The Comic Book Club: Jimmy Olsen and Butcher Baker

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This really is just a wonderfully fun, ridiculously enjoyable book. It’s very much Scott Pilgrim-as-Jimmy, but in a way that works (and a length that works, as well; if this was an ongoing series, I think it would start to grate very quickly). The format is smart and funny, switching high-concept joke set-ups before they have a chance to get old, and the dialogue just plain makes Jimmy and Chloe relatable and likable. (My favorite caption: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space. (SO APPROPRIATE!)”) The characters feel modern and real in a way that they’re normally not, and they’re all the better for it.

I’m with Douglas on both RB Silva’s lovely, clear art that makes everything as light on the eyes as the story deserves, and Amanda Conner’s wonderful cover. Overall: Job well done, everyone. Book of the week, easily.

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EVAN: On to Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker #1. Let me indulge in some somewhat dated hip-hop slang: I ride for Joe Casey. That is to say, I stand by his unique brand of creativity. His Wildstorm work of the mid-’90s–that Wildcats 3.0 run and The Intimates, in particular–is an under-appreciated slice of superhero post-modernism and his creator-owned stuff like Gødland and Automatic Kafka starts in places where other mindf**k-centric comics stories fear to tread. (Plus, he’s one of the few comics pros to show love to Christopher Priest, one of my all-time favorite comics writers. I’m still here, Priest. Waiting on you…)

Anywho, Casey’s especially interesting because his outré stuff lives right alongside his animation work with the Man of Action collective and work-for-hire runs on Avengers and Superman. At his best, he’s able to invigorate the orthodox mainstream and entertain with fringe, subculture ideas. I think it’s mostly because he’s not afraid of meta-conception, and that’s what Butcher Baker‘s all about. It starts with Casey throwing in the sex-drugs-rock & roll hedonism, irresponsible superheroing and shady conspiratorial corporatism.

Butcher Baker feels unhinged in all the right ways. I’m convinced that the big rig stuff in this issue is an homage to U.S. 1. And there’s bits of Marshal Law, Smokey and the Bandit and the late Steve Gerber’s work in there, too. Casey’s very blatantly stirring all of that stuff into a pot and letting it boil over. When Jay Leno and Dick Cheney call on a superhero whose prime motivator is gettin’ some to blow up all his archenemies, then you know Casey’s writing this in response to the torpor of current superhero comics. Some of the best cape-centric work excelled by being transgressive–there’s a reason Butcher quotes The Dark Knight Returns–but nowadays, it’s apparent that the powers-that-be at the Big Two took all the wrong lessons from the Summer of ’86. The edginess they traffic in only works in the twisted context of hyper-continuity, like Mary Marvel becoming a goth-tart. That’s just tone-deaf.

Butcher Baker feels like it’s written by a guy in a band, y’know? There’s seediness, swagger and the odd bit of sentiment. Mostly, I was left thinking, “Why couldn’t superhero comics be this?”

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MATT: The trick with this book seems to be “how do you swing ‘America, **** yeah!’ strut-plus-schizoid without sounding like every other volcanic self-styled postmodernism-left-the-building-decades-ago story spinner?” And while I’m not sure Casey’s pulling it off yet (or fully in the saddle holding the reins–I suspect intentionally), I’m definitely persuaded. It’s a launch issue, and like the sonic spasms of a mic-stand-chucking live band, we’re left with our ears ringing and anything-goes-now speculating.

I love the double-trashing of 1950s flag-wrapped jingoism and twenty-first century neoliberalism, the action-to-action panel dialectic (intermedium, hinted at in the afterword) with sometime visionaries like Guy Ritchie and Baz Luhrmann, and of course Mike Huddleston’s twitchy pencil-inks like some glorious mutant Ralph Bakshi/anime scrawl full of bawdy spin-flipped cars and flaming trace lines. I love the implied tricks and lies and swindle deals folded into a G. Gordon Liddy riff who’s warning off deterioration and Viagra with a CB and big rig, and I’ll take the mordant point about budget-cutting, too (the solution to intractable problems–deploy a Franken-patriot channeling Col. Kurtz, Ted Nugent, and Charles Manson).

I guess my question is, have the shamelessly continuity-obsessed, pandering top-two really learned nothing over the past two decades–the obvious finger-flipping ****-you–or are they just oiling the train wheels? Will Casey/Huddleston take us deeper through the unfiltered gratuity of Butcher Baker’s mind-mud-spree to the source of the madness and pinpoint the real blameworthy? (Hint: Not our easily overthrown corporate overlords.) Or is this another hyperkinetic head-trip empire-deconstruction? I’m all for celebrating and caricaturing Frank Miller and Alan Moore, but if that’s all we’ve learned, is the answer unadulterated mind****ery?

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