Originating from the United Kingdom, scouting aims to support young people in their physical and mental development so that they may play constructive roles in society, with a strong focus on the outdoors and survival skills. In terms of the depiction of scouts in pop culture, the best would have to be River Phoenix as the young Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade, as well as that one episode of The Simpsons. Sadly, what new spin on scouting that new BOOM! Studios series Black Badge presents lacks the fun of those other works.
From the creators of Grass Kings, the Black Badges are a top-secret branch of boy scouts tasked by the US government to take on covert missions around the world that no adult ever could. When Willy becomes a member of the Black Badges, consisting of Cliff, Mitz and their leader Kenny, the elite scouts are tasked with dangerous missions, which leads them to search for their missing team member, presumed dead years ago.
In light of recent comics like Hit-Girl and Deadly Class, there is the potential in Black Badge‘s premise of a youthful scouts group becoming a black ops unit. As fun as it sounds, Matt Kindt’s writing doesn’t make it so and that comes down to how overly seriously he treats the whole thing. Deliberately evoking the likes of Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games, so much so that one character actually acknowledges them in the situation, there is the sense that Kindt wants to be poignant about the use of children as weapons. However, given the absurdity of its premise, Black Badge would be better off embracing the ridiculousness in fun effect.
In terms of plot and character, the search for the Black Badge’s missing team member really starts halfway through the volume and yet by the time we reach the climax in the last issue, it gets disregarded quickly and Kindt prepares his characters for new territory in the next arc. In the company of the eponymous group, some of which have their moment to share their backstory via flashback, there is rarely any growth or progression to make the interactions between each other interesting. It also doesn’t help that the Badges are rather unlikeable, particularly towards Willy, who is trying to fit in and they seem hesitant for him to do so.
Reminiscent of the artwork by Jeff Lemire, Tyler Jenkins’ art is not the most ideal in illustrating a globe-trotting adventure about elite boy scouts. Along with Hilary Jenkins’ colored painting, the art does fit with Kindt’s dour storytelling as it looks rough, even when the artist is drawing exotic locations such as South Korea and Hawaii. The only time the art shines (as well as the only bit of humor) is in the few pages of the Black Badge Handbook, showing how to pack weapons and tools in the scout uniform.
Things only get interesting in the final pages, setting up where the Black Badges can go, but apart from that, the first volume by Kindt and Jenkins is a lackluster effort that never lives up to its potentially fun premise.