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TAG TEAM REVIEW: Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker #4

Posted: Thursday, July 7, 2011
By: Danny Djeljosevic & Nick Hanover

Joe Casey
Mike Huddleston, Rus Wooton (l)
Nick Hanover: So Danny, last time we tried to make sense of Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker, your remark about that fabulous cover for Issue 3 landed you in Image's press release. What do you want to say about the cover for this issue?
Danny Djeljosevic: That semi is fuckin' FURIOUS, man. I have never seen such an angry semi, which really speaks to Mike Huddleston's art.
Nick: Tru dat. That semi truly is screaming sexuality. I half expected this issue to be devoted to Belle's origins.
Danny: Oh my god, Joe Casey should write an entire issue from the truck's perspective. I bet she has a lot to say.

Nick: The things that truck has seen would probably be too much for our mortal brains to handle.
Danny: Funny that the issue with the semitruck on the cover has the least amount of the Liberty Belle in the actual book.

Nick: That cover is a testament to the power of imagery, of how the right symbol on the cover can lure someone in. Notice all the white space, the way the usual credits are pushed to the fringes to make room for Belle's ascent to the heavens. It has fuck-all to do with what's inside in a literal way, but from a thematic sense it's perfectly logical. Issue 4 is focused on Butcher's realization that beating the shit out of people is more sexual to him than any penetrative act. And what better way to replace last issue's actual physical sexual act than with that ultimate symbol of male phallic substitute, the truck. Even the word truck is sexual. It's almost all the way to fuck but with some bonus letters.
Danny: Butcher Baker #4 is pure kinetic superhero comics, all punching asshole supervillains across Times Square.
Nick: It's funny because it begins with a scene from Butcher's past, where he appears to be burned out on punching people and smashing balls.
Danny: That BB can't even cum anymore but gets off on punching people is the perfect take on the weird chastity belt sexuality of mainstream superhero comics, right down to the horny girlfriend getting murdered.
Nick: It's another Watchmen reference in one way, but in another it's a giddy, glorious embrace of the rampant Freudian sexuality that is so often shamefully hidden in comicdom.
Danny: Yeah, I'm just amazed at how standard superhero comic this issue is, but how exciting and high-octane it is, too. Proof that the formula still works to some extent, if you're still enthusiastic about it. That's one thing I really like about Joe Casey as a writer -- he's not tired of superhero comics, he just wants them to be better.
Nick: Casey clearly sees superhero books not as the disease some treat them as but instead like a still promising force that has gone through some rough patches. And what better way to get people interested again than with sex?

Danny: If superhero comics are all about excess, then the sex should be as exaggerated as the violence.

Nick: Casey and Huddleston cram sex into pretty much every panel here and instead of it feeling gratuitous or overbearing it's glorious. The scene where Butcher looks out of the window after he and Sylvia have just had their epic romp was fucking beautiful and full of entendres. At the center of the frame, a skyscraper is broadcasting a woman's naked body, street signs have penises and there's porn theatre marquees everywhere.
 Danny: I love that BB is in like '70s Times Square. All full of porn theatres and scumbags.
Nick: Exactly. Casey appears to be playing with this notion of comic books as prudish affairs, their readers undersexed and incapable of connecting with other humans in any physical way and thus their heroes are the same way. I mean, it's no wonder that one of comicdom's most iconic and enduring characters is Superman, a figure who has prompted endless debates about whether he could even have sex with a woman without killing her
Danny: Casey is most definitely digging up all that psychosexual subtext and make it, um, text.
Nick: I think what makes this issue so interesting, despite the fact that it is constructed around the kind of thing we're all used to with comics, is that it's so blunt.

Danny: It's like a regular superhero comic except the editor of the book didn't give a shit, so Marvel accidentally published a comic where Spider-Man fucks and fights.
Nick: Casey doesn't dance around what he's doing, he glorifies it, putting superhero sex and violence on a platform instead of hiding it in shame and heavy-handed moralizing.

Danny: It's hilarious how, despite all the crazy stylized cartoon violence and sex, Butcher Baker is one of the most human superhero comics.

Nick: That's because, despite what so many comic writers think, real humans have sex and sometimes get into violent situations. I did think Sylvia's death was a little disappointing, though.
Danny: Yeah, she was really promising as a character, especially as the only other superhero we've met so far, but I think Casey did that on purpose, because a regular superhero comic would do that to a female character.
Nick: It just felt like Casey suddenly saw her as a distraction from Butcher and felt the need to ice her. Although maybe you're on to something there, especially since she was killed in a way that brings to mind the infamous Women in Refrigerators trope.
Danny: As the girlfriend in a superhero comic as we know them, she was doomed from the start. I don't know much of Casey's work and gender issues (he did give us the reptilian mutant hooker Stacy X in Uncanny), but he has to be aware of it.
Nick: I'm sure he's aware of it and he seems like the kind of guy who would turn a plot point like that into a message. The fact that she was frozen and broken apart makes it even more appetizing to make that leap in critical pairing there.

Danny: For a superhero, she dies in the most undignified way.
Nick: It's weird though, because her conversation with Butcher made it seem like she was even more powerful than him.
Danny: She implies for one thing, that she doesn't age.

Nick: Right, and he says that as a superhero she was in a class all her own. Who knows, maybe we're going to get a statement on comic resurrections from Casey too. And then we have this business with the best buddy cop partnering ever.
Danny: Arnie B. Willard and the Absolutely. What a great pairing of polar opposites.
Nick: I fucking love the way Arnie is in black and white with dot matrixes and the Absolutely is all epic colors and shimmery inking
Danny: That's such clever coloring. I also love how the color sections are so colorful that they make up for the black and white bits.
Nick: The coloring in this series in general has been brilliant. It reminds me of the palette work in Casanova, which I know you love to talk about.

Danny: Yeah, except in this case there's no possible way you could write it off as "black and white."
Nick: Black and white and fucking explosive, maybe
Danny: Black and white and LSD orgasm.
Nick: The coloring in this series is like a character itself, with its own moods and intentions.
Danny: Exactly. If there were ever a case for how much of a contribution the art team makes to the story of a comic, it's this.

Nick: Butcher Baker is like a huge PSA about how comics do not just equal the writer and penciller. Though in this case Huddleston is doing his own coloring so, uh, there goes that. But, dammit, you know what I mean.

Danny: Superhero comics are often made in an assembly line fashion, sometimes strictly for paychecks, so it's amazing to see what happens when the artist cares about the story as much as the writer.

Nick: It helps that Huddleston is having as much fun deconstructing funnybooks as Casey is.

Danny: Which is the best part of indie comics. Most of the time, everyone involved is really into what they're doing. You kinda gotta be if nobody's really paying you for it.

Nick: But what do we know? We're just jerks with an anti-DC bent. Did you read the "For Which It Stands" backmatter this ish?

Danny: Indeed I did! I loved that section about the disposability of comic books.

Nick: "For Which It Stands" is the kind of thing comics creators should be doing more of for that very reason. Casey's ideas on what comics mean through their economics are fascinating, pinpointing a kind of paradox that other mediums don't really have.

Danny: Yeah, back in the day comics were something you could just throw away when you were done. Or mom would toss them out because it was old shitty paper.
Nick: Like we mentioned before, so much of the fun of Butcher Baker is the way embraces all aspects of super heroics and part of that is the cheap thrill of the medium.

Danny: I'm almost positive the monthly issue-to-issue method is the best way to read this thing. I feel like Butcher Baker should be the last serialized superhero comic. Once this is done, comics as we know them are over.

Nick: Butcher Bakerdoes have a certain finality to it, like we're getting a glimpse at the end of time itself in some ways. I'm not sure "For Which It Stands" will make it to the trades, though I seriously hope it does.
Danny: Backmatter is historically stuff to entice readers to pick up the books monthly. Once it's collected, the essays will disappear.
Nick: I know that's historically true about backmatter, but I could see Casey demanding this stay with the collections. In my head these essays are so tied to the issues themselves that I feel like you'd only be getting a portion of the picture without them. It'd be like a massive nonfiction work without the footnotes, I guess.

Danny: Yeah, you sacrifice a whole lot of meta stuff for the sake of reading a complete story.
Nick: Plus, you miss out on Casey's thoughts on Neal Adams. I also think Butcher Baker is a series that would benefit from social reading. I know we kind of have to do this every time a new issue comes out now but really people, force your friends to read this, start a Butcher Baker book club, do whatever it takes to read this with others because you get so much more out of it
Danny: Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker should bring us all together, no matter how horny it makes us.
Nick: Read Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker, it makes you horny. Best smash 'em up sexathon since that time Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian threw an orgy on the battlefields of Vietnam.

When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon.

Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book writer, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter as @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his newest comic, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics.

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