Thursday, March 6, 2014

31 Days of Short Reviews #6: Batton Lash

Batton Lash has been doing his legal/horror spoof Supernatural Law (formerly Wolff and Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre) for thirty-five years now, going through virtually every form of comics publishing imaginable. What started as a comic strip in a local newspaper and then a law journal became a black-and-white comic book. When trade paperbacks became a popular way of keeping one's work in print, Lash started collecting his comics. When the market changed such that alternative comic books as such were no longer a viable model to make money on a consistent basis, Supernatural Law moved to the web. With crowdfunding services like Kickstarter on the rise, Lash conducted such a campaign to put together a complete graphic novel in color, The Werewolf of New York.

Lash's comics have always had an amiably amusing quality. His targets for satire have always tended to be easy ones, especially in the way he tends to portray them for the most effective comedic beat-downs. For example, the villains in this story are the People for the Rights, Interests and Concerns of Shapeshifters, or PRICS. This is a PETA stand-in that objects to court-ordered rehab for a werewolf that had been seen running around New York City. Lash couldn't quite stop at making the PRICS annoying because they valued a werewolf's freedom over the safety of the city; instead, he took the further step of making their methods far more nefarious. Gilding the lily in that fashion led to a plot twist that was pretty easy to see coming but that added little to the narrative itself, but it did help the comic end in a more pat fashion. One of the problems with the book is that this particular story didn't seem to merit lasting over a hundred pages. To be sure, there were nice character moments with Lash's well-established cast of characters, like their secretary Mavis. Dipping into the personal lives of the lawyers Wolff and Byrd has often been the most fun part of reading this comic, with the supernatural case law shtick feeling like more of a structural foundation instead of the real focus of the series. This book puts the plot front and center, and it's not interesting or varied enough to carry the book. The other problem with this volume is that printing it in color didn't do much for Lash's art. Indeed, I've always enjoyed the crispness of his black-and-white work, as it complemented his Dan DeCarlo-influenced character design without looking too bright. The use of color here overwhelmed Lash's thin line in some spots. Hopefully, future volumes will return to shorter vignettes with more character subplots running through them as well as a return to Lash's moody-but-cheerful black and white line.

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