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for Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Showcase Bat Lash

DC Comics continues to publish one or two of its Showcase Presents volumes each month and this pleases me no end. True, they haven't gotten around to some of my favorite features - Sugar and Spike, Black Lightning, Tomahawk, Black Lightning, the Newsboy Legion, get the idea - but they have published a good mix of classic characters and lesser lights. The company has also shown flexible in pricing, which allows for the reprinting of some short-run series.

Showcase Presents: Bat Lash [$9.99] reprints all eight issues of the character's original run and later stories from 1978 and 1981. Bat Lash was a complicated hero, a con artist, gambler, and rogue who often placed his own interests over all else. But those original tales - written by Sergio Aragones and Denny O'Neil with art by Nick Cardy and Mike Sekowsky - are some of the finest comics of the 1960s. I like the lighter ones better than the more serious ones that delve into Bat Lash's background, but there isn't a less-than-terrific story among them.

The latter adventures are pretty good, too. Writing sans the plotting and pacing of Aragones, O'Neil's solo effort doesn't quite capture the original glory. Conversely, Wein's shorter tales come much closer to the spirit of the originals, aided by Dan Spiegel's excellent drawing and storytelling.

A comics afficionado's library is not complete without a copy of Showcase Presents: Bat Lash. Even as a black-and-white collection, this 244-page volume easily earns the full five out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Showcase Eclipso

Far less essential and entertaining is Showcase Presents: Eclipso [$9.95], a 300-page volume collecting the character's appearances from House of Secrets #61-80 [July-August, 1963 to September-October, 1966]. Debuting about a year after Marvel's Incredible Hulk, DC's take on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde never quite found its rhythm, despite the occasional intriguing idea from writer Bob Haney and decent early art by Lee Elias and Alex Toth. By the eighth story, Jack Sparling took over the visuals and, to be kind, his work here is nowhere close to his best.

Good Samaritan scientist Bruce Gordon is cursed to turn into the evil Eclipso whenever there's an eclipse: real, partial, even artificial. Eclipso's original goal is to destroy Gordon's works. Inexplicably, he somehow builds a criminal organization during the brief periods when he occupies or is separate from Gordon's body. With his henchmen, Eclipso attempts a major crime, often along the lines of conquering the world, every other month. Haney attempted a number of change-ups along the way - Eclipso duplicates, a good Eclipso, even a monster Eclipso - but, read as a whole, the series began to flounder early on and sank quickly thereafter. Not even the occasional match-ups with Prince Ra-Man - the other House of Secrets headliner - couldn't bring any life to either moribund series. When fans praise the Silver Age of Comics, these are not the stories they're cheering about.

Showcase Presents: Eclipso earns a paltry one Tony. It's for Silver Age completests only.





Time for a quick round of frequently asked questions and, as they're questions frequently asked of me, it shouldn't surprise you that they concern Black Lightning, the character I created back in 1976 in a partnership deal with DC Comics.

What do you think of Black Lightning's appearances in the current Batman cartoons?

I don't care for them. I created Jefferson Pierce as a mature strong man, a leader and role model in his community. Re-imagining him as a petulant juvenile delinquent is not only contrary to his core identity, it's, well, dumb. Especially in his latest and most absurd appearance wherein we are asked to believe that what gives Black Lightning nightmares are everyday petty annoyances like folks not cleaning up after their pets. Yeah, that's clearly the worst thing about Suicide Slum or anywhere else he's lived.

My disdain is not ameliorated by the notion that he's chosen to become a super-hero under the guidance of Batman. That's just a new twist on Black Lightning as Batman's bitch, as witness the DC Comics version of my creation abandoning his family to be a member of the Outsiders. Back in the day, Mike W. Barr was able to write a Batman/Lightning relationship that didn't demean Jeff. Only one or two writers have pulled it off since then.

Do you get paid when Black Lightning appears in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoons?

Define "paid."

To date, I have received the munificent sum of $71.49 for my creation's appearances on the show to date. I knew it wasn't gonna be a windfall, but that's ridiculous. Is it Hollywood accounting? Or a DC sweetheart deal for parent company Warner? I don't know. What I do know is that I would've gladly paid them $71.49 not to misuse my creation on their show.

There are a few other Black Lightning items for which DC owes me money. At Mid-Ohio-Con, I was asked to sign what appeared to be half-size versions of two Black Lightning action figures. One was the original costume and the other was the costume that Eddy Newell designed for my second Lightning series.

There's a fancy t-shirt featuring Black Lightning and several other DC super-heroes and a Black Lightning collectible glass. My creation also appears in the Superman/Batman: Public Enemies direct-to-DVD feature. I've not received payment for any of these nor samples thereof. As always, I'll let you know if and when that changes. I strive for fairness in reporting these things.

Would you write Black Lightning again?

Yes. Despite all the hassles, nothing in my comics career has ever given me more joy than writing Black Lightning. I would most happily write new Black Lightning stories until they pried my cold, dead hands from my keyboard. That I'm not currently writing Black Lightning is entirely the decision of DC Comics. If you are even half as unhappy with that as I am, take it up with them.

Keep those questions coming, especially if they're not Black Lightning questions. I could use a breather.

Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

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Discuss this column with me at my Message Board. Also, read Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined and view my Amazon Wish List.

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Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.

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