Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker #s 1 & 2
Writer: Joe Casey
Artist/Colors: Mike Huddleston
Letters: Rus Wooton
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US
So I was at the local comic shop a couple of weeks ago, and I asked a couple of friends if they’d read Butcher Baker. The manager said he hadn’t and asked what it was like. “I dunno,” I said. “It’s either trash or sheer genius.” Another friend who was helping the manager organize some comics piped up, “It’s trashy genius.” I think he hit the mark… at least when it comes to the first issue. That opening chapter of Butcher Baker was without a doubt misogynist, gratuitous and crude. Nevertheless, I can’t help but admit that it’s entertaining, biting in its commentary and bombastic in its approach to satire. Joe Casey’s plot, premise and script are bound to polarize comics readers, but there’s no denying the power of the personality that he’s poured into them. Fortunately, the second issue doesn’t revel so much in the gratuitous elements and instead offers a more intelligent script, fun character concepts and more hilarity.
America’s greatest super-hero, Butcher Baker, has been retired for years now, and he’s been enjoying his downtime with a gusto that would make Larry Flynt blush. But a retired political powerhouse and a resurrected pop-culture icon seek out the macho man-mountain to recruit him for one final mission, and it’s one that appeals to the oversexed, uber-aggressive warrior. Over the years, he locked up a lot of superhuman psychos, and he welcomes the chance to tie off some loose threads. Unbeknownst to him, he ends up tugging at those threads as well as adding to his unravelling tapestry in the form of an enraged rural lawman who’s sworn revenge on the Righteous Maker for messing with him on America’s highways and biways.
Artist Mike Huddleston’s no newcomer when it comes to comics storytelling, but his work on this project is quite different than what we’ve seen from him in the past. There’s a strong Gabriel Ba/Fabio Moon riff at play here that’s bound to find an audience, given the rising popularity of such an exaggerated approach. Huddleston’s designs are striking. He’s clearly incorporating a lot of cheesy, 1970s macho elements into Butcher Baker’s look; I think we’re clearly meant to be reminded of Burt Reynolds (not to mention that famous — or infamous — Playgirl centerfold photo). The 1970s icons keep popping up, such as the sheriff character, which is clearly inspired by Jackie Gleason’s character from Smokey and the Bandit — will the Burt references never cease?!? I have to admit, though, when it comes to character designs, I was much more impressed with what Huddleston had to offer with the villains introduced in the second issue.
Huddleston’s energetic linework is a lot of fun, but honestly, I think I was more impressed with the colors he brought to this series. In the first issue, the opening pages boast a thoroughly surreal tone, thanks to the mind-bending colors that Huddleston employs. He also employs a technique that makes the paper quality look different in key scenes. Those flowing, psychedelic also come back in the second issue with the depiction of an ethereal villain named the Absolutely. Her cosmic yet voluptuous look is quite striking, especially in contrast with the rake-thin, stark look of Jihad Jones (love that villain name). I also enjoyed how Huddleston keeps adjusting his style depending on the tone of the scene. The over-the-top highway clashes between Butcher Baker and the sheriff look much different, for example, than the more detailed, moody look of the scenes in which the villains discuss their circumstances.
Joe Casey both celebrates and satirizes the machismo icons of the 1970s in this book. In the first issue, Butcher Baker’s pretty one-dimensional, driven by baser instincts, but over the course of the second issue, he becomes more reflective of what’s going on around him. While the first issue features a lot of gratuitous hedonism, ultimately, the writer points out that such unrelenting revelry isn’t fulfilling at all. Mind you, he doesn’t dwell on the personal growth or introspection. This isn’t an ABC Afterschool Special, after all.
Joe Casey is a member of the creative outfit known as Man of Action Studios, a collaborative effort that has proven to be quite successful and lucrative for a quartet of men with a background in the comics medium. They’ve successfully turned their creative energies to TV and are best known for the various Ben 10 TV shows and Generator Rex. That’s why I was surprised to see the Man of Action brand on this comic book (even if it’s just on the inside front cover). The brand is now mainly associated with television programming that’s primarily aimed at kids, and believe me, Butcher Baker ain’t for the middle-school set. I suppose Casey (and his cohorts) is to be applauded for not allowing the popularity, profitability and visibility of certain projects from keeping them from exploring material that’s more experimental or risque in nature.
The title character is portrayed as being a Captain America-type of hero, a symbol of America’s righteousness and power. But Butcher Baker is no boy scout, no paragon of ideals and virtue. Casey offers up a different symbol of America, one that represents a different side of the dream than presented in the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Butcher Baker is the personification of America as the land of Might Makes Right, of Shock and Awe. He represents the notion that freedom includes dirty things and people, big guns and excess as a lifestyle.
Ultimately, Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker is all about energy — energy in the art, in the concepts and in the script. The satire is fun, but the zaniness and runaway-train pace are really what draws the reader in. Casey has included some snippets of deeper meaning and commentary here and there, but while the concepts are clever, the book’s not about being overly cerebral either. The first issue was shocking and entertaining, but the second issue is the one that really shows the property’s strengths. #1 – 7/10 — #2 – 8/10
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