TAG TEAM: Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker #7A comic review article by: Nick Hanover, Danny Djeljosevic
Butcher Baker is in his happy place, keeping his mind off the fact that Jihad Jones is beating the crap out of him, while Arnie B. Willard and The Absolutely are fast approaching the scene. Will Butcher survive? More importantly, will he get his mojo back before the issue wraps up? Does a bear shit in the woods?
Nick Hanover: I think we suspected this before, but issue seven of Butcher Baker has proven to me that Joe Casey's mission with this series is to write the perfect American comic book. And I say that because this is the issue that really drives home the American connection between sex, automobiles and violence.
Danny Djeljosevic: Oh, shit yes -- the hyperviolent Butcher Baker has a car engine for a heart and loves to fuck, no matter how crazy neon the comic world gets. Considering that, can we say that Joe Casey's riffing on J.G. Ballard?
Nick: You know, I hadn't even thought of that until you brought it up but you're exactly right-- Butcher Baker is the evolutionary next step to J.G. Ballard's Crash. BB himself would appear to be the spawn of man on car love and his libido is intimately connected to the drive of his engine. The climax of this issue itself displays Baker's own lust for his engine heart, as he gets up again after a savage beating and immediately starts thinking in terms of what's got his literal motor running.
Danny: This has to be the only superhero comic that ends with its protagonist sporting a raging boner. And what is a superhero other than an erection with a cape?
Nick: It's fitting that Butcher's salvation here comes from Arnie B. Willard, a figure who is basically asexual, a cherub-like (check that cover out) force of authority who is as plagued by impotence as Butcher is, but in an entirely different way. Willard's impotence is more subtle, as he's stuck in the middle of a conflict between figures with infinitely more power than him and can only act as a pawn for their various whims. The plot of this issue revolves around the way Butcher is able to turn the influence of the Absolutely on Willard to his advantage, placing Willard squarely between the raging libido that is Butcher and the neutral sexual equality the Absolutely represents, where male and female have come together as one. Butcher brilliantly forces Willard to drive through the Absolutely's mixed up downstairs, a scene that is impeccably rendered by Mike Huddlestone and makes clear Willard's status as a device, his impotency dealt with not through his own action but through his elevation into a sex object with no real control or input into the sex acts he has been thrust into. This is Arnie B. Willard as Butcher Baker's strap-on.
Danny: All this equating of sex and power and talk of male machismo brings to light that, like the average superhero comic these days, there aren't any women to speak of. The only one's we've seen so far get murdered, and the Absolutely is quite literally a chick with a dick. Though she's the most powerful character! What does that say?
Nick: Not to overanalyze here, but the series seems to be predominantly about how the superhero genre can function as a symbol of American adolescent male sexuality in a way that's not too dissimilar to how the automobile can do the same. I'd argue that the lack of female characters is by design, that Casey wanted to present the superhero genre without filter: strip the subject down to its stock stereotypical parts and this is what it might be like.
The Absolutely fits into that idea as a symbol for the mystery of the feminine mystique and as such can only be somewhat understood by making her a literal chick with a dick. Even with that addition, the Absolutely is still a total mystery and her indefinable power symbolizes the threat of female identity. The Absolutely's possession of a penis also functions as a symbol of certain male fans' concern that making comics more open to women will somehow emasculate them, causing women to be a more powerful force that will strip them of their own masculinity.
Danny: Exactly-- this entire comic is a whole big insecure masculinity meets superhero comic tropes gang bang. The most important comic trope, however, is the first-person narration that alternates between Arnie and Butcher Baker. I think the most important moment of this issue is the final page, which is the average modern mainstream comics' "Here's the hero standing all poised, which is a cliffhanger because you know he'll kick ass next issue!" But it's the narration that gives that page depth.
Nick: I loved the way the narration had a collision of its own, as Arnie and Butcher's paths violently crossed through language at the same moment they violently crossed physically. Given that the dialogue in this issue was pretty sparse, the narration also enabled Huddleston to go completely abstract at times.
Danny: Huddleston's art remains off the chain in this book. That panel where the semi crashes through the wall in all neon blues and purples? I wish I had that emblazoned across my wall, with a black light and some hallucinogenic broccoli (I don't like the rubby texture of mushrooms, at least as a foodstuff).
Nick: This is the way comic art should be, with panels that play with the medium as much as or more than the writing, showing off the flexibility of comics, where images don't have to adhere to a set style from page to page or even from panel to panel. The coloring work continues to be a highlight for me, those jumps between Arnie's black and white, dot matrix linearity and Baker's brash, bold splashes of color say so much about their contrast in a way dialogue would never be able to.
Danny: Seriously, dude. The appeal of Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker goes beyond its simple premise. I just tried to explain the book to my friend as "It's about a government stooge superhero who looks like the Comedian, who blows up an entire superjail, then the surviving bad guys go out for revenge. Also, he drives a fucking semi and pisses off a local sheriff." But you gotta open the book and show people what the thing is about.
Nick: It's interesting how well the series works as comic theory and as a straight-up spastic revenge story. Butcher Baker can be a vibrant superhero comic with lots of punching and fucking that can be enjoyed with no brain activity, or it can be something that runs your analytical skills through the gauntlet. Unlike Watchmen, though, it doesn't dwell on its own seriousness and worth. This may be hard for some people to fathom, but at this point I honestly believe that by the time Butcher Baker wraps up, it will be the 21st century upgrade of Watchmen we desperately need.
Danny: And if you listen real hard right now, you can hear Alan Moore, in Northampton, shaving his beard and putting on khakis.
Nick: I don't think it's a coincidence that Jihad Jones and Alan Moore share more than a passing resemblance.
Danny: You just wrote my Master's thesis for me! Now, to apply to grad school...
Nick: "A Fucking Master of Terror: Why Joe Casey is Our Only Hope for Overthrowing the Tyranny of Alan Moore."
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, 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 at @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.
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.