by Mark Mitchell
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
I’m overwhelmed by the relentless ugliness on display in Richard Starkings, Tyler Shainline, and Shaky Kane’s The Beef 1. The issue closes with the image of a man transforming into a skinless, muscle-bound freak, and it’s a welcome respite from the grotesqueries that come before.
The Beef 1 follows Chuck Carter — a man who has been ground up by the world in a not-so-subtle nod to the ground beef he consumes and the cows he executes for work — in glimpses of both his childhood and his adult life. Both are bleak. He lives in a town called Mudville, works in the same unforgivingly brutal job in a slaughterhouse as his father, and is bullied relentless throughout his life by K-Bob and G-Row (née Khristos and Gaelen), who are irredeemably crude and sexist and racist.
Granted, the suffocating foulness of The Beef 1 seems to be the point, and by that measure it is a success. In almost every panel of the issue, working to match Starkings and Shainline’s intentionality crude script, Kane has lovingly rendered some terrible detail — feces on the ground, noxious gas billowing from the slaughterhouse’s exhaust, a helicopter in the sky leaving a trail of mysterious green gas — and cow gore and viscera features prominently on more than one page, in more than one setting. There is no escape. By the time Khristos and Gaelen stab a cow in the ass and set it loose in order to make a woman run away, thereby determining if her breasts are real or fake, and end up shooting the cow in the head so the issue can climax with an ejaculatory spray of blood and eyeballs, I was numb; the shock value had long since stopped paying dividends.
You get the feeling that The Beef 1 intends to hold a mirror up to the reader and proclaim, “You did this!” like John and Yoko scolding endlessly that war would be over if only we really wished it so. It doesn’t work here, but you can kind of (almost) imagine a version of this, a version with some self-awareness and humor, that does. Unfortunately, The Beef 1 is ultimately too airless to succeed. Exaggerating the grotesqueness of life to absurd levels is the basis of all good cultural parody, but cranking every aspect up to 11 only drowns out the good ideas with too much noise.
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