Just a few short months after their previous project together came to a close, Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins return with a new story. At first glance, Black Badge #1 (Boom! Studios) has more in common with Lumberjanes than Grass Kings, opening with a handful of boys traveling together as part of a scouting group. Solicits and the back cover of the book itself give some indication that this is not a carefree story of friendship and exploration, though, and halfway through the issue it becomes clear just how dark things can get for the characters of Black Badge.
Like Grass Kings, Kindt and Jenkins are credited as co-creators (Kindt providing the script, Jenkins the art), with Hilary Jenkins on coloring and Jim Campbell on lettering. The team’s reunion lends a sense of creative continuity and comfort, even if the project is a new one. Grass Kings was an excellent if sometimes understated comic, emotional and intimate. In the first issue, Black Badge hints at some of the same strengths. It follows four young men into danger, though it isn’t clear at first why they’ve crossed into territory that poses a threat to their safety. What becomes clear only when they’ve disappeared into the forest is that these kids—just on the cusp of adulthood—have been sent to do something by adults who are taking advantage of their assumed innocence to infiltrate and go behind enemy lines.
Jenkins’ linework is excellent, sketchy and sharp, but there’s a lot more detail in Black Badge than there was in Grass Kings, as well as less white space for the imagination to fill in. The colors are more saturated, too, lending the issue a sense of crowded urgency in comparison to the other title. It’s bright and packed with things to look at, leaning away from the physical and emotional isolation that much of Grass Kings relied on, which is fitting since these four young men are stuck in tight proximity to each other. There are several pages where Jenkins draws a lot of panels filled with facial expressions, particularly for the group’s newest member, Willy. Willy’s discomfort with where they are and what they’re doing ramps up quickly and stays high right up to the end, his tight and flustered body language in contrast to the acceptance and relaxation of the three more veteran boys.
Besides a brief reference to Kindt’s Mind MGMT book, Black Badge appears to exist entirely on its own. Kindt makes clear just how young these characters are, despite their blasé attitude toward what they’re doing. Wisely, there’s no attempt at imitating jargon or lingo that teenagers might use, which keeps the book from feeling immediately dated. With the exception of a single piece of technology, the book could be set any time in the last 50 years without too much suspension of disbelief.
The story—and the boys’ mission—reveals itself slowly over the course of the issue, paced beautifully to draw readers from one page to the next. Like a lot of books about young people who are being used and manipulated by adults, there are hints of discontent, small indications of the rebellion already growing inside them. This isn’t an entirely unfamiliar theme, but Kindt’s perspective and his skill at telling stories that peel back layers of history and emotion give a sense of seriousness and impact. One character’s observation strikes the tone perfectly: “This world needs fixing, and it sure as heck ain’t the adults who are gonna fix it.” It’s easy to trust that this creative team are going to tell a story worthy of that kind of statement, and that it will be beautiful to boot.