Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

June 16, 2012

Comics I Read In Series Form In The 1980s: The Badger


I have a much closer relationship to the Badger comic books than a lot of the 1980s series I'm writing about this month because I still have access to them. While I share an elaborate collection with my older brother, with all the bookshelves and books-with-spines and fancy slipcases that entails, my younger brother collects comics he keeps in a couple of empty case of beer boxes near the TV. They have either Black Bolt, Namor or The Badger in them. No exceptions. It's my favorite collection.

I don't know anyone that would call The Badger a first-rate comic book series, not even my younger brother. In fact, I think these comics put on display many of that format's negatives. The need to have them out on a regular basis and the fact I imagine this wasn't a prominent gig means a revolving door of creators of varying quality. The title's overarching narrative moves forward in fitful start and stops. There's not a whole lot of "there" there to sustain the amount of work done on the lead character's behalf, leading to a kind of shaky foundation adventure to adventure. There's even a classic "and that's when I stopped reading" moment that involves the lead getting married.

Still, The Badger has its moments, and you probably learn more about the way comic books appeal reading a bunch of issues from a series like this one than a dozen American Flagg!-level efforts, the same way that random episodes of She's The Sheriff appear to hold greater mysteries than entire seasons of Hill Street Blues. The pleasures are -- surprise! -- pretty simple. There's a lot of fighting, there are a lot of jokes, jerks are beaten up, the Badger's basic awesomeness is confirmed for anyone out there (god help us) projecting feelings of self-worth onto him, animals perform rudimentary shtick, and there's a touch of libertarian critique that falls well short of pressing on events in an unseemly manner but still gives everything a cranky edge. If there were regional comics the way we used to have regional soda, no one would have even seen this book on either coast. The Badger himself is a fine idea, movie-ready, taking the superheroes-as-crazy idea that probably everyone in comics collectively owned at this point and tweaking it a few volumes upward, then scoring it Von Dutch-style with a few, strong lines of regional quirk. It also has the wonderful comic-book thing of taking that movie-ready central concept and pairing its embodiment with... an ancient, spell-casting druid turned financier, one of the great nonsensical secondary lead character choices of a decade stuffed with them.

While I'd like to say my comics purchasing ages 12-22 was dominated by first-rate, compelling works of art, honesty forces me to admit that my buying habits entailed picking up a few such comics if they were out, taking a flier on a couple more, and then working my way up to a set dollar amount with just about anything I could toss in my bag. You could do that back then. When the bulk of your comics consumption depends less on a quality artistic experience and more on making sure you'll have something to read when you work your through a bag of Arby's, something like The Badger is a fine, fine companion. I can't hate him. I went to high school with that guy.
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