Richard Starkings, Tyler Shainline and Shaky Kane set out to stun with their new comic The Beef: Tainted Love via Image. In the making since 2014, this first of five issues paints a landscape of generational hatred, genetically modified produce, and so-called ‘biochemical romance’, as an all new type of hero is born out of the most unlikely circumstances.
Set in Mudsville, USA, the story centres around Chuck Carter; a second generation slaughterhouse labourer, and one of the few good men in town. Frequent flashbacks reveal that Chuck has been raised on the very same beef his daddy worked to produce, before he died under ‘accidental’ circumstances involving a meat grinder when Chuck was just a teenager. Unfortunately for the people of Mudsville, Chuck’s not the only one to follow in the footsteps of a patriarch, as the schoolyard bullies who tormented him in his youth – the Vodino brothers – inherit the racist, misogynistic ways of their callous factory owner grandpa, who may or may not have been responsible for the gruesome death of our hero’s father. The bros Vodinos continue to terrorise present-day Chuck, acting as a catalyst for his transformation into ‘The Beef’; an inside-out, bulked up hero hellbent on avenging the woman he loves.
The first cut of The Beef to slap readers in the face will be the unrelenting written and visual depictions of slaughterhouse rituals. We see in detail how a captive bolt gun is used to stun cows before they meet their maker: “Pressurised air shoots this sharp, retractable bolt into the brain of each cow, destroying the brain matter but allowing the heart to still pump.” As we gaze into the huge, soulful eyes of a cow mid getting its throat slashed, we’re told that “Chuck has shot penetrating bolts into the skulls of approximately 23,000 cows in his lifetime.” Not only has his psyche been warped by this prolonged exposure to the horrific slaughter process, Chuck has also been bombarding his brain with excitotoxins and amino acids – “known to cause severe central nervous system distress and brain damage” – contained within the genetically altered foodstuffs that have made up his fast food diet since childhood.
Where golden age comic heroes were born of the concerns of their time – the rise of fascism, atomic experimentation and the like – here we see a fantastical character created from all too realistic contemporary influences having remarkable side effects. Beneath its pulpy exterior, The Beef explores the harmful effects of the meat industry and mass consumption in an altogether more enjoyable mode than What the Health, Cowspiracy, and similar socio-environmental propaganda movies putting people off their food recently. Throw in the gun-toting, woman and immigrant-hating antagonists, with some truly politically incorrect dialogue, and we’ve got the deep-rooted problems plaguing the United States, extrapolated to their most extreme conclusions in a page-turning palette of radioactive greens and blood reds in inimitable Shaky Kane style.
As part one wraps immediately upon Chuck’s transformation, readers will have to hang tight to see him in action as the titular meat man out to avenge his love. Yet this ruthless debut issue certainly sets expectations high, and the continuation of the unique superhero’s quest will surely be worth the wait.
Richard Starkings and Tyler Shainline (W), Shaky Kane (A) • Image Comics, $3.99
Review by Ally Russell