Black Badge #1, out now from Boom! Studios, is based on the idea that kids get lost and scared. Children must be redirected to their parents and are therefore harmless. But, what if those kids are a black ops team of Boy Scouts that have earned every merit badge… except for the black badge? They are trained in espionage, infiltration, and forward air combat control. They can go anywhere because they are perceived as utterly harmless. Using The Boy Scouts as a black ops recruiting pool is one of those high-concept things that is so good that you’d think it had been done before. Leave it to Matt Kindt, the king of high-concept to make this happen.
Kindt is an absolute professional that excels at creating a great story, and Black Badge #1 is an excellent start. The characters are fully realized as soon as you meet them. The first detailed back story we get is Willy. We learn why he’s with the group and we get a heavy bit of foreshadowing about what’s to come. The veteran black badges take him in, but he’s not part of the team, and in one heart wrenching scene Mitz, who seems to be the team’s combat specialist, explains why Willy is simply place-holding. Kindt is re-working the classic FNG story (ask your military buddies if you don’t know) from the eyes of what appear to be battle-hardened children.
The plot is multi-layered, and it has many tantalizing bits and pieces. If you’re a fan of Kindt’s other work, you already know not to discount even the tiniest bit of throwaway dialogue. It will come back and bite you in the ass later. He sets these children on a relatively straightforward forward observer mission near the edge of a North Korean military target. The group cleverly avoids capture by playing the “We’re just a bunch of dumb, lost, tourist kids,” card which we all know works all of the time. Kindt is so good at ramping up the tension incrementally that I actually missed this hackneyed trope. I was too distracted dealing with the palpable sense of relief when the North Korean guard actually buys their story.
My one concern with Black Badge is the artwork. I am an avowed fan of Tyler Jenkins work. I think the man is brilliant and an exceptional designer. His watercolor and pen combinations are usually stellar, and I just don’t see that on display here. It feels like Jenkins is really holding back, and I think it did this issue a disservice. Jenkins is capable of some mind-blowing design and page composition. It’s really evident in his work on Peter Panzerfaust and in full force on his Snow Blind mini-series. His work on Black Badge #1 is serviceable, but it’s almost like he’s intentionally letting Matt Kindt be the weird mad professor, and sublimating his own inner evil genius. Hopefully as the series progresses and Jenkins gets more comfortable with it, we’ll see some amazing artwork from him.
I enjoyed the hell out of Black Badge #1, but here’s a few things to keep in mind before you pick this up. If you like your comics wall to wall action with widescreen Jim Lee style art and lots of kick-splodey special effects, this is not your comic. Kindt is a novelist at heart and he lays out his plot to slowly unspool each character in their own time. Reading Matt Kindt is an investment in time and patience that always pays off in the end. Accordingly, Black Badge is an indie art film. It’s based on a solidly interesting premise with deep, highly realistic characters. It is not, however, an action movie. It’s a drama. Treat it as such and you’ll come out loving it.
- Excellent story idea
- Great plot and pacing
- Fantastic setup for a continuing series
- The art is not equal to the story