A small stack of comics mostly from the Silver Age that I picked up here and there throughout the last year sits on the floor next to my bed. Many of them are worn reader copies, not too precious to take out of their bags to enjoy. Among them is a copy of Showcase #76 which debuted Bat Lash in the summer of 1968. A full year of superhero comics by that time in 1968, my ten year old self just wasn’t interested in a western comic. A few years later things would’ve been different. Besides, there was no way a comic could have the same appeal as the often shirtless Robert Conrad in the Wild Wild West that aired every week had for me.
Forty two years later, I have to say that may have been wrong. Reading Bat Lash last night before turning in was an unexpected and pleasant surprise.
“Will he save the West or ruin it?” was the question posed in DC house ads for Bat Lash. He was an atypical Western character, from his colorful vest, flower adorned hatband, a horse named Daisy to his gastronomic tastes for fine food and wine, and an aversion to violence. All of these traits made him stand in stark contrast to Hollywood stalwarts John Wayne, Yul Brinner, and Clint Eastwood who was transitioning to movies from TV. If not for Lash’s interest in women he could possibly be taken as a forerunner to the gay version of Rawhide Kid. The connotations of these affectations weren’t lost on writer Sergio Aragones which as you can see he addressed in these panels with Bat encountering some of the local men from the town of Welcome, a place that proves to be just the opposite.
Despite the aversion to violence, Bat makes quick work of the mocking men, but only after removing the flower from his hat and doffing his hat to a woman to politely excuse him from their conversation. Surprisingly, after the fight ends Lash’s thoughts return to his gourmet pheasant dinner (and the woman he wants to share it with)!
A couple points seem remarkable to me. First, the portrayal of a heroic male lead with non-traditional masculine traits in the stereotypical masculine genre of Westerns and a comic at a time when content was held to strict Comics Code guidelines about sex and showing “deviant” elements specifically. And this happened 35 years before a gay Rawhide Kid caused such a media sensation. Sure, Bat isn’t a gun slinging sodomite as these good ol’ boys believe but neither is he John Wayne. So even though the words and mannerisms of the big blond guy are derogatory, it’s pretty clear by Aragones’ story that Lash doesn’t tolerate crap and he doesn’t see anything wrong with his behavior or appearance. That seems to be a positive message in a comic over 40 years ago, one that might have come in handy for a 10 year old.