Norbert Sykes – known in some circles as The Badger and in other, slightly more stylish circles, as just Badger – is one of Wisconsin’s few homegrown comic book heroes. And he’s real messed up.
In 1983, Mike Baron published the first Badger comic, following Norbert, a Vietnam vet with multiple personalities and an enviable head of blond hair. Norbert’s two biggest concerns are abused animals and hellspawn demons. Living in Wisconsin, he encounters plenty of both.
But before we get into that, let’s go back to the origins of Wisconsin’s young hero, in sunny Madison, where little Norbert lives with his mother and stepfather Rollin.
Does Norbert get bitten by a radioactive Badger and develop powers? Or maybe a familial tragedy spur him to crime-fight? Or perhaps he turns out be an alien being with godly powers?
Nope. His stepdad just beats and abuses him a lot. To escape the torment, he joins the army before he’s 18 and goes to Vietnam. While fighting in the jungles, he is captured and tortured for years.
In the delirium of his tortured existence, he hears the voice of “the God of the Badger,” a divine being that tells Norbert his purpose is to be an instrument of justice in the world.
Subsequently, a bunch of personalities develop in his head. There’s Badger, the wild-haired vigilante who growls at people and can talk to animals. There’s Pierre, a murderous Frenchman. Emily, a traumatized 9-year-old girl (don’t forget that this superhero origin story begins with Norbert being brutally beaten as a small child). Also Leroy, a dog. There’s more, including some that would likely be deemed offensive stereotypes if released today – such as Gastineau Grover Depaul, a black man from the south side of Chicago, and Max Swell, a flamboyant gay man
After Norbert is freed from the POW camp by U.S. forces, he returns to Wisconsin and is quickly locked in a mental institution. At this point, the reasons why are probably self-explanatory.
So in that mental institution, it turns out that the fella in the cell next to Norbert is a guy named Hammaglystwythkbrngxxaxolotl (his friends call him Ham), who happens to a 5th-century Celtic Druid. Ham is a weather wizard and agrees to take Norbert on as a bodyguard and let him stay in his castle. Daisy Fields, a psychologist who works at the institution, helps them secure release and Norbert movies in with Ham.
From that day on, Norbert takes on the mantle of a superhero, his multiple personalities bursting forth to help him in battle. Daisy joins up as Ham’s personal secretary, which seems like a bit of a step down from resident psychologist at a mental institution, but … I dunno … it was the ’80s.
Did I mention that Badger sometimes talks to ghost celebrities like John Wayne and Bruce Lee? Because he does.
Ok, and so Badger starts whooping the collective asses of people who hurt animals, corporations that pollute, etc. All while barking. If at any point, you forget that he’s in Wisconsin, he’ll remind you by drinking an absolute buttload of beer. And he calls everyone “Larry” at first. As in, he’ll walk up to some scumbags poaching geese and say, “Hey, Larry!” before taking them to justice-town.
It’s a decent enough life for ol’ Norbert, who continues to seek justice for the animals while protecting his good buddy Ham. There are several encounters and battles with demons, as well, the details of which are far too complicated to handle here, but suffice it to say that Badger is a Grade A wild man and vigilante par excellence who takes care of all manner of evil.
He’s a badass with biceps of steel.
But what about his lonely heart?
Badger attends a martial arts tournament held every 100 years, and one of the competitors is a Vietnamese veterinarian – Mavis Davis – who gets straight up murked during the tournament. Badger’s real sad about that, because he was getting a little bit touchy-feely about this new Mavis lady he was hanging out with. So in retaliation, he kills the guy who killed her, who I’m pretty sure was a bad dude, so don’t worry about it. And then, by killing that guy, he wins the whole tournament. And guess what the prize is? One wish for anything you want. And guess what he wants? Mavis Davis to be alive again. Hoorah, Mavis rises from the grave. And then he marries her, which is pretty rad.
Bet you didn’t expect Norbert to end up in a loving marriage, but hey, I guess there really is someone for everyone.
Badger stopped being printed in the early ’90s, came back for a few limited runs, and then, in a real twist, got a reprint in 2007 from IDW Publishing. The reprint added even more meat to Badger’s already seriously tenderized backstory.
Remember how Norbert always calls people (particularly scumbags and criminals) “Larry.” Turns out Larry is the name of the father who abandoned Norbert when he was an infant, leaving him to be brutalized by Rollin. So for Norbert, each dirty criminal Badger beats down is the father who didn’t want him.
And with that emotional twist, the tale of Badger, Wisconsin’s own comic book superhero, reaches … the end?