In Don Markstein's Toonopedia
, The Flaming Carrot
is described as "one of a very select group that also includes Cyclops (of X-Men) and possibly The Badger - brain-damaged
superheroes." Cyclops and the vegUTable we should be to some extent familiar with, but what's the poop on this Badger fellow?
One of the best-loved (super)hero comics you've never heard of, The Badger is what happened when creator Mike Baron (perhaps better known through Nexus) wanted to write a comic about a Sumerian wizard at a time (1983) when all the top-selling titles focused on were concerned primarily with rippling thews and manly feats. (Never knew Tom of Finland was such a phenomenon, didja?) So Mikey did a bit of a rethink - the spellcaster reconstituted as 5th-century Welsh weather-wizard Hammaglystwyth (contemporarily known as Hamilton J. Thorndyke or just "Ham") playing a back-up, plot-moving side role to an animal-lovin' martial artist (master of Shorin-ryu) named Norbert Sykes. Did I mention that they were both escaped inmates from an insane asylum? Wacky hijinks ensued - and Monthly Aspectarian perhaps best summed up the 70-issue run that followed in "As you might guess, the writing was pure gonzo."
Were these guys what they claimed to be? You might well ask yourself, as in an issue of the Maxx - how much of this story is happening purely inside the heads of its protagonists? For while Ham had been incarcerated primarily for reasons of anachronistic practices, Norbert is from his inception a certified looney. As the introductory blurb so, uh, gently points out:
A self-styled crime fighter who rides the highways and by-ways of America, the Badger metes out bloody justice to jaywalkers, ticket scalpers, indifferent teenaged fast-food clerks - in fact, any-damn-body he feels like because he's CRAZY!
Think of it as a martial arts-styled Falling Down ("No more boomboxes! If Joan Crawford were alive today, she'd say the same thing!")
with more Three Stooges
sound effects. In an interview, Mike Baron revealed slightly better-motivated grounds for casting his hero as mentally-unstable than the premise of mere exploitation one might expect:
This series came about when I was asked to create a costumed superhero crime fighter. I asked myself why anyone would put on a costume and fight crime. They'd have to be crazy! And so, the idea was born. Badger evolved into a freewheeling satire, with room for serious issues.
Serious issues indeed. While the wacky
novelty of a bonkers vigilante
was enough to carry the title through a few issues, the comic didn't really hit its stride until it began investigating the reasons why
the Badger acted the way he did, prompting T.M. Maple's letter in issue 10 claiming that "a mag that started off as sharp humor tinged by a serious reality is now turning into a series with serious reality tinged by sharp humor." Bruce Wayne aside, the childhood trauma
card wasn't yet par for the superhero-origin course (not for a few years until Clairemont's Uncanny Angst-Men ate up the comic book charts)
- so making the abuse a young Norbert had suffered at the hands of his stepfather a pivotal element to the character's backstory was definitely something comic readers weren't expecting. Despite Baron's pulling this somewhat unpleasant surprise out of nowhere, the comic-consuming public seemed to respond well to this concession to gritty reality - as mentioned before, the first Badger series ran strong for 70 issues and a handful of miniseries (Badger Bedlam, Badger Goes Berzerk, Shattered Mirror, Zen Pop Funny-Animal Version)
through a range of alt-comics publishers (Capital, First, Dark Horse & Image, over the years.)
Like many other heroes and antiheroes of the modern age, Norbert is a Vietnam veteran, the experience as a Special Forces tunnel rat no doubt contributing to his mean wilderness survival skills but also (following imprisonment by the Pathet Lao as a POW) tipping him over the edge into the disassociative identity disorder that has marked his subsequent crimefighting career. Beyond the everyday Norbert Sykes and the animal-talkin', chop-sockey Badger, observed personalities manifested by this character from time to time include the French-accented psychopath Pierre, from the Indochine plantations; Gastineau Grover Depaul, an enlightened coloured brother from the inner city; the cultured architect Max Swell, hinging from urbane playboy to total swish; Emily, a broken nine-year-old girl resigned to accepting what further horrors are meted out to her; and Leroy - the onetime family dog beaten to death with a tire iron by his stepfather, Larry (whose name from then on becomes applied to every creep the Badger exchanges blows with.) From time to time he also falls into complete catatonia, fighting very little crime but occasionally having some adventures in his own terrifying subconscious.
His namesake can be explained away in that Norbert Sykes, like Mike Baron, is from and operates in the state of Wisconsin - his favourite beer is Point - and has chosen to adopt his mantle from the official state animal.
The less said about Clonezone the better. Also, co-creation credits for The Badger are occasionally extended to Jeff Butler, Mark Nelson Feud, and Bill Rienhold Spyke.