Comic book aficionados often talk about the industry's heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s -- with equal parts excitement and dread.
Dread – because of the "speculation market" crash that forced many publishers and comic book shops out of the business.
Excitement – because of the thrill readers felt going into shops and seeing a chromium die-cut cover for the first time. Not only that, but the selection of comics was probably wider than at any other time in the history of the medium.
Lots of new and different characters made their first appearances; characters like Evil Ernie, the Maxx, the Savage Dragon, Spawn, and those mutant ninja turtle fellows. Some have managed to remain, while others are a distant memory. One of my favorites, however, was a hero with a few "loose screws" – Badger. Created by writer Mike Baron ("Grimjack," " Nexus"), Badger was the first superhero I ever read who belonged in a straight jacket. Naturally, this made me like him even more.
Thanks to IDW Publishing, this superhero with psychosis is returning in two forms – both old and new. As seen in this month's Previews, IDW has solicited "The Complete Badger Vol. 1," collecting the first six issues of "Badger" from its humble beginnings at Capital and First Comics. On top of this, "Badger: Bull!" is solicited as a brand new one-shot featuring a standalone adventure that dovetails into a new "Badger" miniseries. I guess it's hard to keep a good mental patient down.
CBR News spoke with Mike Baron, who is writing the new adventures of his creation. He was happy to talk about the character, the book's history, and the differences of working in the comic industry during its "boom" and in its present. Baron began by discussing why "Badger" disappeared from the comics scene. There were a few reasons, but none of them include tiring of the character.
"I never lost interest, but I made some mistakes," Mike Baron told CBR News. "The stories weren't absolutely brilliant and compelling. That's the main reason why 'Badger' has a spotty continuity. I won't make that mistake again. Also, it was hard keeping one artist on the strip. Many brilliant artists contributed to the book, but perhaps that lack of visual continuity was a turn-off. On the other hand, the long hiatus gave me opportunity to focus – to write at leisure – and polish that sucker to a blinding dazzle."
So how much polish did it take? According to Baron, he's been ready for about three years now, and when he felt prepared to resurrect the character, he knew exactly where to bring Badger's tales – new and old. "IDW has always expressed interest in 'Badger,'" Baron explained. "They were a natural choice, having done (collected editions of) 'Grimjack' and 'Sable.'"
For those unfamiliar with the character, you may be wondering who Badger is. As mentioned, he's a superhero with some mental problems...some very specific mental problems. Just don't make the same mistake this reporter did and call Badger a schizo
"Argh! He's not schizophrenic!" Baron said. "He suffers from multiple personality disorder. One of the personalities is a costumed crime-fighter called the Badger, who sees it as his job to help animals and preserve decency. Some of the other personalities are problematical. Like Dirty Pierre, the mass murderer. Fortunately, Pierre doesn't come around often. Most of the new series concerns Badger, but Max Swell also appears."
In addition to Badger's "condition," the setting of Madison, Wisconsin also played a large part in the original series. As the hometown of original "Badger" publisher Capital Comics as well as Mike Baron, the city was faithfully depicted. Baron indicated the settings for the new tale will include a little bit of Madison, Milwaukee, Hollywood, Camp David and Merdestan.
The writer also added that readers can look forward to seeing the following characters from the original series: Daisy, Mavis, Ham, Riley Thorp, and Dr. Buick Riviera.
Considering all the elements Baron is including from the original series in the new "Badger" outing, you might be curious as to whether his story is picking up from where he left off oh-so-many years ago; or if he has decided to bring his character into the twenty-first century and give him a new sheen? Well, it turns out Baron's doing a little of both.
"It's a completely fresh take incorporating everything that makes 'Badger' great: pathos, humor, archaeology, love, hate, war, peace, the nature of religion, the proper use of nouns, herpetology, eschatology, and fashion," Baron explained. "Seriously, it involves a quest Badger must undertake to learn about himself. Daisy falls in love with an evil schemer. Ham has to answer to his boss and hobnobs with the President. We lay bare the truth about Middle Eastern terrorists. We rip the lid off Hollywood…kind of like when Hannibal Lecter ripped the lid off that FBI agent.
"It's about a lot of things, but holding it all together is a terrorist plot. And when people come to the real target, they're going to slap themselves silly and say, 'Holy shit, Baron! You can't write this stuff! What if the terrorists are reading 'Badger'?' It concerns me.
"The story segues from zany humor to pathos without skipping a beat. And the martial arts sequences are going to blow your mind."
Helping to put the "art" in martial arts is Kevin Caron. From Baron's comments, it's clear that he is thrilled with Caron's work. "He's going to rearrange your frontal lobes," declared Baron. "I've known Kevin for several years. He's been honing his chops and he's ready to go."
Part of the artist's job naturally includes helping with the design of the character and his costume; although Baron warned fans not to expect any big changes in this area. "I don't think of Badger as having a costume so much as just sporting the claw symbol. But yeah, the costume is more or less the same (as the classic version) down to the cargo pants. Really, all it is is a muscle shirt with the claw on it. Sometimes Badger just smears his face with a magic marker to get the striped effect. Sometimes he wears a mask."
A magic marker mask? As one can see, Badger is a character unlike any other.
In an attempt to gauge whether things were better in the comics "heydey," or if they're more enjoyable now, CBR asked Baron what he thought the differences are between then and now with regards to publishing, storytelling, and the comic-reading audience. Naturally, there wasn't a clear-cut answer.
"It's hard to say," Baron remarked. "For a while there, it looked as if the quality of writing was rising everywhere, but I think I got that impression from the hullabaloo surrounding certain prestige projects. Each comic book line varies from character to character. Generally, comics are getting better."
On the topic of the past, we also asked Baron if he had any regrets from his work on "Badger" in its original run. "There are certain stories I wish I hadn't written," Baron confessed. 'And no , I won't say what they are."
Indeed, Baron prefers to look toward the future, and has his hands full with upcoming work. "Big Head Press recently released 'The Architect' graphic novel I did with Andie Tong," Baron said. "'The Architect' is a horror story inspired by the life of Frank Lloyd Wright. It rocks . Big Head will also release 'The Hook,' the rock and roll science fiction saga I did with illustrator Gabe Eltaeb. I have some other stuff in the pipeline, but I'm not allowed to talk about it."
Baron can still talk about "Badger" though, and his enthusiasm for the character is infectious. His final word on the new series is simply this: "I think we have a definitive 'Badger' here."
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