and sales returns being an average three months, it must have been already planned that Bat would get his own title.  The same thing would happen with other SHOWCASE try-outs like Creeper, Anthro, Hawk and Dove, Inferior 5 and Spectre.  After appearing in SHOWCASE, they would all get their own titles and all be cancelled after a short run.

With the first issue, Denny O’Neil would come on board to dialogue Sergio’s scripts.  It was a decision that Sergio welcomed: “At the time my English was even worse than it is now [much laughter] and Dennis added that wonderful Western slang.  The stories and the plots are all mine though.  My writing was very loose, and then Dennis would write a Western.”4  One wonders where Infantino was all this time if Sergio was doing all the plotting.

If anything, Bat Lash became more of a satire of Westerns than a real Western.  The characters were often finding themselves in humorous situations that were more reminiscent of Support Your Local Gunfighter than The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.  This was not exactly what anyone had bargained for.  The editor, Joe Orlando, particularly did not appreciate the humor.  “[Bat Lash] was beautifully drawn by Nick Cardy but he pushed it more to the humor than to the straight.  He tipped it a bit too much for my taste.  He would focus too much on the humorous side of characters and stray from the main storyline.”5   Sergio had a problem with some of the humor too.  “There was one issue I didn’t write at all (#2); I think I was moving to the West Coast.  Nick Cardy wrote it.  I was surprised, because he made Bat look like a clown.  He drew all the characters so cartoony, falling in bathtubs, and hanging from roofs… It really hurt me a lot, because I didn’t want anything like that.  The humor should be the result of Bat Lash’s action.”6

The confusion in direction continued until a change was made with issue #6.  The light-hearted tone was gone and Bat became a tormented man wanted for a murder that he didn’t commit.  The story was written by Sergio and O’Neil and showed Bat’s origin.  It was revealed that Bat’s parents had been murdered by a band of outlaws who were working for the men who had cheated Bat’s family, and other families, out of their farms and homes.  Incensed, Bat tried to bring the men to justice but ending up accidentally killing the deputy sheriff who had been in on the scam.  Returning home to a burned out shell and his murdered parents, Bat placed his sister into a convent but could not find his missing younger brother.  Hungry for justice, Bat took to the trails to find the men who destroyed his family.

That quickly, Bat had lost his humor and light-hearted view of life.  The joy had gone out of the comic and it became just another Western.  The title would last only one issue in which Bat would be tracked by his younger brother who had become a bounty hunter.  Just as quickly as he had come, Bat Lash disappeared.

It would be nearly ten years before Bat would appear in new stories.  In 1978, a new Bat Lash story written by Dennis O’Neil appeared in DC Special Series #16 which was billed as a Jonah Hex Spectacular.  (This was also the issue where it was revealed how Jonah Hex would die.)  At 17 pages, it was a significant appearance but, without the team of Aragones and Cardy, it was not the same.  O’Neil came close but it was not the same.

Three years later, Bat popped up once again as a back up feature in Jonah Hex.  Bat appeared in only three issues (#’s 49, 51 and 52) and was amazingly forgettable.  Written by Len Wein and drawn by Dan Spiegle, it was difficult to even recognize this as Bat Lash.  For one thing, the colorist mistakenly colored Bat’s distinctive brown hair as blonde.  The aspects were all there with gambling, women and double-crosses but it could have been any Western story about any other character.

It would take SEVENTEEN years, 1998, until Bat Lash appeared again in a new story.  This time, it would be in a series set in 1927, with an older Bat feeling out of his time.  The mini-series, Guns of the Dragon, was written and drawn by Tim Truman and featured several unlikely DC characters like Enemy Ace and Vandal Savage.  Although closer in spirit to the original Bat Lash, the series came and went with little notice or fanfare.

Despite the fact that Bat Lash has not had his own title for nearly forty years, he remains popular and one of the characters that, it seems, everyone wants to write.  For example, Bat appeared in the first part of a two-part episode of JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED in 2005 when Batman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman were sent back to the Old West in search of a time-traveling villain.  Also, Bat appeared briefly in a recent issue of SUPERMAN/BATMAN when the two heroes were jumping from one alternate reality to the next.  And, again, Bat makes an appearance this year in Jonah Hex #3 showing that no matter how much time goes by or how many different writers use him, Bat Lash is still just as likely to ruin the West as he is to save it.

NOTES

1          “Carmine Infantino Interview: Director Comments”, COMIC BOOK ARTIST VOLUME ONE, TwoMorrows Publishing, Raleigh, NC, 2000, pg 8.

2          “Joe Orlando Interview: Orlando’s Weird Adventures”, COMIC BOOK ARTIST VOLUME ONE, TwoMorrows Publishing, Raleigh, NC, 2000, pg 25.

3          Stewart, Tom.  “Bat Lash: Ruining the West and Loving It”, COMIC BOOK ARTIST VOLUME ONE, TwoMorrows Publishing, Raleigh, NC, 2000, pg 32.

4          Stewart, Tom.  “Bat Lash: Ruining the West and Loving It”, COMIC BOOK ARTIST VOLUME ONE, TwoMorrows Publishing, Raleigh, NC, 2000, pg 33.

5          “Joe Orlando Interview: Orlando’s Weird Adventures”, COMIC BOOK ARTIST VOLUME ONE, TwoMorrows Publishing, Raleigh, NC, 2000, pg 25.

6          Stewart, Tom.  “Bat Lash: Ruining the West and Loving It”, COMIC BOOK ARTIST VOLUME ONE, TwoMorrows Publishing, Raleigh, NC, 2000, pg 32.

The Redemption of Wesley Crusher

If, like myself, you were sitting in front of your television on September 28, 1987, anxiously awaiting the first new Star Trek regular show in 18 years. The result, Star Trek: The Next Generation, was perhaps not what we would have wished for but it was new Trek all the same. But there were some problems, not the least of which was the character of Wesley Crusher.

Introduced as the son of Chief Medical Officer, Beverly Crusher, Wesley was a teenaged genius who was apparently smarter than everyone else, including the android Data. Wesley was played by young Wil Wheaton who was not prepared for what followed.

Almost immediately, fan reaction to Wesley rose from a quiet murmur to a roar. Wesley had become one of the most hated characters in Star Trek history prompting internet groups named “DieWesleyDie”. The fault was not Wheaton’s as the writers of Star Trek’s first year seemed to have little idea of what to do with the character either than using him to provide the ‘last minute solution’ that saved the Enterprise. Many fans could not wait for Wesley to leave which finally happened in season five’s “The First Duty” which actually made the character far more interesting than he had ever been before.

Once Wesley was officially gone, Wheaton himself had some issues to resolve. The almost pathological loathing of Wesley by a small, but vocal, group of Trek fans had caused Wheaton to develop anger issues as well as doubts about his acting career. For many, that was the last time we saw Wheaton until recently. Since that time on Star Trek, Wheaton has completely redefined himself and emerged not only as a confident actor but as a spokesman for fans and geek culture.

So what the heck happened?

Simply put, Wheaton has overcome the spectre of Wesley Crusher by just being true to himself. Along the way, he has revealed that he has a great interest in all things geek, a vital understanding of what it means to be a nerd and an outsider, and that Wheaton has a strong moral code and a self-deprecating sense of humor.

Since starting his own blog, Wheaton has embraced social media, becoming a force on Twitter. He currently has over 2 millions followers and posts regularly on a variety of topics. In addition, Wheaton co-starred in several seasons of the web series, The Guild, playing a rival games player which helped cement his growing media presence. Recently, he has also starred on episodes of the geek nirvana show, The Big Bang Theory, as himself.

In the almost 20 years since Wesley departed the Enterprise, Wheaton has done something that few actors have been able to do: avoid being typecast in an unpopular role. That he has done that through hard work, honest opinions and a deep love of all things geeky, make Wil Wheaton a far better person than Wesley Crusher ever had a chance to be.  Wheaton has become the type of guy we all would like to hang around with and the type of friend we’d all like to be to others.  I don’t know if we’d say that about Wesley.

(Today, July 29th, is Wil Wheaton’s birthday so it seemed an appropriate time to post this.  Also, Wheaton has asked that everyone make today “Don’t Be a Dick” Day which, considering the internet being what it is, may be an unreachable goal.)

Doctor Who: Beginnings and Rewatch

My genre credentials are lacking; an enormous gap appears in the midst of my Curriculum Vitæ; there is a chasm of cool between me and my sci-fi loving cohorts!

I admit it, I am not a Doctor Who devotee. (Gasp!)

How embarrassing for me. I suppose it all goes back to the classic Doctor Who, full of long scarves and big curly hair better left in the seventies. I simply never got into the show as a wee young’un. So when BBC One revived the series in 2005, with Christopher Eccleston in the titular role, I was a luke warm supporter.  I watched the first few seasons sporadically, out of proper order, and likely falling asleep half way through a number of them.

Thus, I have decided to rewatch (or originally-watch) the current iteration of Doctor Who starting from “Rose,” the first episode with Chris Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor.  To add a bit of flavor to my viewing, I am going to create a series of posts about my rewatch (or first watch). I want to state that I am not an expert, so forgive me (or better yet, educate me) when I make mistakes about the internal history of the Doctor Who universe. There have been a total of 784 episodes aired since its debut in 1963, so I would need my own personal TARDIS to watch the show from its very genesis.

Timey Wimey Stuff

When last we met, we were discussing transcendental pears. This is because it is easier by far then the topic of cross temporal tactics. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that before I could get into tactics, I had to spend some time on parameters. Since I am using the Last Great Time War as my starting point, this means discussing the Laws of Time.

Which basically means I get to make a lot of stuff up. Despite the long history of Dr. Who, we know very little about the Laws of Time the Time Lords lived by. We do know they liked the past and future kept separate. Being in the same place more than once at a time is dangerous. If you doubt me, just watch Father’s Day.So right away, we take away a tactical option. There won’t be any fuguing, a’la Zelazny. You don’t get to summon half a dozen of yourself from out of time to fight with you. You get to be here once, and once only, so make it count.

Another thing, once you are involved with events, you aren’t allowed to move around inside them. There’s no nipping back to three hours ago to get the key you forgot, or snatching someone from the jaws of death. You can change locations all you want, but not your temporal coordinates.

We’re also told there are fixed points in time. Some events MUST happen. In human history, Pompeii is such an inevitable event (in Fires of Pompeii.), as is the first colonization attempt of Mars (in Waters of Mars.). The death of the Doctor counts, too (in The Wedding of River Song.). Tampering with such fixed points leads to consequences both cosmic and dire. Does this render certain races safe? Humanity has two such events it can call its own. Does that mean we are temporally unassailable until we go to Mars? Or can other races fill that gap?

So the Laws of Time in Doctor Who bear little resemblance to the Pirate’s Code. They aren’t merely guidelines. There are consequences to face, so both sides have to follow them. They can be bent. The Time Lords are able to let the Doctor meet his different incarnations more than once, but it wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t without risk.

What the Laws of Time we can extrapolate give us is a  timestream that is soft from the outside. One can move around in it and enter or leave it at will. Once you engage with  it, however, it is rigid and unforgiving. And as with most rigid things, it’s fragile. It can be damaged. Damage it too much and it will break altogether. Even entering it too often near the same place can damage it.

Outside, you can move freely, plan freely. You can even gather some intelligence, although precise data is rare. What you can’t do is change anything. Time plays around you like a movie, and you have the remote.  You can choose when to move, but once you come in, you’re committed. Succeed or fail, you have one chance.

So the stage is set. We know what the two sides need. We know what they can do, and more importantly what they can’t. When next we meet, we get dangerous.

What Happened To The Star Wars I Used To Know?

 

This has been floating around for about a month, but I figured it was fun enough for a quick share. It is a parody of the insanely popular (287 million views!) Gotye single Somebody That I Used to Know, sung by Darth Vader and George Lucas.

Now and then I think of when I was in power
Like choking people with the Force until they died
But then you told them all my history
And took away my masculinity
And had my character portrayed by subpar actors.

Playing in the Big Leagues

One of the most interesting things that has come out of sci-fi for me recently is the concept of of the Time War from Doctor Who. It’s  not that its  a new concept. Wars in time have appeared numerous times in science fiction. From the Outer Limits episode Demon with a Glass Hand to the Infinite Worlds core campaign idea for GURPS, the idea of a conflict running through the epochs of the world, or even the universe, is compelling. In most versions I’ve encountered, it is a war fought in small units for key points in the continuum, to shape reality to the desires of one side or the other. It’s a spy thriller with an ever changing backdrop, or a surgical strike to correct a single event.

The Time War between the Daleks and the Time Lords of Gallifrey is a different sort of conflict altogether. We are shown huge fleets, told that worlds have been destroyed. History itself twists around the war, which for the safety of the universe itself  is Time Locked, inaccessible to everyone.  We hear mention of the Nightmare Child, and the Maybe-King and his army of Never-Weres. The imagery evoked is vast and terrifying. All of existence is at stake.

How would such a war be fought? What could the possible objectives be?  What sort of tactics would come into play? What are the risks? The stakes? How far can each side go? How far is too far?

Because this topic gets VERY big, VERY fast, I am going to narrow my focus to the war between the Daleks and Time Lords, using their priorities to ricochet ideas through. I’m also going to break this up into several different posts to keep my momentum going. Maybe later I’ll play with other objectives and strategies, just for fun.

For this post, we begin with the fundamentals. What are the objectives of each side?

In any conflict involving the Daleks, this is a simple question. The Daleks are capable of only one objective; kill anything that isn’t a Dalek. Any war against the Daleks is automatically a battle for survival. The opposition can therefore have only two viable responses. They can run, or they can fight to the death.  The Time Lords chose to fight. Therefore, the ultimate objective of each side is the extinction of the other.

Of course, when you allow for time travel, “extinction” has a slightly broader definition. One does not have to kill an enemy off in the long term.  Play it right, and you can make it so they never existed in the first place. Be careful with that option, though. Payback is a bitch. So another  critical objective is secure your own causality. Make sure those events that let your people develop into what they become don’t change.

And this is where things go pear-shaped. See, events don’t occur in a vacuum. One thing really does lead to another. In a universe where species mingle, how other species treat you on contact shapes what you will become.  Now you have to protect their causality, too.

Here both sides of the Time War are fairly safe. The Time Lords are, if not the oldest, then one of the oldest races in the universe. No one else influenced their evolution directly. There is only one chain to watch for  most of time. As for the Daleks . . . well, they are alive, which means whatever species they encountered is dead. Simplicity has its advantages.

Now, of course, you have to go on the offensive. You have to degrade your opponent’s causality as best you can.  And here’s where the pear goes transcendental.

Which makes it a good place to stop for now, because from here it gets REALLY fun.

See you next time.

Missing Steps

It’s been a few weeks now since I was invited to participate in this group, and I have yet to make a contribution. Oh, I fiddled with stuff here, tinkered with thoughts there, but I have yet to organize anything into a coherent form. Something has always been missing, and until today I just couldn’t figure out what. But this morning at work, I finally realized what it was.

We haven’t been properly introduced.

I mean, here I am ready to offer thoughts on all stuff genre related as though I am some sort of authority, and odds are only those originally affiliated with this group know me from a hole in the wall. Sure, I have a credit card that pays rewards in Frequent Hellride Miles, but until I just mentioned it, none of you knew that. When I think I’m going to be late to something, I rub a small TARDIS charm that hangs from my rear view mirror, (the scary part is, it actually seems to work.I don’t get where I’m going any sooner, but whatever is supposed to be happening always seems to get delayed until I arrive.) but that hardly makes me an authority on time travel.

That, and , honestly, I’m a little intimidated. I mean, I know these  people I’m posting alongside. One of them is currently working on his Master’s Thesis in Literature, meaning he spends hours micro-reading books I couldn’t wade through wielding Stormbringer while riding  Morgenstern. Another is actually an accomplished blogger and active writer who may very well have read more books than I have. (That is actually pretty impressive.) Yet another is capable of producing, from memory, absolutely terrifying amounts of raw data on subjects too numerous to mention. Me? I divide my time between McAnally’s Pub in Chicago and the Joy House in TunFaire. (I prefer McAnally’s. They serve meat there. Also there is electricity. . .usually.)  True, I’ve forgotten more about Spider-Man than most people  will ever know, but where does that put me when it comes to qualifications?

I am not by nature a critic. I don’t tend to pick things apart to view their component parts. My technical analysis of most films I enjoy is a step above, “Snort. Me like.” I am not overly sensitive to trends.  I am expert at nothing. And yet, these people felt I had something to offer. And after some thought, I realized why.

What I do very well is play with ideas. I come up with stuff all the time, but never develop most  it because I am, at heart, an interactive thinker. Bouncing ideas off other people forces me to focus them, and watching what they do with them leads me to places I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. So consider this blog an exercise in interactive thinking.  I get to babble about stuff I like, and things I think about. You get to sit there and let ideas bounce off you. It’s a good deal for both of us. You don’t even have to reply, though it would be nice if you did. The virtual you I keep in my brain will provide enough feedback to keep the process moving.

And now that the introductions are made, we can get started. I can hardly wiat.

%d bloggers like this: