(W) Matt Kindt (P) Tyler Jenkins (C) Hilary Jenkins
I was a shitty Boy Scout. My excuse is that I was surrounded by other shitty Boy Scouts. The whole troop was composed of boys who’d qualify as The Wrong Crowd, according to my late grandmother. Even the kid who was the clear moral standout — super-sized merit badge chest candy with a truly innovative and community-minded Eagle Scout project — ended up selling pills in his twenties and then disappeared off the radar. Adults forget that children lead complex lives full of perceived danger and novelty. The truest drama of our teenage years lies in how brilliantly fresh the night air feels as you sneak out the window, and the thought that you, surely, are the first and last of your kind on this incredible ride. But those years are for learning cruel realities, too, and soon enough time speeds up and that electric excitement fades away into the dark.
Black Badge #1 drags us toward a similar feeling with its nihilistic take on childhood. The four protagonists are worn and cynical like old Marines I’ve known. Matt Kindt (Pistolwhip, MIND MGMT) brings us directly into that familiar sense of teenage malaise with the same snot-nosed bully you too encountered as an adolescent — the one who uses insults meant to jockey for position in some imagined social order, which only serves to demonstrate his own sad self-esteem, crumbly as a Thin Mint. The scouts — Kenny, Cliff, Mitz, and Willy — are disarming in their apparent geek-dom, and Kindt does an interesting number on us as he leads us into a narrative we hadn’t quite expected but had a feeling was on the horizon. What’s really twisted here is how comfortably the more experienced scouts deal with their role in the wider world— the way you’d expect a hardened Navy SEAL to react under battle pressure. They are cold and far away, always holding the trauma at arm’s length so as not to internalize too much and risk letting everything fall apart.
This story, though, relies a little too much on other narrative touchstones to advance the plot, and I’m unfortunately reminded of other, more compelling stories — a boy groomed by a father figure to become a government funded killing machine, the quirky group of kids on the provoking end of dangerous hi-jinks, the wise-beyond-her-years-tough-girl with the bow and arrow… all seem a little familiar. I want more than a cultural rehash, and I expect after this establishing issue we’ll get it. The dialogue is blunt, and I find myself thinking that these teenagers sound more like an adult reaching back into their memory to relive (or magically exercise) some painful childhood experience of hard rejection or the memory of having been pushed beyond their emotional limit. These are well-remembered growing pains, and in that I can relate.
The art team is what makes this book really stand out among the din of other new releases this summer. Tyler Jenkins understands movement and the power of classical page structure. Scout Will’s flashback to his recruitment is particularly well executed. He uses panels judiciously, and I’m reminded of the starkness of Eddie Campbell’s seminal work in From Hell. Hilary Jenkins understands how shadows play around in firelight enough to pull me into the scene. I can smell burning cedar.
Black Badge #1 asks us to trust in it the same way adults ask children to trust in their ability to raise them. At heart, this story is about a fragile world, full of dangers no child should ever encounter but here we are — the thrill is in the contrasts and in the suspension of your disbelief. This story is about the panic that shoots through your mind as you swim through the pitch-black cave, hoping this isn’t all some terrible trick, hoping there is fresh air just beyond your reach, and that this test will be over soon. I trust we will not be disappointed.