Saturday, July 18, 2009

Out of the Vault - Badger #29

One of my favorite comics of the 80's was Badger, a hilariously convoluted story of martial arts and magic that grew out of the simplest of taglines. As near as I can remember from an interview I read years ago, Mike Baron had been asked to come up with another comic to follow up his science fiction saga Nexus, but the publishers wanted a super-hero this time. So Baron thought about the idea, and his thought was this: "Put on a costume and fight crime? You'd have to be crazy."

And so Badger was born. Vietnam veteran Norbert Sykes has multiple personalities, including little girl Emily and suave murderer Pierre, but his fallback personality is the Badger, a martial artist who talks to animals and very occasionally fights crime. Badger lives with Ham, an ancient druid sorcerer who uses his magic to make a killing in the markets, and Daisy, Ham's secretary (she was also Norbert's caseworker until he was released from the mental hospital).

Issue 29, published in 1987, was a one-shot filler issue, a story completely out of continuity by Baron and guest artist Eric Shanower. In the story, titled "The Magic Word," Clonezone (an alien stand-up comedian featured in Nexus) is on stage, doing a bit about lawyers, when a heckler interrupts with "Whaddayou?! A lawyer?!"

Clonezone banters with the heckler, a huge cone-headed bruiser who keeps repeating his lawyer question, adding a little bit each time until he leaps at the stage in frustration. Clonezone then summons Badger from backstage to deal with the heckler. They fight, until Daisy bursts into Badger's room at the mansion in Wisconsin to tell him to knock off the noise. Seems Badger was dreaming or something.

So Daisy and Badger jump in Badger's car and drive to a local bar to get a drink. On the way, Daisy tells Badger of Ham's "Project Eight-Ball," a scheme to mess with space and time, so Ham can "resurrect dead movie stars and have them remake their greatest classics in color." They go into a bar called the Space Port, where Daisy notices that several of the people look awfully strange, and the view out the window is ships in space rather than Badger's car in the street.

But the oddity is forgotten when Badger's buddy Warren Oates (who died in 1982--Badger speaks to ghosts fairly often) calls them over to his booth. They are joined by Ham and W.C. Fields, who invite them to a game of pool (eight ball, natch). Turns out, it was Bill Fields who came up with the idea for "Project Eight-Ball."

So Warren and Bill play pool, until Warren says the wrong thing (notice also in the panel on the left that two of the spectators for the pool game are Space Ghost and Lion-O of the Thundercats):

The bruiser appears, chanting his mantra. Badger knocks him through a window into space and leaps out after him. He does not suffocate, but merely floats around making jokes until Clonezone grabs him and flies him to a nearby space service station, where they encounter Grimjack (star of another First Comics series). Badger and Clonezone narrowly survive a firefight between Grimjack and unnamed enemies, and all seems fine until Clonezone mentions lawyers. The bruiser appears again, this time in space armor.

Badger and Zone flee into the men's room and appear in the bar, where Bill Fields owes Warren Oates $2000. Badger begs Bill to rack and break, because earlier, the estimable Mr. Fields said that the break in pool was comparable to changing space and time. Badger hounds Fields until he mentions lawyers, at which time the bruiser enters again. Fields flees, but Clonezone grabs the cue to break. The cue ball leaps off the table and hits Badger in the forehead.

He wakes up in his room, where he figures out "it was all a ham-handed homage to Winsor McKay (sic)." Then Warren Oates and Bill Fields walk in. Fields suggests Badger sue Clonezone. "Of course, he lives in another dimension entirely. You'll need a good lawyer." Badger=facepalm.

The End.

At the time it came out, I wasn't thrilled with the story. It was fun, but entirely too random. Baron often walked a fine line between drama and silliness, and this issue of Badger was too far over the line for me. But over twenty years later, I still find myself occasionally saying, "Whaddayou?! A lawyer?!" and then being unable to explain why I think it's funny. So it was memorable, at least.

The next issue went back to regular continuity, in which Badger and his buddy Riley encountered an evil martial artist named Ron Dorgan, who killed a rival master and hit Badger with a delayed death touch. Badger and Riley must assault the island stronghold of Hop Ling Sung, Dorgan's master, to have the death touch removed.

To that purpose, Ham imbues them with the spirits of two ancient and powerful Celtic warriors, which they can unleash when in need by speaking a magic phrase. Once they reach the island, they are besieged by a large force of fighters, but Badger doesn't speak the phrase to unleash the magic warriors. Riley accuses him of having forgotten the magic word. Badger's reply?

Sadly, it doesn't work.

In the end, Badger and Riley defeat both Dorgan and Sung, resulting in Badger being invited to a mystic martial arts tournament which took place in the graphic novel "Hexbreaker."

No comments: