The Graphic Novel Equivalent of a Trench Coat: Butcher Baker's HypermasculinityA column article by: Dylan Garsee
Dylan Garsee is the co-host of Paranoid Video and a regular contributor to the film and tv section of Comics Bulletin. But he has been vocal about his lack of experience with comics since he started with the site, which is why he allowed himself to be submitted to an experiment at the hands of Comics Bulletin's Co-Managing Editor Nick Hanover. Nick has created a list of graphic novels for Dylan to read and report back on, offering his unique perspective as a newcomer to the medium eager to receive a Panel Education.
Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker
Writer: Joe Casey Artist: Mike Huddleston
I'm writing this on the day DOMA was stuck down, which is fitting considering the opening page of Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker is an incredibly detailed body shot of what we homos like to call a "beautiful ass muscle bear in an American flag speedo." While She Hulk: Single Green Female, the last comic trade I read (but I have read two individual comic series in the time since, what!) brought up issues of identity and femininity, BB very early on establishes a sense of self-confidence and masculinity so strong that I was unable to ever read this book on the bus.
Me and testosterone don't mix very well, as I am very soft and feeble, like a bloated white Urkel made from paper. The one time I tried lifting weights, I got really angry and chased an old woman on my bike for a few miles because she honked at me. So naturally, the next book I'm assigned to by the Comics Bulletin gods would be chock full of hyper-masculine imagery and overt sexuality. Now, I read mostly on the bus because that's where I spend the bulk of my days. However, from the constant panels of over the top sex and violence and Dick Cheney and Jay Leno using penis door knockers, I was unable to read this book without feeling like John Waters' mustache. It's the graphic novel equivalent of a trench coat.
A sort of psychedelic deconstruction of noir and superhero comics, Butcher Baker sees the titular character-- a towering, muscular, fu-manchu'd wall of a man with a thick layer of machismo and hair-- go for one last mission after retiring to a mansion filled with scantily clad women that exist only to fellate him. Packing a massive arsenal and an American flag-painted 18-wheeler, Butcher Baker hits the road to vanquish a group of super villains by order of Dick Cheney and Jay Leno.
This sort of deconstruction of the superhero comic has been done (from what I've been told about Deadpool) and I don't know how many more meta-pop cultural artifacts I can take. There is no full on winking in the pages in Butcher Baker, but the sort of hyper-masculine, bacon-eating, 'Murica, Ron Swanson attitude that has taken over the popular conscience along with the simplistic to almost the point of parody story makes Butcher Baker, to me at least, lazy. Which I hate saying because the book is beyond beautiful. A mixture of over the top, caricature-esque character drawings and vivid coloring, every panel is fabulous in all its over the top violence and gratuitous sexuality.
But I was never able to connect to any of the characters or the story, aside from the nebbish sheriff turned arch nemesis of Butcher Baker. And the multigendered floating space god/dess got away with being blank and cold due to how that character was drawn. All of the villains on the other had, including Blue Devendra Banhart, could have been cardboard cutouts. And because of Butcher Baker's badassery and never failing-ness, they might as well have been cardboard cutouts.
In my world of television, we have been dealing with a masculinity crisis for sometime. Don Draper is constantly having not only his masculinity, but his whole identity questioned. See: the flood of failed sitcoms from last year that all put men down a few notches, like How To Be A Gentleman, Work It!, and Guys With Kids (the latter two will probably be taught in gender studies classes for years to come, though, due to their hilarious misguided-ness). While I'm not defending this masculinity crisis in media, it is worth pointing out that the loss of masculinity is just as boring as hypermasculinity.
Take Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation or Dr Cox from Scrubs. Both strong, fatherly, no-nonsense taking hard asses. Yet they are most interesting at their most vulnerable. Swanson's relationship with Diane and her daughters really humanized that character into someone with layers, something he really needed. The same with Dr Cox on Scrubs. Now, I have talked about my disdain with that series on Paranoid Video before (I think), and most of my issues came from his character. Him being always right really took away from his character, who was a truly interesting person when they treated him as such. The episode when three of his patients die back to back to back really gave him depth and was, I think, very clearly the best part of that deeply troubled series.
They toy with this in Butcher Baker, when his one step above fuck buddy is maliciously shattered (she's made of lightning, and is thrown into water. Duh.). And for a minute, Butcher Baker is a person. That's why I can never get into super heroes. Gods aren't interesting. They have no depth. And as beautiful as this story was, it felt like drowning in a kiddie pool.
Next month-- We dial things back a bit and give Dylan a softer experience with Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá's Vertigo series Daytripper, a beautiful exploration of mortality and getting the most out of life that has more in common with works of magical realism than Ron Swanson's moustache. Plus, he can read it on the bus.
Dylan Garsee is a freelance writer/bingo enthusiast currently living in Austin, TX. He is studying sociology, and when he's not winning trivia nights at pork-themed restaurants, writing a collection of essays on the gay perspective in geek culture. An avid record collector, Dylan can mostly be seen at Waterloo Records, holding that one God Speed You! Black Emperor record he can't afford and crying. You can follow him on twitter@garseed.