JOE CASEY: THE NEW HUNTER S. THOMPSON?
Morgan Davis: So I mentioned to you earlier that I felt Butcher Baker was basically what Big Trouble in Little China would be like with The Comedian as its protagonist, but issue three takes a pretty dark detour that may derail that theory of mine.
Danny Djeljosevic: My touchstone for Butcher Baker is All-Star Batman and Robin, where Batman recklessly drives Dick Grayson in the Batmobile for like three issues. Instead, in this case it's Butcher Baker driving a big fucking star-spangled truck for three issues, much to the chagrin of the sheriff, who reminds me of J.W. Pepper from the Roger Moore-era James Bond films.
Morgan: Arnie B. Willard is probably my favorite character in this book. There's something very Wile E. Coyote about him, which is fitting given Casey's almost Looney Tunes-like devotion to slapstick. Do you read the For Which It Stands section Casey puts at the end of each issue?
Danny: I didn't read them in the first two issues because Image's digital review copies didn't include them, but I picked up the second printings the other day and blew through the backmatter.
Morgan: That point Casey went on about in issue two's For Which It Stands about the Commitment of Art really clarified for me some of Casey's intention here because like you pointed out, we've basically had three issues of Butcher driving around in a gigantic Jack Burton-like rig. It dawned on me that Joe Casey has turned into the Hunter S. Thompson of comic writers, and this is his Fear and Loathing, a madcap road trip that happens to have detours into death and destruction and insanity.
Danny: Joe Casey is a treasure, because these days he can afford to not give a shit. He makes his good money from Ben 10 -- what does he care what Tom Brevoort and Dan DiDio think of him? So, he can pretty much say what he wants.
Morgan: Yeah, his self-interview last issue basically confirmed that. It reminded me of a more Gonzo version of the self-interview Dwight did on The Office last week.
Danny: His self-interview in Butcher Baker #2 will go down as a comics cult classic. Something about Joe Casey trying to look at his own work and just calling himself a dickhead just really speaks to the futility of trying to figure out your own work.
Morgan: Especially with a work like Butcher Baker, which seems to come from such a pure, unfiltered area of the subconscious. Trying to figure it out for yourself would just be maddening. I mean, there's a story and all, but that story seems to exist mainly in order for Casey to go crazy with elements of what he loves about comics.
STOP WATCHING THE WATCHMEN
Danny: Casey's always had an underlying meta-comic ethos to his comics work, and Butcher Baker on a surface level feels like id out of control -- Joe Casey's weird Watchmen fetish out of control with the Comedian driving a semi as fast as he can.
The basic framework, however, is classic comics -- you gave the flag-clad hero being called in to deal with the villains in a superjail, and of course the superprisoners want revenge. It's all the parts of a Brian Bendis comic, but somehow reconfigured in a way that separates it from a Marvel comic.
Morgan: Exactly. You've got the villains forced to team up and already at each other's throats, you've got the bizarre space being who also happens to resemble Dr. Manhattan and then you've got the common man driven to a potential dark side because of how our hero has messed up his life.
Danny: Joe Casey is one of the few comickers who openly utilizes Watchmen iconography. you have Brad Meltzer throwing in rape into a Justice League comic, but Casey's books like The Intimates, Automatic Kafka and Butcher Baker all use dialogue and character lookalikes from Moore/Gibbons in a way that comes off as brave where other creators just kind of borrow from that text. The closest thing we had in mainstream comics is Grant Morrison's ersatz Dr. Manhattan in Final Crisis. It's like everybody else is afraid of openly taking from Watchmen.
Morgan: Like Thompson, Casey isn't just willing to take on big icons like that, he's hellbent on dismantling them and fitting them into a new context.
Danny: Watchmen is strangely taboo in the mainstream comics world.
Morgan: I think it's taboo because it's regarded as the first time anyone took super hero comics seriously.
Danny: Like, it's regarded so highly that mainstream writers are afraid to engage with it, whereas Casey for the last 10 years (jesus) has been openly saying, "Look, I've read this book and will readily reference it when possible." For all its belovedness, it's an elephant in the room, and by making his main character a Comedian-type character, Casey makes the reader uncomfortable, in some ways. Because, let's be real, Watchmen is a holy text in the comics world. Even though, being a work of art, it shouldn't be.
Morgan: It's therapeutic, though -- by taking Watchmen down a notch, he makes it clear that it's still entertainment.
Danny: Yeah, I'm all about taking Watchmen down a notch. To me, Watchmen is like a book written by your dad. Alan Moore may be the most ambitious writer in comics, but we can only surpass Watchmen if we engage with it. If we put it on a pedestal, we can only see ourselves beneath it. There's no room for innovation.
MIKE HUDDLESTON: THE NEW JOHN BYRNE*?
Morgan: It helps that Casey is partnered with Mike Huddleston, whose style is so much more kinetic than Gibbons'. Huddleston makes this book feel incredibly modern -- Casey may be looking back, and Gibbons himself was looking back, but Huddleston is all about the future.
Danny: Huddleston's style is amazingly animated. I could imagine Casey seeing his art and thinking, "Yeah, I could do a four-issue semi chase with this guy." But do you really think Casey is looking back?
Morgan: I meant looking back in terms of influences. Casey is refreshingly upfront about what he's channeling. Huddleston's visual style in contrast is devoid of that. Obviously I'm sure he's influenced by other artists but he doesn't make a point of signaling it the way Casey does. Which isn't to say Casey isn't forward-thinking, but he has a clear talent for wrenching things out of comic history, like The Comedian, and turning them on their heads while but Huddleston just barrels forward, like Liberty Belle herself.
Danny: I love the idea of an artist almost keeping the writer in check -- not in John Byrne's open disdain for Chris Claremont, but more a type of recontextualizing like Huddleston does.
Morgan: Can you imagine if this book had been drawn by someone like John Byrne?
Danny: OH GOD
Morgan: He'd read the script and just have a heart attack from rage.
Danny: If we're talking art alone, a generic superhero artist would probably ruin this. But I find it hard to divorce John Byrne from his repugnant, well-documented dickery, so he'd probably read through this script and deem it a heinous abortion onto man (notice the in-character gender bias). As it is, Butcher Baker is forward thrust, like the big dick metaphor of the semi. Even the cover has White Lightning literally skull fucking Butcher Baker, with his horseshoe mustache curiously remaining on his bony remains.
THE PART WHERE WE WENT ALL META UP IN THIS PIECE
Morgan: I find it interesting the way that Casey's Dr. Manhattan analogue here is still removed from humanity, but instead of being neutral it instead almost enjoys toying with humans like they were ants under a magnifying glass.
Danny: It's a very humanized version of Dr. Manhattan -- instead of Moore's science petri dish version, Casey's take is very... mythological, where the gods were always up to fucking and fighting, more concerned with showing up haughty humans like Echo and Narcissus than running a universe.
Morgan: The part at the end where The Absolutely gives Arnie a second chance struck as me as very Greek myth. The Greek Gods would do that shit all the time, antagonizing each other with humans they'd either accidentally created or purposefully empowered.
Danny: It's a shame that Arnie's not learned, or he'd know not to trust the empowerment.
Morgan: Do you think Arnie would care even if he realized that?
Danny: Considering his personality, probably not -- he just wants to bring the flag-truck to justice.
Morgan: There's probably a message about fanboyism there. He's an old guy who has an inflexible notion of justice chasing down some crude, crass hero who doesn't give a fuck about ideals or morality. He's more or less chasing down the entire "grim and gritty" era.
Danny: The old school fanboy versus the misbegotten "grim and gritty" period... while the supervillains signify some modern era?
Morgan: Judging by that scene at Butcher's HQ, those villains probably represent the Identity Crisis rape era.
Danny: That sounds more accurate, actually. The Hindu Lotus Jesus type raping corpses and wearing a tutu -- it really speaks to the inappropriateness of something like Identity Crisis, which I always dismiss as "The one where Superman solves a rape."
Morgan: More seriously, I think the villains symbolize the way the intentions of the "grim and gritty" era failed. Butcher as the "grim and gritty" era was trying to eradicate the evilness of comics not being taken seriously. But instead of accomplishing that, they unleashed this whole nasty wave of Missing the Point, in effect knocking comics back even more with their inability to be subtle or mature, rather than just Rated Mature.
Danny: The laptop in the room is a dead giveaway -- this ridiculously dressed villain using something as real-world utilitarian as a laptop.
Morgan: That fits into that idea of the post-grim era being the "Missing the Point" era. Identity Crisis tried to be "real" and "serious" but it instead came off as buffoonish.
Danny: The art of the Butcher Baker scenes and the supervillains scenes seem to be signaling something as well -- what does it mean that the big phallic semitruck scenes are mostly colorless while the supervillain scenes in this issue are in glowing blues and pinks?
Morgan: I love the use of color in this book. It's both novel and practical, as well as a stunning example of what coloring can do for a comic, but I think that color difference that you've pointed out ties into your idea about the villains representing modern comics. Their sections are very smooth and impeccable, Butcher's are chaotic and stark, utilizing bold, character-specific palettes over fluid expressionist washes.
Danny: I just can't keep from thinking of Casanova, since Casey and Fraction had a collabo column back in the mid '00s. Fraction's book was widely considered a black and white comic even though it was black and white and green (or, later, black and white and blue). Conversely, Butcher Baker is a mix of colorless panels and eye-fucking Wong Kar Wai neon Hong Kong-at-night colors. You could never describe it as "black and white."
FUCKABLE BAD GUYS
Morgan: Given how self-reflective the villains have been, debating whether this whole debacle is "just revenge" or not, do you think this series is going to wrap up in a similar "the bad guys win" style as Watchmen?
Danny: The real point of interest for me will be what Casey ends up doing with Butcher Baker. To further tie the colors and the villains together, the last Butcher Baker scene has the strangely colored character -- the one whose electric blue colors are more subtle than the truck's primary red and blue -- getting killed, followed by our hero expressing a bit of regret as he cradles the corpse. It's like he doesn't want to be in the simplistically colored comic he's in, where he can beat the bad guys because they're bad.
Morgan: Honestly, that moment kind of baffled me, but I like how you've read it. I was taken aback by Butcher's sudden interest and sympathy in the path that led to White Lightning's villainy. Especially since he'd just been talking about whether or not he would want to fuck her.
Danny: It's an idea superhero comics play with a lot -- the fuckable supervillain. Catwoman is a prime example. Elektra is the other. Even Magneto, who is on some level attractive (at least philosophically?) enough he's been welcomed into the X-School on multiple occasions.
Morgan: True, but Batman doesn't normally kill Catwoman after lusting after her.
Danny: It's more Hollywood to freely murder that which you want to have sex with. James Bond had no trouble shooting Sophie Marceau like five times, even though a real human being might.
Morgan: The difference is that Bond doesn't get all mopey about it afterwards. Probably because he is a psychopath.
Danny: Is Butcher Baker more human, then? He was noticeably displeased when he blew up the superjail.
Morgan: Surprisingly, yes. It wouldn't surprise me if Casey takes this story in a direction where the real victory the villains have over Baker is making him care.
Danny: Holy shit, that would be a great angle on defeating a superhero. Way more impactful than space-raping his girlfriend.
Danny: On a related note, what do you think of the backmatter? We touched on it at first, but I think we could get into it more.
Morgan: I love it. I wish more creators did this, though I should point out it's becoming pretty common at Image.
Danny: It's great, especially with Casey, whose only exposure we get these days is through frank interviews with Timothy Callahan.
Morgan: Carbon Grey has a similar thing, it's just that in that case it confirms all of my worst fears about the book rather than expanding my interest. I would totally read a column where Casey interviews himself every day, by the way.
Danny: My favorite backmatter is in the original issues of Casanova (surprise!) where Fraction openly admits his insecurities and whatever's going on with his life that he turns into an elaborate metaphor in a spy-comic. It's a great way to market to process-geeks, who want to know what's going through the creator's head, considering it won't be in the trade. Criminal did a similar thing, except Ed Brubaker got all his buddies to write about amazing crime flicks. Then in Incognito he got Jess Nevins to write about comicky pulp characters.
Morgan: And here we are, with Casey resurrecting and mutating a piece of comicdom from ages ago. I think the difference between that example with what Casey is doing and what others have done is that Casey's backmatter is as gonzo as what's in the panels. Other creators step in and out of the creative voice, Casey never seems to leave it
Danny: Something like Criminal and Incognito begs a certain amount of contextualizing, while Butcher Baker seems to be about Joe Casey overdrive, and in the backmatter he puts into words what he can't put into panels.
Morgan: I don't know, Huddleston seems to put a lot of Nyquil into some of those panels. I'm certain that is, in fact, precisely where White Lightning's color came from.
Danny: Butcher Baker: The Righteous Maker is precisely the color of drugs.
Morgan: Butcher Baker: The Righteous Maker is drugs.
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