Devil’s Due/1First Comics
I was toying around with the idea of a very heavy action strip about an avenger – a vigilante – and I wanted to have a logical foundation for his actions. I thought, “What kind of character puts on a costume and goes out to fight crime on the streets?” And the only thing I could possibly come up with is that you’d have to be stark raving out–of-your-mind to do such a thing. – Mike Baron, Comics Interview #8, Feb. 1984
Batman was the first comic book hero that formed my childhood. But when I went off to college, four titles influenced me the most: Nexus, American Flagg!, The Question, and The Badger.
Both Nexus and The Badger were written by Mike Baron. Where Nexus was the serious science fiction, deeper philosophic title, Badger was a fun romp with psychotic characters.
Norbert Sykes, a Vietnam Veteran, POW, and martial artist, was abused by his step-father resulting in him suffering from multiple personality disorder. One of those personalities is the animal-communing vigilante protecting the streets of Madison, Wisconsin. While admitted to a mental hospital, he is visited telepathically by his neighbor, a John Doe who was found wandering Madison naked and uncommunicative. This John Doe is Ham, a 5th Century Druid who, after being entombed and sent out to sea in 412 AD, wakes up in the 20th Century. Through his telepathic communication with Norbert, Ham learns about the 20th Century from probably not the most reliable source. Still, Ham forms a partnership with the Badger, along with Daisy Fields, their case worker at the hospital who becomes Ham’s personal secretary. She sees Norbert as an interesting case study and person in need of healing (though Ham has use of the the Badger and hopes she does not succeed). Together, they create chaos in dealing with capitalists and demons (at times, kind of hard to tell them apart). His other personalities – inner-city African American Gastinau Grover DePaul, the high-brow Max Swell, nine-year-old Emily, Leroy the dog, and the homicidal Pierre – emerge at the most convenient, and sometimes inconvenient, moments.
The Badger ran from 1983 to 1991, its first four issues with Capital Comics, along with Nexus, and both making the move to First Comics when Capital went under. The character has made a few one-shots and mini-series appearances since, the most recent in 2007 when IDW Publishing collected the first twenty-three issues in four trade paperback collections as well as a graphic novel Badger Saves the World.
Badger #1 (Devil’s Due/1First Comics, 2016) is a re-introduction of the character. Mike Baron brings his creation into the 21st Century with Norbert serving in the fight against Al Qaeda. The personalities are slightly altered – Max Swell now being a gay architect and Emily is a five year old girl.
The tone to this version of Badger is noticeably different. The original series started off with Ham’s story and Badger’s introduction to Ham in the mental hospital, slowly learning more about Norbert as the issues progressed. Here, it’s Norbert’s story with glimpses of his multiple personalities. Though Baron brought Badger and Ham into the 1980’s with a tongue-in-cheek flair, today’s Badger has a serious tone. Baron is sticking with the traditional Badger story line, but the snappy banter is chilled. The prospects of its return appear in the final three pages. Jim Fern’s art serves this mood well, and his single rendering of Ham in the final panel is diabolical.
New readers to the Badger need no knowledge of the past to get into this world. As a long time fan, this issue felt awkward. I found the way the original series slowly revealed Norbert’s backstory as the main story was in action engaging. This issue felt too much like set-up for what’s to come. Getting Norbert from enlistment to mental hospital felt a tad rushed. But it won’t stop me from looking forward to seeing where Baron takes the Badger here in the 21st Century.