4 out of 5
Nobody writes like Mike Baron. The closest comparison that comes to mind is Steve Gerber – both writers have a breezy approach to the irrelevant – but I’d also say that nobody writes like Steve Gerber. And just like there’s never quite been another Howard the Duck or Gerber-esque Man-Thing, no zany hero will ever stack up to the Badger.
In an insane asylum – or “the booby hatch,” as one of Baron’s many random personalities extras would call it – sits both Ham the Weather Wizard and Norbert Sykes, MPD sufferer and also street vigilante The Badger. We know the former’s progeny to be true thanks to a wonderfully succinct “get to it” 13th century intro during which Ham’s evil sorcerer antics have him magically shunted to our time; we know the latter to be true when the dude puts on a red suit and start kicking ass. While both are seen as incurable in the asylum, a mental bond encourages a kinship and allows each to secure their own release; soon after, Norbert agrees to become Ham’s bodyguard, and attending social worker Daisy, his assistant – under the auspice of being able to study these all-too-interesting personages.
And there you go: The Badger. Baron’s plotting style, at least at this stage, can be defined by the lack of one, but it’s hardly random. Instead, the story just seems to follow natural progression… a relative natural, of course, with Badger lecturing on morality between arrests and bar fights, Ham being pursued by magic-squancher ‘The Yeti,’ and random sorcery-spurred animal slaughterings and incidents of hypnotism. If there is a criticism to be wielded at this uniquely wandering and yet engaging tone, it’s that it’s not clear (to someone reading this stuff for the first time) if some of the lingering elements – Ham is seemingly a bad guy; Norbert is actually ill – will come around to influence the story. Given Badger’s increasing knack for calling everyone Steve, and the more serious note on which the trade ends – more signs of his illness and its potential cause – I definitely suspect so, but the uncertainty keeps one a bit on guard from fully investing in the series.
Art-wise, in his intro Baron makes a note of the revolving door of artists the book experienced, and indeed, we see several main ones (Bill Reinhold, Jeff Butler, Rich Burchett) even at this early stage. Thankfully they’re both incredibly competent and perhaps even complimentary: Badger’s cast is grounded similarly in reality by both (both artists seem to ‘get’ the ridiculous but real-ish tone), while still allowing for each artist’s personality to shine. The IDW printing looks clean, although the First issues’ colors look cheaper compared to Initial publisher Capital, though I would suppose that goes back to the original copies.
…And so an epic journey, for me, begins. Badger is a wonderfully unique comic book experience, borne for the medium but hitting a kind of intelligentsia / ridiculousness blend that I think one has to come to, to appreciate, on their own terms. Thank goodness for reprints that have allowed me to do so.