ADVANCE REVIEW! Butcher Baker: The Righteous Maker #2 will come out on April 13, 2011
With Butcher Baker: The Righteous Maker #2, we reveal the pitfalls of reviewing comic books issue by issue. My infamous review of the first issue was most notable for inventing the analytical tool of “unintentionally incomplete paragraph as valid criticism” that all the comics critics are employing these days, but in my review I also freely admitted that I had no idea what the hell I was reading. Having read this second issue, I understand what’s Casey’s up to a little more than I did reading the first. The third will probably be even more illuminating, but ultimately I can only ever fully understand Butcher Baker once I’ve finished reading the entire series. So we’ll all have to live with the limits of the monthly comic book cycle until it crumbles.
If we were just looking at the tropes Casey employs — as if we were reviewing a regular superhero comic book — Butcher Baker isn’t all that original, with its pulled-out-of-retirement hero and its supervillain prison escapee antagonists. But tropes are just one element of the story. It’s in the details that Casey’s making his point.
Take our protagonist, who’s a very clear take on The Comedian. In the modern superhero ethos — one firmly rooted in Watchmen, for better or worse — The Comedian’s the bad guy, the image of the inherent fascism of superheroics gone ugly and real. In Casey’s world — that which is divorced from the limits of Marvel and DC comics — this guy gets to be the hero. Whether this is meant to be a criticism of superhero comics or some kind of attempt to free the shackles of Watchmen from the limbs of Pop Comics remains to be seen.
Casey also gets to have loads of fun with this hero thanks to his lack of duty and superheroic ideals. Butcher Baker — though feeling mildly guilty for blowing up an entire prison — gets to drive a patriotic semi and run cops off the road and then hop into the local Choke N Puke to share the mind-numbing experience of getting wasted with the very cop he tried to vehicularly murder… only to get into the chase scene yet again. Which at first feels tiring, but then Casey wisely interrupts the chase with a real threat to be dealt with next issue.
Speaking of which, we should have expected the Sinister Six-like villains to survive after Butcher Baker blew up the joint in the first issue. While some of them are fairly standard in their concept — ice guy, lightning lady, sumo guy — there are standouts, namely the weirdly messianic Jihad Jones and The Absolutely, a cosmic-type being with the body of a voluptuous woman and a hulking dong hanging down from between its legs. And, because they’re set up as the characters who have been wronged, they prove more interesting than the guy whose name is on the front of the book.
All of this leads me to believe that Joe Casey — who has always been one of the most underrated, subversive voices in comics — is showing what he can do with standard superhero tropes when he doesn’t have to articulate them in terms of characters who have to remain marketable enough to appear in films and on bedsheets. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the set-up of Butcher Baker evolve entirely over the course of the series.
I didn’t talk enough about Mike Huddleston last time, but I’ll rectify that with this issue. Huddleston’s ability to make characters go cartoony — the cop develops sharp teeth and a flailing tongue when he gets really angry — is one of the book’s greatest strengths, along with his penchant for physical comedy — Butcher Baker shoving floozies out of the way or violently/drunkenly patting the cop on the back. Casey’s script was already verbally funny, but Huddleston’s ability to make it visually funny enhances the book beyond whatever meta-experiment Casey’s up to.
Reading Butcher Baker: The Righteous Maker is a bit like reading Morning Glories each month. While the excitement of the latter is finding out what new/crazy secrets are revealed about our characters, with Butcher Baker the excitement is more meta — I’m excited to see where Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston eventually take this series over the long run.