DOUGLAS: Well, yeah. Butcher Baker is an impressive piece of rhetoric–but it also doesn’t feel like much of a story, and whatever else they do, Miller and Moore have almost always offered us straight-up narrative. (I think it’s significant that the main story is only 18 pages long, although we get half that much again in the way of editorial backmatter, in the form of Casey’s essay/rant/manifesto and Huddleston’s prep work and previews of coming attractions.) The kind of political caricatures and ultra-broad tone Casey’s dealing in here seem facile to me: he’s effectively setting himself up as being 1) the star of the show and 2) vastly smarter and nicer and more in-the-know than any of his characters. What we’re getting is the “Lo-Fi Futureshit” (sic) that Casey’s calling for in the backmatter, but presented for its own sake rather than as a means to some kind of narrative end.
What I’m really impressed by is Mike Huddleston’s artwork: the way its stylistic variety helps to navigate the convoluted timeline, its unhinged color work, its endless barrage of computer effects and perspective distortions and hyperzoom. Visually–and in some ways in terms of storytelling–Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz’s Elektra: Assassin seems like a huge touchpoint for this. (Over at Death to the Universe, Matt Seneca and Sean Witzke recently had a fascinating discussion of Elektra: Assassin, in which Witzke calls Casey and Ladrönn’s first Cable story a post-Elektra comic. That’s fair, I think.)
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But what actually gets me down about Butcher Baker is that it’s built on what I think is a dubious argument: that there are no big thrilling comic books any more, not like “all the daring experimentation that occurred there in the early 2000’s” (what a curious choice for a golden age on Casey’s part!), and furthermore that turning one of the tone knobs all the way up and throwing in some tits is going to be the tonic for all that. I mean, it’s easy to nod very seriously and say yes, of course, we’re all weary of What’s Going On in Mainstream Comics These Days It’s Not Like It Used To Be. Or you could actually filter out the noise, as it’s always been necessary to do, and go revel in the fantastically imaginative, high-energy, and also disciplined and focused stuff that J.H. Williams III and Matt Fraction and Frazer Irving and Marcos Martin and hey, see above, Nick Spencer and–I could go on and on–have been doing. A lot of it can even pass for “Lo-Fi Futureshit.”
GRAEME: I’m definitely closer to Douglas than Matt or Evan here – Butcher Baker doesn’t quite work for me yet; it feels very self-conscious, and very… desperate isn’t the right word, but very trying-to-shock-and-make-a-great-statement, if that makes sense. While searching for the right word, I thought “adolescent,” which seems weirdly fitting, given the “And the hero is a PUSSY-HOUND” scenes here, or the doorhandle-as-penis joke. There’s definitely something very puerile going on here, and I’m not sure if it’s intentional commentary on the mainstream comics scene or just Casey channeling Miller and also Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg, which felt like a very strong influence here. It also reminded me, in terms of writing, of the early issues of Matt Fraction’s Casanova… Am I alone in that? There’s something about the tone and the ambition – that curiously retro-ambition to be ambitious in the way that comics “used” to be ambitious – that seemed very Casanova-ish, along with the narration from Baker himself, the “This is my life and I’m pretending to be satisfied with it but I’m really not”-ness of it. I don’t know, I almost want to say it’s an intentional shout-out, but I might just be reading into everything here.
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DOUGLAS: Casanova is an interesting point of comparison. The layering and compression of voices and Big Ideas works out very similarly, and both Huddleston and Moon-and-Bá have a sense of cartooning that deliberately rejects the pumped-up, corners-sanded-off “realism” of the last 40 years’ worth of mainstream comics. The difference, for me, is that Casanova seems like Matt Fraction grappling with stuff: using the whiz-bang to try to make out the contours of something beneath the surface. That’s what brings me back to it. So far, Butcher Baker is basically all surface.
GRAEME: Douglas is right: This is a hodgepodge of ideas and attitude and references, and it’s interesting (and slightly frustrating, to me) as that, but it’s not really a story yet. I’ll pick up the next issue, but that’s more because of Mike Huddleston’s wonderful art, itself throwing out influences and references (there’s a real Paul Pope-ishness to the car chase scenes, the lovely thickness of those lines) but completely dynamic and compelling in the way that the writing isn’t, yet. There’s a focus to the art that the writing doesn’t have, in this first issue, and unless the writing finds that focus, this’ll remain the kind of fascinating-but-unfulfilling comic that Casey has specialized in (remember Automatic Kafka?) for years, the kind of thing that just doesn’t quite cross over from a devoted fan base to a mainstream audience.