Biker: Book One – Mike Baron

2 out of 5

“Write every day.” It’s a maxim suggested by many writers, as well as those – i.e. “draw every day” – in other creative pursuits, something bouncing off of the ‘practice makes perfect’ idea, but combined with a self-imposed motivation that’s required to get the juices flowing for things that aren’t necessarily 9-to-5 structured pursuits. It’s surely valuable advice, and one I think I’ve seen writer Mike Baron espouse in some backmatter in a comic book he’s written. But I might be making that up just because of how Baron could be said to embody that advice: not only proving to have a crazily prolific output across comics and books over decades, but also because that constant stream of writing sometimes seems like he’s publishing what he’s writing-every-day without much filter. Even stretching back to the early days of Badger, when text pieces would occasionally appear as backups, Baron showed a tendency toward splattering text on the page: good ideas surrounded by poorly edited content, and go-nowhere passages that didn’t ultimately add much to whatever story or narrative. I’d say that in comics his indulgences can be carried by an artist, or perhaps mediated by the same – or an editor, but even then, his longer runs are characterized by a rambling, beat, sensibility, which admittedly worked really well on occasion for Badger, Nexus, and others, but sometimes didn’t; overall, I’ve found myself enjoying his stories when they’re delivered in more concise hot flashes of somewhat random, sprawling ideas.

Most of my own rambling here can apply to Baron’s “Biker,” a 500-page novel about Josh Pratt, a dude whose motorcycle-gang and jail-time past led to a Jesus conversion and a job as a private detective, with this first entry in a series tasking him with tracking down a missing son. “Biker” isn’t 500-pages because it needs to be. Chapter after chapter feature conversations and interactions that have no real impact on the story, and don’t deepen the character. It’s Baron “writing every day” for a book – just keeping it moving. But that roving nature certainly finds its way to some killer scenes, with the writer’s penchant for fight choreography and undeniable creativity providing some tense, well-articulated showdowns, building up to one particular man-versus-beast scene that’s sincerely unforgettable. And the stitching of the novel is pretty good, setting Pratt up as a sort of hanger-on in a gentrifying town, hired by his “McMansion”-residing neighbor to find their kidnapped dogs, which leads him to a woman named Cass, who connects him with the mother – Ginger – of the missing son… These are good, step-by-step beats, which continue to ping-pong around a good supporting cast. But this could have easily been stripped down to less than half its eventual length and maintained all of its positives, without its many negatives: an abortively-undeveloped relationship between Cass and Pratt; the questionable way Baron adds Pratt’s faith into the mix; Baron’s casual, moralistically dunderheaded racism – in which some slurs are bad, but some are fine – and sexism; atrocious editing; and the aforementioned go-nowhere nature of many chapters, i.e. Pratt gets up, prays to god, goes pee, end of chapter. Add a general cheapness to the printing – sentences very frequently are chopped in half, starting on a new line as if a new paragraph – and the redeeming scenes, and an admittedly breezy writing style that allows all those go-nowhere moments to at least go by quickly – and it’s a book that can be said to simply pass the time, while also leaving a bad taste in one’s mouth given its just-under-the-surface politics.