Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Writer: Matt Kindt
Artwork: Tyler Jenkins
Colours: Hilary Jenkins
Lettering: Jim Campbell
Release Date: 22nd May 2019
Hot on the heels of their success with the 2018 Eisner Award-nominated Grass Kings, Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins have reunited again for a series set in the shady world of the (hopefully fictional) black ops wing of the Boy Scouts. Yes, you heard me right. And for all you trade-waiters out there, the hardcover collection of the first five-issue arc went on sale last month, and it’s every bit as great as its million dollar premise would suggest.
The first issue introduces us to our four “Black Badges” as, under the disguise of youthful innocence, they venture into North Korea for a bit of tactical espionage. As you do. Nobody suspects a group of lost kids on a school trip, right? We have Kenny, the always-prepared leader of the ground; Mitz, the archery expert with the intriguing secret; Cliff, the brains and muscle of the group, who speaks softly and carries a (literal) big stick; and new recruit Willy, who has earned every badge available to the real boy scouts, but who is still a little wide-eyed and innocent about the whole international espionage thing.
The remainder of the volume sees the group moving from mission from mission, carrying out their orders while surreptitiously trying to uncover the mystery of their missing (presumed dead) teammate Jimmy. Kindt makes every word of dialogue work for him, keeping the conversations brief while still managing to give us just enough information about the characters and the world they inhabit. There are a lot of shady conspiracies and ‘trust no-one’ twists and turns here, which Kindt handles with the same level of confidence and intrigue as his work on Dark Horse’s stellar Mind MGMT.
I made a personal vow back in 2015, right around the time the first issue of BOOM’s Snow Blind went on sale, that I was going to buy anything I could find that was illustrated by Canadian artist Tyler Jenkins. And he certainly doesn’t disappoint here, utilising his impressively minimalist style to inject the book with a striking aesthetic which is literally like nothing else on the shelves today.
Ably assisted by the stunning gouache colouring of his wife Hilary, the pair capture the wildness of the story and the distinctive looks and body types of the four Black Badges. They also do a great job of conveying a tremendous amount of expression, emotion and humour with what appears, at first glance, to be a fairly straightforward style.
The final pages see the Black Badges, following some less-than-satisfactory mission reports, being forced to compete in the Hunger Games-esque “Rainbow Jamboree”, with Kindt and Jenkins expanding the scope of the series immeasurably by introducing three other colours of “badge” into the fray. We have the Blue Badges (high-level data analysts and the most intelligent of all the badges), the Pink Badges (the all-female scout troup) and the fairly menacing White Badges (the manipulative psi-ops branch of the organisation). It’s all fantastic stuff, and fleshes things out immeasurably over the course of just a couple of pages.
As great as it is, my only minor criticism of this first volume is the fact that is ends, not with a tense cliffhanger or dramatic reveal, but with the Black Badges simply turning in for the night ahead of the Jamboree. While there’s certainly still a level of anticipation for the carnage that’s likely to follow, it does feel like a bit of an underwhelming finish – for my tastes, at least – to a sizzling first arc.
That minor criticism aside, this is a truly fantastic opening salvo for a series that blends humour, camaraderie and tense espionage into a thoroughly enjoyable package. Plus, having already read the next five issues of the series (trade-waiting be damned!), I can happily confirm that things only get more and more exciting as this story unfolds. Highly, highly recommended.
If you want to find out more about BLACK BADGE, check out our interview with Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins by CLICKING HERE.