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‘The Beef: Volume One’ – Trade Paperback Review

Sitting at about 122 pages, The Beef collects the first five issues of a bold and brutal indictment of the meat packing industry. The book is written by a juicy slab of creatives; Tyler Shainline and Richard Starkings write, while Shaky Kane delivers those lean visuals. It is published by Image Comics and boy, oh boy, this greasy tale is disgusting.

Now, if you love puns, then I have some great news for you, brothers and sisters. The main character’s name is “Chuck” Carter! That’s right; it’s Chuck just like chuck steak.

The premise of The Beef is that Chuck has eaten so much terrible, hormone-injected beef products and byproducts that under extreme duress, he can transform into an incredible hulk (not to be confused with THE Incredible Hulk); however, the unusual addition to this flavor of beast is that all of his skin turns inside out, making him look like a charging freight train of tendons filled with a furious load of raw meat madness. Oh, and he has cow powers! On its most complex level, The Beef is a scathing takedown of racism, sexism, and monopolizing corporate entities expressed through said corporation’s negligence and nepotism within a small California town, done in the style of Silver Age comics. At its least complex, The Beef is the origin story of a nasty superhero whose mere existence makes you want to put down your hamburger and, instead, never eat again.

The Beef himself is mostly ripped from the likes of a Swamp Thing or Man-Thing, but if we are taking this story on the merit of its execution, then it is actually more reminiscent of The Toxic Avenger. It’s campy, exploitative, and gross-out. I like The Beef. Chuck Carter has had a hard time up until the point in the story when he changes, and I like watching him punch bad guys. Plus, much like Toxic Avenger, The Beef has love in his life. The human heart is that to which we can all relate, even if that human heart is actually a cow’s.

The bad guys are bad guys in the most one-dimensional way possible. There is a moment when we get a monologue from Grandpa Vodino (the big bad) suggesting there might be more depth to his evil-doings. But, Shainline and Starkings immediately make fun of it in the next issue, thus removing any potential character-developing sting Grandpa Vodino’s back story might have had. It’s intentionally shallow for comedy’s sake, and this kind of “mugging to the audience” is a constant reminder to not take anything too seriously. The only problem is that the “Vodino gang” are homophobic, racist monsters who are predatory toward women and hurt animals. Shainline and Starkings portray this with an unrelenting barrage of hate-filled diatribes from K-Bob and G-Row (the Bulk and Skull of the series). There is nothing redeeming about these antagonists, and the writers never let up on the gas. While funny at times, some of these moments did hurt my feelings, but only just a bit.

There is one exception to these tropic characterizations that I have to mention. The character of Officer Lee is so weird and complicated that it almost feels like he fell out of another book. He is xenophobic nightmare fuel, but with a twist. A stint in the Gulf War left him unable to properly form sentences. We end up with great moments like when he says, “You are your mother’s only son and you are a desperate one.” It’s not so much that this sentence is “wrong” but in the context of a routine confrontation, the sentiment is bone-chillingly creepy. To make matters worse for Officer Lee, his inner monologue is clear as day. It’s as if he is imprisoned by his own linguistic short comings. Officer Lee works as a dynamic character. We need more characters like this in The Beef and quite frankly, every story.

You are going to love this trade if you are one the following:

  1. Really into the Silver Age-style throwbacks! Seriously, Shaky Kane is very authentic to the period The Beef is modeled after.
  2. Vegetarian or on the fence with beef eating. This will further confirm your choices, because the in-depth explanations of how meat packing works are yuck.
  3. A person who likes to see racists get punched! And honestly, who doesn’t like that? I’ll tell ya, who. Racists.

You might not like this trade if you are the following:

  1. Easily grossed out. Seriously, this has an early ’90s, gack-filled disgust vibe that’s nothing short of Ren & Stimpy.
  2. Triggered by hate speech. It’s easy to remember these are bad people doing the mean talk, but it’s still mean talk.

Suffice it to say, The Beef left me satisfied for now, but if Shainline and Starkings want to get back on the grill and cook up some more stories, I could probably find room in my human stomach for seconds.

Creative Team: Richard Starkings (writer), Tyler Shainline (writer), Shaky Kane (art)

Publisher: Image Comics
Click here to purchase.


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