Intriguing and timely, Black Badge #1 is a teenage take on espionage that’s part scouting exercise and part soul-searching political thriller. The scout team’s journey through this issue might remind you of Stand By Me (1986)—if that film’s cast was black ops-qualified and sneaking across international borders instead of introspectively discovering themselves while searching for a dead kid’s body. (Note: Cherry-flavored PEZ is not mentioned in the issue, but communications expert Willy nicely mirrors the wide-eyed innocence of Jerry O’Connell’s Vern Tessio.)
Writer Matt Kindt (Mind Mgmt, Dept. H, Ninjak) excels at espionage stories, and we can expect that Willy’s moral objections to the team’s mission in this first issue become a significant plot mover throughout the series. The Black Badge is an elite team of ridiculously skilled teens tasked to use their youth to accomplish dangerous missions that adult teams couldn’t touch.
It’s a great premise, and one that immediately raises ethical questions as the team isn’t told what its mission is really meant to accomplish. While some team members are willing to accept the motivations of their adult handlers without hesitation, Willy’s objections have merit. Do you blindly follow orders no matter their consequences? And do you blindly follow those who do?
Artist Tyler Jenkins (Snow Blind, Neverboy) delivers well-paced pages that build in tension as the issue progresses. Facial expressions are kept to a minimum among the experienced team members, while “new guy” Willy’s expressions are an open book. Layers of deception are at work in Tyler’s thoughtful panels as the characters seem to possess hidden qualities and motivations for participating in the Black Badge team. While some clarification occurs on the issue’s final page where we learn their areas of expertise, even more are hinted at through Tyler’s subtle use of body language cues as the mission unfolds.
Hilary Jenkins’ (Grass Kings) colors derive from a pastel palate that invokes a youthful optimism in the characters and their surroundings. It also serves as a perfect camouflage for the darker intentions, implications, and results of the team’s mission. The book’s underlying peril manifests itself as cruel words issue from beneath bright pink umbrellas, flashbacks are rendered in two simple colors to contrast with the vibrant present, and dangerous situations are unflappably colored with the same calm as a hike through the woods. There’s a cauldron of deceit brewing under the surface of this title, and Hilary’s colors are keeping us delightfully off-balance as we wait to see where this adventure is heading.
It won’t surprise me at all if Black Badge is the indie hit of the summer. A book can’t go wrong with a creative team that is undoubtably comfortable together and making tough stylistic and aesthetic decisions look easy. I’m adding this one to my pull list and will enjoy watching these teens redefine the espionage genre. (I also hope they kick ass on the grown-ups.)
Matt Kindt (W), Tyler Jenkins (A), Hilary Jenkins (C), Jim Campbell (L) • BOOM! Studios, $3.99
Review by Karen O’Brien