The Badger

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The Badger

(pop culture)

It can be argued that only those with very extreme personalities would don masks and tights to wage war on crime. Although neurotic superheroes like Spider-Man, intermittent multiple-personality sufferers such as the Hulk, or borderline psychopaths like the Punisher aren’t unique in comics, superheroes whose costumed personae arise solely from a psychiatric disorder are rare indeed. But the costumed martial-arts expert known as the Badger is one such hero.

The creation of writer Mike Baron (co-creator of Nexus with artist Steve Rude), the Badger debuted in 1983 in Badger vol. 1 #1 (Capital Comics). “The Badger is Norbert Sykes,” reads the series’ splash-page origin boilerplate, “a Vietnam veteran suffering from an extremely rare multiple personality disorder: seven great personalities in one. The personality most frequently inhabited by Norbert, indeed almost exclusively preferred, is the Badger, a self-styled crime fighter who rides the highways and byways of America, meting out bloody justice to jaywalkers, ticket scalpers, [and] indifferent teenaged fast food clerks—in fact, any damn body he feels like because he’s CRAZY!”

The seeds of the Badger’s madness were sown during Sykes’ childhood, during which he was repeatedly abused by his psychopathic step-father, Larry. As a young man, the emotionally fragile Sykes served in Vietnam, where his months-long captivity at the hands of the Viet Cong brings him a vision of God as a badger named Myrtle, who grants him the ability to talk to animals, Dr. Doolittle-style. Traumatized, Sykes begins manifesting multiple personalities.

Sykes’ seventh personality—that of the martial-arts savvy, self-styled crime fighter who calls himself the Badger—apparently emerges only after Sykes returns to the United States. Arrested for beating up some street punks, the Badger is committed to an insane asylum, where he meets fellow inmate Hammaglystwythkbrngxxaxolotl (also known as Hamilton J. Thorndyke, or simply “Ham” for short), a fifth-century Welsh druid with the power to control the weather, among other arcane skills. Ham shows the Badger how to “fake sanity” long enough to secure his release; in fairly short order, both men are discharged from the institution and take up residence in Ham’s forbidding castle, located just south of south of Barneveld, Wisconsin, and purchased with the huge fortune Ham has amassed over the centuries. The Badger becomes Ham’s employee, performing numerous odd jobs using the “dozens of obscure, esoteric, arcane, not to mention abstruse, martial arts” he has mastered.

Although the premiere issue of Badger (1983) boasted the cleanly delineated art of Steve Rude, Capital Comics (which went on to become on of the largest direct-market comics distributors of the 1980s and 1990s) couldn’t make a go of the series. Luckily, First Comics, a larger independent publisher co-founded by Mike Gold, gave the series a new home beginning with issue #5 (1984). Badger continued at First until its seventieth issue (1991), when the company folded. Baron wrote the series for its entire run, and his uniquely hilarious (and sometimes poignant) scripts displayed his self-declared enthusiasm both for kung fu adventure and the antics of Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge McDuck. The Badger made guest appearances in Nexus vol. 1 #45-#50 (First Comics, 1988) and starred in a four-issue miniseries titled Badger Goes Berserk (First Comics, 1989), as well as in a new “first issue” (1991’s Badger vol. 2 #1), which retold the character’s origin. The Badger also headlined a large-format graphic novel titled Hexbreaker (First Comics, 1988).

In addition to Ham, the Badger developed a fascinating, unique, and far-ranging supporting cast over the years, including such allies as Mavis Davis, a female martial artist (and fellow talker-to-the-animals), who becomes the Badger’s wife; Daisy Fields, Norbert Sykes’ personal psychotherapist and Ham’s secretary; Jim Wonkten-donk, another Nam veteran; Connie Ammerperson, an African American lesbian cab driver and feminist activist; Fuzzbuster, an owl who helps the Badger avoid speeding tickets; the Yak and the Yeti, a pair of large, ancient, hairy, and often foul-tempered creatures straight out of Tibetan myth; the Wombat, an Australian Vietnam veteran (as crazy and costumed as the Badger), who is the self-styled protector of all animals; Riley Thorpe, the originator of a martial-arts system called Jabberwocky (“some say it’s my jabber, some say it’s my walk”) and one of the Badger’s closest associates; and Lamont, a figure-skating buffalo who likes to hoof-race and is self-conscious about his hairstyle.

Numbering among the Badger’s many bizarre nemeses are Hodag, a former Green Beret turned neo-Nazi kook (Sykes is no fan of Nazis); Lord Weterlackus (alias Slotman), a powerful demon lord who draws strength from blood sacrifices; the Roach Wrangler, a former exterminator capable of raising insect armies; Dr. Buick Riviera, an insane, demon-powered, martial artist/physician who uses snakes and other animals as weapons in hand-to-hand combat; Count Kohler, who can turn ordinary humans into demons; Ron Dorgan, a martial artist capable of delivering a “death touch”; and Lannier Lutefisk, a Badger impersonator who actually takes Sykes’ place for a whole issue (Badger vol. 1 #65).

When First Comics disappeared, so did the Badger. Then the headcase hero eventually resurfaced at Dark Horse Comics with a pair of miniseries: Badger: Zen Pop Funny-Animal Version (two issues, 1994) and Badger: Shattered Mirror (four issues, 1994). Three years later, Baron took his emotionally challenged hero to Image Comics in another attempt to helm an ongoing Badger series. But this run lasted only eleven issues, either because of the industry’s general sales slump, or because late 1990s audiences were unreceptive to over-the-top superheroics based on mental illness. To those who would find offense in Norbert Sykes’ insanity-fueled adventures, however, the Badger would no doubt send one of his trademark verbal barbs: “Critics are grinks and groinks.”

In 2007, IDW Publishing began releasing some new Badger stories—the one-shot special Badger: Bull, and a miniseries, Badger Saves the World—as well as reprinting past Badger tales in trade paperback collections. —MAM