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The Complete Badger Vols. 1-4
posted July 23, 2009
 

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Creators: Mike Baron, Jeff Butler, Rick Burchett, Dennis Wolf, Bill Reinhold, John Workman, Jeff Dee, Les Dorscheid, Sam De La Rosa, John Nyberg, Keith Wilson, Mike Gustovich, Rich Bryant, Chuck Beckum
Publishing Information: IDW, softcovers, 132 pages or so each, 2007-2008, $24.99 for volume one/$19.99 for the others.
Ordering Numbers: 9781600101298 (ISBN13), 9781600101601 (ISBN13), 9781600102202 (ISBN13), 9781600102356 (ISBN13) -- that's the four volumes in order

I'm not certain why anyone would need a collected edition of the 1980s independent superhero title The Badger. I routinely see individual issues of the Mike Baron-written title out there in the back-issues bins for a dollar or less. It could be that we've come to the point where the comic book format is so devalued that people will pay a relative premium to have something to go on their bookshelves as opposed to a box in their closet. I'm not certain. They're nice enough books, though: the art looks just fine to me, and probably will hold its color a lot better on this paper than on the original stock. They've also kept the Clonezone back-ups -- well, at least one of them.

imageThe first volume keeps The Badger's modest origin: basically, a post-Nexus launch Mike Baron was asked to come up with another title, this time featuring a costumed crimefighter, and the Badger -- a mentally-ill regional veteran superhero with multiple personalities -- was his form of genre correction. Superheroes = Costumes + Punching People = Crazy. In the original, Badger was a Vietnam veteran, which I'm told has since been updated to a Gulf War: I'm not sure which one. Tweaking a genre tends to work when the element with which you choose to play gets you at some fundamental mechanism by which the genre operates. I suppose the Badger's lunacy qualifies, although it's mostly played for comedy in a way that might be slightly shocking for people to read in a brand-new way right now. The crazy-as-comedy vehicle still had some life to it, then, now it's been transmogrified into a sub-genre of pieces mocking people with obsessive-compulsive disorders. It's probably worth noting that the comic actor Dudley Moore provided one of the last examples of that genre as a full people-in-gowns vehicle for mainstream entertainment in his Crazy People, having put a much more famous tombstone on the alcoholic comedy with Arthur. Quite a decade for Mr. Moore. If The Badger were to be done one more time, Moore might be one of the dead celebrities he hallucinates.

imageA half-decade ago, I started re-thinking a lot of the comics I read as a teen, reading many of them over again. What I liked about The Badger when I took a second look and which seems even more potent in these books isn't the title-character concept. That's surprisingly solid, and even today could make a decent movie vehicle for Seann William Scott or some other brave soul willing to put on that reasonably handsome costume and play up the regional, nutty aspects. No, I found myself drawn to the other half of the series' equation, which involves a medieval druid that comes forward in time and becomes a financial guru: the "weather wizard" Ham. This, of course, makes no sense at all, and was accepted by readers of the time because The Badger was a comic book and shit like that happened in comic books. Conceptually, it's sort of like if a pre-spider bit Peter Parker also had a friend named Ted that was a goblin, or if Commissioner Gordon happened to be a werewolf. When you read it now, it seems almost like the first time of many to come that Baron gives the entire genre the finger.

Comics like The Badger came out with a regularity that would crush the souls of most creators working today, and by the fourth volume in this series, you begin to sense the limits of the concepts involved and the weaknesses of that relentless publishing approach. Some of the art is almost laughably crude, some of the jokes are way funnier than others, and turning this group of characters into compelling fiction seems unsustainable even within individual issues. The best issues are the one-offs that draw on some sort of regional culture, such as volume three's "Beaver Drop," which combines a Cannonball Run-style road race around Wisconsin with the forest service dropping beavers into afflicted woodland territory. What seemed energetic at the time reads as scattered now: the book can't quite settle on a tone or even a vehicle for what constitutes the title's best stories: high-magic intrigue, kung-fu movie style progression plots, capers, do-gooder problem-solving plots, animal-driven comedy, even a little bit of soap opera in terms of how the title character deals with his various issues. Then again, I think this was a time when more people bought comics that they liked even when they weren't acting the way that they liked, in the hopes of getting a glimpse of the elements they enjoyed. That was a very long time ago.

*****

volumes two, one, three, four

*****

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*****
*****