By Jonathan Edwards
With a title like The Beef and a cover featuring the subtitles “tainted love” and “a biochemical romance,” I went into this first issue expecting a story along the lines of Image’s Plastic from last year. And, since Plastic was the best thing I read from Image last year, I was pretty stoked at the idea of a similarly nontraditional love story, this time utilizing an inverse metaphor and theme (that is to say, about meat rather than, well, plastic). Of course, that was a pretty big conclusion to jump to, so it’s not all that surprising that it turned out to be an inaccurate one as well. Yet, that by itself isn’t the most disappointing thing about The Beef #1. Instead, it’s the story’s utterly familiar setup and stark lack of any meaningful variation that turns this issue into one big missed opportunity.
That being said, the issue starts promisingly enough. We’re introduced to Chuck Carter, first as a child and then immediately after as an adult, and the narration asserts that he is a good man. From there, it intercuts between Chuck’s childhood, where he hangs out with friends and gets bullied, and his adult life, where he works in the same slaughterhouse as his father. It all works pretty well, setting a tone and foundation for his character until it’s revealed (a little less than halfway through) that those bullies from his childhood are now his bosses. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not because that’s a bad circumstance to introduce. In fact, it’s actually a pretty good one. It only becomes a problem here because that’s when the focus shifts from Chuck to the bullies just to show how shitty they are as people. And, boy are they shitty. There’s misogyny, racism, homophobia, and a blatant disregard for human and animal life in spades, and it begs the question: does any of it actually add anything to the story? It tells us the bullies are, again, shitty, but that doesn’t suddenly make Chuck a more interesting or engaging character to follow. So, at that point, Chuck finally standing up to them feels less like it’s because he’s a “good man” and more because the alternative would most certainly alienate the vast majority of readers.
This problem with Chuck’s characterization is only exacerbated by how little the relationship between him and another character, Mary Lynn, is developed. It’s implied that he has feelings for her, but she doesn’t seem to notice him at all until the end of the issue. And, even that’s not until he’s already directly asked her a question. Nothing about this makes it seem like she’s interested in him, but there’s also no evidence that Chuck’s love is unrequited. It’s a lack of clarity that confuses the subtext and undercuts the efficacy of the issue’s cliffhanger ending. What’s more, even if we did know how she feels about Chuck, it wouldn’t change the fact that, so far, Mary Lynn’s only reason for being in the story is to be objectified. Seriously, when she’s not being harassed by Gaelan and Khristos (the bullies), the narration talks about her being named after Marilyn Monroe, and we get a closeup of her mouth while she eats a strawberry. If that doesn’t read as blatant sexualization to you, then look no further than the cover of the second issue which depicts Mary Lynn as a calendar girl eating a burger in a bikini top.
Regarding the art, I like the idea of Shaky Kane’s style, and I was digging it at first. Although, the quality dropped somewhat about halfway through. And, by the end of the issue, it’d lost me. I’m all for the Silver Age-y, pop art vibe he’s going for, but some of the panels here just look amateurish. Granted, I wasn’t at all familiar with Kane as an artist before now, so perhaps this is the exception rather than the rule. Yet, it still doesn’t inspire any interest in exploring any of his other work.
Like the processed food it attempts to satire, The Beef #1 doesn’t have much substance to offer. Chuck is a bland, charmless character. Gaelan and Khristos spew so much hate and throw around so many slurs that the book is effectively promoting prejudice rather than denouncing them for it. And, the uninspired story has been done before and better. But, at the same time, it could definitely be worse. Who knows, maybe things will immediately pick up in the second issue. Or, maybe they won’t. Either way, I don’t think I’ll be coming back to find out.
The Beef #1