Review by Peter Duncan
May 1984, more than 35 years ago, saw the first appearance of one of the most successful franchises ever to emerge from the comics industry. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles phenomenon began with a comic that its creators, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, intended as a one-off parody of Frank Miller’s Daredevil. Over the next few years, it would spawn numerous comic titles, books, toys, movies and cartoons with, to this day, no end to the bonanza in sight.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles also became the driving force behind a whole slew of black and white titles, of variable quality, spawning a new wave of ‘Funny Animal’, or Anthropomorphic comics that were nothing like the traditional, Disney or Warner Brothers tie-ins. Titles such as Adolescent, Radioactive, Black-Belt Hamsters and Pre-teen, Dirty-Gene, Kung-Fu, Kangaroos took their inspiration from the turtles, some lasting longer than others. While they were often pale imitations of the witty and entertaining work of Eastman and Laird, for a time, ‘Funny Animal’ comics were incredibly popular with mainstream comics fans.
The Turtles were not, of course, the first American Anthropomorphic comic aimed at a more grown-up audience. Marvel’s Howard the Duck, created by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik (1975), the Star*Reach title, Quack by Mike Friedrich and Frank Brunner (1976), Dave Sim’s Cerebus the Aardvark (1977) and Omaha the Cat Dancer by Reed Waller and Kate Worley (1978) had all been, to some extent, successful comics. Indeed, in 1983, the year before the debut of the ‘Heroes in a Half-Shell’, a small-press title, Albedo, began which would, in its second issue, introduce another character who would prove to have comic-book longevity, the Ronin Rabbit, Stan Saki’s Usagi Yojimbo, currently published by IDW.
Steve Sims from Taunton in Somerset is a comic writer and artist who seems to draw his inspiration from both the Turtles and the ‘Ronin Rabbit’. The sixth issue of his Beast Hunting, Battle Badgers, which completes an epic story arc, has just been published – and it’s an absolute delight.
The series tells the tale of two bounty-hunting, Badger brothers, Laird and Flint, in an anthropomorphic fantasy world. The story has built from a light-hearted attempt to steal food in the first issue into a fantasy epic, with many of the usual tropes of the genre.
During its ongoing run, there are magic items, quests and monstrous powers to be faced down. We are told the terrible history of the Badger people, that has left the two brothers as the last of their kind and there is even the mysterious teacher, who takes the boys under his wing, or in this case, shell, as he is, inevitably, a turtle.
That is not to say that there is nothing new to see here. Steve has built a fascinating back story, and the world in which he Badgers live is a dark and mysterious place. The story has a real sense of humour and lightness of touch building, issue by issue, to a satisfying and imaginative climax in this sixth issue.
The Battle Badgers series is a well written, carefully conceived comic that is a great read for fantasy fans of all ages and offers a real chance to enthuse younger comic readers.
But it is the art that really makes it pop. From the first issue, Steve has shown himself to be a great draughtsman and storyteller. His characters are well-designed and beautifully drawn and, while his page layouts in early issues were relatively simple, they were effective at clearly conveying his story.
Issue by issue, however, the reader can see Steve growing as a comics artist, with the appearance of more complex, dramatic layouts and an increasingly skilful use of shading. Action scenes have carried a real dynamism and power from the beginning of the series, but with vestboth exciting and instantly comprehensible.
Beast Hunting, Battle Badgers Issue Six, like the rest of the series, is a beautifully produced, black and white comic. It’s one of a handful of recent UK titles that recall the short glory days of funny animal comics in the mid-eighties, when writers like Steve Gerber and Alan Moore embraced the genre, making it cool for a while among US and UK comic fans.
Along with MULP, from Matt Gibbs and Sara Dunkerton, Battle Badgers is a comic that would have been right up there with the very best of that 1980s short-lived boom, as it is, it’s one of the most professionally produced and most entertaining comic to emerge from the UK indie scene.
I’ve deliberately said very little specifically about the story in Issue Six in this review. If you’ve read the previous five, then, no doubt, you’ll already have this issue. If you haven’t, then you’ve a real treat ahead of you and you’ll be wanting to start from the beginning. Make no mistake, this is quality comics and most certainly, not just for kids – but they will love it too!
All issues of Beast Hunting Battle Badgers are available from Steve Sims’ Etsy shop and you can find more examples of his superb artwork at his Facebook and Twitter pages or on the Beast Hunting Battle Badgers webpage.