A dark crusader dressed as a nocturnal predator who patrols the city to protect his people from the elements of crime, in the late thirties thrilled readers with his two-fisted adventures. He’s not the avenging bat you’re thinking of, he’s the Black Bat, a pioneer pulp hero starring in his own magazine once again, thanks to this month’s Black Bat #1 by Brian Buccellato and Ronan Cliquet, from Dynamite!
The Black Bat was originally created by pulp writer Norman Daniels under the name G. Wayman Jones and published by Ned Pines’ Thrilling Publications, the company that also published such forgotten gems such as Captain Danger, the Green Mask, and the Green Ghost. The character first appeared in the pulp Black Book Detectives. Within the pages of the magazine, readers thrilled to the story of District Attorney Anthony Quinn (clearly not THAT Anthony Quinn), a crusading crime fighter who was blinded by having acid thrown in his face. This story predated the origin of Two Face by almost a decade, but the idea of a stalwart D.A. being profaned by acid must have struck a chord with Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Unlike, Harvey Dent, the attack made Quinn an even more aggressive crime fighter. He perfected his body to overcome his handicaps and became the Black Bat. He would later receive an experimental eye transplant that not only restored his vision by al also allowed him to see in the dark. DC would use almost the exact same idea years later in the pages of Dr. Mid-Nite, thus proving the Black Bat’s story kindled the imaginations of many Golden Age creators.
Of course it wasn’t Two Face or Dr. Mid-Nite who would be indelibly linked to the Black Bat, it was Batman, and the controversy still rages over which character was the original. Both Batman and the Black Bat appeared in 1939 and both publishers claim the other “borrowed” liberally from the other. Bob Kane vehemently denied the rumor saying the only character to influence his creation was the character from the 1930 film, The Bat Whispers. Batman co-creator Bill Finger did, however, admit that the Black Bat’s costume influenced Batman’s distinctive spiked armed gauntlets. Whatever the case, the issue was settled in the late 30s as both publishers agreed that the characters could coexist peacefully.
When Thrilling Publications began publishing comic books under the imprint Nedor/Standard publications, the publishing house changed the Black Bat’s name to the Mask and featured the hero in Exciting Comics. The same publisher also owned the Black Terror and the Fighting Yank (among others) all of whom recently found a home in Dynamite’s Project: Superpowers series.
Other than his similarity to Batman, the Black Bat will always be remembered as one of the first costumed heroes with a physical impairment. The blindness motif that would be used in Doctor Mid-Nite and most effectively in Marvel’s Daredevil began in the pages of the Black Bat. Quinn’s alter-ego would go on to fight Nazi Fifth Columnists, occultists, diamond thieves, arsonists, and even a man that claimed to be Satan. The Black Bat would appear in sixty-five issues of Black Book Detective becoming a mid-level pulp success, not quite up to the levels of the Shadow, Doc Savage, and the Avenger, but not a forgotten piece of trivia either.
Like all good pulp heroes, the Black Bat also featured a memorable supporting cast, Bat’s crew resembles that of Doc Savage and the Shadow and allowed Daniels to add camaraderie and a diversity of character to the pulp proceedings. There was the prerequisite female companion, Carol, whose intelligence and resourcefulness capably aid the Bat. Along with Carol, there is the brutish Butch O’Leary who is as loyal as he is violent, and the very unique “Silk” Kirby who, when he first appeared, tried to rob the Bat, but soon the small time crook would become the Bat’s personal valet and staunch ally. The trio, along with the Bat, created a narrative center that kicked off some very formulaic but vastly entertaining pulp stories that inspired later comic legends.
Now that Dynamite is bringing back the pulp crusader, it will be fascinating to see how the Bat, Kirby, Carol, and Butch translate into a modern context. Brian Buccellato has been doing a fantastic job penning DC’s Flash reboot, so pulp fans can rest assured the almost forgotten hero is in good hands. Which brings us to…
The Black Bat #1
Writer: Brian Buccellato
Artist: Roman Cliquet
Despite its modern setting, Black Bat #1 succeeds in creating a noir-ish atmosphere where the character can flourish. The book’s opening pages establish a typical urban hellhole with smoky newsstands and street walkers, a city that looks like it was plucked from the fevered imaginations of a half drunk pulp writer. In this setting, readers experience the Black Bat’s violent world as he beats down a roving group of thugs. Artist Roman Cliquet’s layouts enhance the setting, drawing the reader’s eye to the showdown while providing the details of the fight in the splash page’s borders. The opening establishes the book’s violent tone while Buccellato provides the required exposition so readers can get caught up on who the Bat is.
Instead of a crusading prosecutor, Tony Quinn was a money hungry defense attorney who tried to get rich quick defending high-level crime bosses. This idea effectively differentiates Quinn from other, similar heroes, as every action that Quinn commits to as the Black Bat will be to make up for his past as a mob lawyer. As a defender, Quinn can be considered responsible for creating a landscape where criminals feel safe carving the eyes out of people. Now, as the Bat, Quinn can unmake what he helped create.
Buccellato doesn’t give readers the whole story. The writer covers Quinn’s shady past and hints at the blinding, which gets rid of the acid attack, perhaps because the idea has become so indelibly connected to Harvey Dent. Instead, it is hinted that Quinn had his eyes carved out, an act which adds another layer of brutality to this already bleak world. The ruthless tone really sets the book apart from the pack. Cliquet’s sepia tones make the book feel like a 30s noir film, and while it is clear that Quinn exists in today’s world, the story has a sort of timelessness to it.
Buccellato gets a great deal done in a debut issue that does not fall into the trap of decompression like so many first issues. Quinn’s father, a crusading prosecutor is introduced, as is Silk, a police informant who is in grave danger thanks to his connections with the Black Bat. A cadre of adversaries is introduced as the ones responsible for the Quinn’s blinding, as the Bat makes it his mission to bring these thugs to justice. Buccellato also effectively introduces the Bat’s dark vision powers, and gives readers a brief glimpse at Quinn’s disturbingly enhanced bat eyes. That’s a heck of a lot of story, and between Buccellato’s deft plotting and Cliquet’s gritty art the whole thing is an intriguing and worthy return of an almost forgotten character.