By Zack Quaintance — Black Badge #1 is writer Matt Kindt and artist Tyler Jenkins follow up to Grass Kings, and, at first glance, it seems to be a gentler story, one about a group of scouts on a special trip to faraway South Korea. Like its predecessor (and like most comics, really), however, there is also a darker complexity at work here.
There are a few layers to this book. There’s the premise: our heroes are part of an elite troop of boy scouts that the U.S. government sends on covert missions, kind of like green berets with a deceptive and innocent veneer. There’s the thematic interests: merit badges here seem to be standing in for ornamental and ultimately meaningless life achievements, things we convince ourselves we must obtain because we’re told that’s what we should want. And there’s an examination of what it means to be the good scout, or in this case, soldier.
Black Badges #1 is very much a straightforward and well-done introduction to this story. It’s an engaging read, a polished #1 comic that never stumbles by over-explaining who are heroes are, which does the double work here of leaving room for the creators to later build in secrets. We get a four panel grid in which a bully underestimates each of them, saying things like, You brought everything you need? Your tedd bear in there? And, Willy. Dude. you need to lay off the scout snacks. Typical bully snark that shows us how our elite team will be both perceived and underestimated.
This first issue is well-told, an effective and entertaining means of learning who are heroes are, what they do, and, in part, why they do it. It works well as a hook, although the exact direction of the plot is still fuzzy. There definitely seems to be an exploration of morality in the offing, one that might use the age of the characters to explore idealism as well as the way children are often treated as invisible non-actors (our team’s secret weapon). Previews of future issues also hint at the book taking a look at foreign policy, and they've definitely set up a great lens to do just that. I certainly trust Kindt and Jenkins too, especially after the success they had with Grass Kings, which had a less engaging premise, at least on its surface.
Overall: Black Badge #1 seems to be the start of another great series by Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins. This first issue has all the exposition we need plus some intriguing hints into its thematic interests, yet it never feels like an info dump. This is a confident and polished debut issue, one that hints at big things in store. 8.0/10
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