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Black Badge has Merit (Get it?)

Alley-oop, everyone! Here I am again with another look at another book. Summer's on its way and it looks like we could be in for a tough one. Vacations could be canceled. Concerts and festivals are out. The summer superhero movie season has been all but eliminated. But you know one thing we might still have, if we're careful? Nice relaxing hikes in the secluded woods. A few state parks opened back up recently here in Illinois and if you have the means to drive to one, it's a nice little escape.

Speaking of the great outdoors, today I'm going to talk about a comic book series about boy scouts. But these aren't your ordinary scouts. These are the scouts of Black Badge, a secret troop of campers that do top secret black ops work for the government. The series, by writer Matt Kindt (Mind MGMT, Grass Kings) and artist Tyler Jenkins (Peter Panzerfaust, Grass Kings), is a clever high concept idea just brimming with potential.

The story follows an overachieving scout named Willy, who has already earned every merit badge there is to earn, including some that people have never even heard of. Eager to earn more, he signs up for the Black Badge, unaware of the exact nature of what he's getting into. Willy quickly finds himself the new guy in a group of scouts on a hike across the border into North Korea. They're a perfect cover for the government. If they get caught by authorities, they're likely to be sent back to the border because they're just a bunch of dumb kids that got lost.

The plot thickens as the first volume continues, as we learn more of the other scouts' back stories, learn about just who Willy is replacing in the troop, and get some foreboding hints that the Black Badge program is not what these kids accept it to be.

The four troop members each have their own unique skills and personalities: Willy is the communications expert, Cliff, with his tricked out walking stick, master of disguise/archery pro Mitz, and always prepared, by-the-book troup leader Kenny. The book has kind of a Wes Anderson Rushmore/Moonrise Kingdom feel, with its overachieving, intelligent beyond their years children and attention to small details. It even contains some Anderson-esque montages, diagrams, and dollhouse shots. But this has a darker edge and more serious tone than those movies, with a sharp questioning of authority and critique of isolationist foreign policy.

Writer Matt Kindt really excels at this kind of morally grey, black ops, government wetworks type of stuff, as anyone who has read Mind MGMT can attest. And artist Tyler Jenkins has an art style that fits Kindt's writing perfectly, with colorist HIlary Jenkins providing a water-colory painted look that makes it feel of a piece with Kindt's own art.

You know, I was a boy scout, circa 1994 or so. Every Tuesday night, I would go to the church a couple of blocks down from my house and meet with my troop, where we worked on merit badges and did projects. I was definitely an "Indoor Kid", so I avoided camping at all costs, though I went on a couple hikes.

Clearly I wasn't cut out for the whole scout thing, but I stuck around because my troop played with and traded Magic: The Gathering cards (that kept me in karate too). When I started missing meetings, my Scoutmaster, a fellow geek, bless his heart, started bribing me to stay by feeding me chronological VHS tapes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I stayed long enough to get to the First Class rank, somehow earned only by doing tasks that DON'T involve going outside or sleeping in a tent. I think I only got the tapes of the first season of TNG, which, as you know, is not worth all that trouble.

So that's my story, Alley-ans. I was the world's worst boy scout. I couldn't bait a fishhook or spend a night in the woods away from my mommy (shut up, we were close), let alone cross hostile borders and assassinate dissidents.

I'll be back with another one next week! Hope everybody's well! Give us a call if you need any comics, board games, or a pop vinyl of Carl Winslow's character from Die Hard!

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