This is the one Garth Ennis has been telling us to wait for. It’s the one he’s wanted to write all along. It’s the origin of Billy Butcher. Even Darick Robertson is back for the ride. The other tie-in minis might not have been good but this is the one that’s supposed to be golden. Right? Well, it’s not bad, but perhaps it has been built up too much and living up to the brilliance that the character of Butcher has consistently been is a hard act.
Origin tales are a difficult thing because they are already riddled with inherent clichés before anyone even reads them. You know the character pretty well, and there’s been speculation on why they’re that way, and then there’s the truth. It either isn’t quite enough to justify and satisfy, or it doesn’t feel right. This issue lays out some key aspects for Butcher, especially his relationship with his father, and it rings true but doesn’t go that extra mile.
The opening sequence is yet another opportunity for Ennis to play war comic and have planes and boats shake the landscape. Yet, in the middle, it’s the man who makes the difference. It’s a great pre-credits style sequence that makes us feel the power of Butcher, and understand it’s always been there. He’s the guy who holds inherent leadership skills within him and struggles to not use them for nefarious reasons.
We then segue into the father issues, of course, and the set up is decidedly brutal. Father issues are a constant trope of this medium and Ennis sets them up well but it doesn’t feel like anything new. It reminds me of the time Bullseye’s origin tale was laid out (true or not) and, while entertaining and nasty, it didn’t feel like anything but hyperbole and style over substance. That same odor permeates this entire issue. Ennis drops some great lines, and Robertson was always able to make Butcher emote, but it’s just more of the usual ‘Ennis Special’. It might be dialled up to 11 but it’s still the same sound.
The real meat of this issue comes from Butcher’s relationship with his little brother. The beats and emotion here make you understand and appreciate his connection with Hughie on a new level. Hughie is very much cast into a similar role later in life and so we’re left to examine how and why Butcher will have arrived at the place where he needed a new little brother.
Gripes of familiarity aside, Ennis and Robertson on familiar ground is usually the sign of a good comic. This is a good comic. The creators obviously want to cut right into the heart of this antihero and they show us a side we didn’t know before, though we did suspect plenty of this anyway.
“Butcher, Baker, Candlestickmaker” is hopefully going to deliver all of the nuance of Billy Butcher. Here we get the upbringing and family filth. Beyond that, we get the reaction from Butcher and his preferred means of dealing with these obstacles. Comics rarely deliver a character study and yet this issue is all character. In this way, it is instantly better than the other minis. History and inner turmoil, this is definitely a must read for fans of “The Boys.”