Let’s talk muscles. Meat! Human meat. We are all beef. Some beef is marbled. (This is the premise of Beef Bros: all men are meat but some meat is more gnarly than others.)
The putative brothers are a pair of male bodybuilders, of the type frequently lionized in contemporary accounts as the “himbo.” An old term, derogatory in original context - after all what could be worse for any self-respecting dude in the 1980s than to be compared to, gasp, a lady? Turns out there may be worse things than to have, as the common parlance might have it, the demeanor and temperament of a golden retriever. Everyone loves golden retrievers, mankind’s most gullible accomplice.
However, our boys aren’t actually gullible, no.
Beef Bros is the new jazz from co-creators Aubrey Sitterson and Tyrell Cannon. It was published by Kickstarter, and as of this writing the project has raised $27,034 of its original $15,000 goal. The stretch goals appear to be giving the creators a raise and creating a second issue, which seems quite straightforward. I don’t really have a lot to do with Kickstarter because computers are strange blinky boxes that make scare time, and I’m actually typing this by banging the keyboard with a stick. Eyes closed to keep the machine from stealing my soul. Ah, but seriously, stretch goals for really successful projects can get really byzantine, and “let’s pay the folks who made the comic more money” seems like a really nice option. Definitely in keeping with the spirit of the thing.
I went in cold. No promo material, no real familiarity with the creators. It’s a good way to encounter a comic. The art is immediately ingratiating. Cannon knows how to exaggerate the human form for comedic effect without obscuring storytelling. Beef Bros is colorful in a very contemporary way while also reflecting a debt to the 1980s. Based on that I turned the first page perhaps expecting something more along the lines of pastiche, perhaps a spoof. Certainly those things are present in the aesthetic. The general set-up is something very similar to what you could have expected to see in any urban action vehicle during the Reagan years: a pair of ambiguously related brothers who know how to fight move into town and start cleaning up the streets the only way they know how. So far, so Double Dragon. But get this - instead of taking down crime bosses they begin cleaning up the streets by taking in homeless folks, giving them a warm meal and a chance to get on their feet. Pancakes are involved. Then the titular meat men Huey and Ajax get into a fight with their magically enraged landlord, which then turns into an eviction riot, at which point the Bros have to take on the police to save the people around them.
Imagine my surprise! You could have knocked me over with a feather. Of course, after reading the comic I flipped over to their Kickstarter page and found this thesis statement:
It’s a rare contemporary superhero comic that doesn’t feature somewhat…troubling politics. Most tend to be concerned not with creating a better world but merely defending the status quo, not to mention all the flat-out reactionary takes on the genre!
My sweet goodness. How wonderful! Given the nature of Kickstarter I doubt the book had many cold readers. Maybe it hits a bit harder if you’re expecting cotton candy and wind up with Neon Bakunin - or, Bakuneon, a word I just made up but now give freely to you. Has anyone else thought up a name for this particular blend of leftist politics and gleefully garish commercial aesthetic? No? It seems very online, and for once I don’t actually mean that in a derogatory way. It’s a native digital aesthetic created with digital tools, taking full advantage of the fully-lit backdrop of a tablet screen.
All of which is to say this book lives and dies on its colors. Raciel Silva and Fico Ossio go fully overboard in search of the most obnoxious high pastels and loud contrasts. It’s fun, is what it is, and something I can definitely dig: emancipatory politics wrapped not in turgid sentiment or stale nineteenth century jargon but joyous color streaming across every square inch of the page.
So what all do the Bros get up to? Well, first they fight a police mech, then they headbutt an artillery shell. They throw down with the Jovian and Sergeant Kilroy, two vaguely familiar archetypes who show up to deal with the disorder and are shocked to find the crowds cheering against receiving “law and order” at the hands of their betters. Straw men? Hopefully the last year has taught us all that representatives of state violence aren’t particularly original, and enjoy leaning into the stereotype on occasion. In short order the super-cops run afoul of the Beef Bros, who fail to understand why they are the villains for thinking there’s enough in the way of societal resources to go around. The invading superdupers find themselves flummoxed to be suddenly made the antagonists in an anarchist uprising.
That’s the takeaway - the Beef Bros are superheroes dedicated to mutual aid and solidarity among the marginalized, but because they come wrapped in the form of dopey Muscle Beach refugees you want to underestimate them. Perhaps there’s something to this whole “himbo” thing after all - what was once an insult is revealed in hindsight to be a badge of honor. What even is the archetype if not the image of strength and competence wedded not to ruthlessness or savvy but to kindness and courtesy, power used not to enforce or even to preserve but to protect? Actually protect people, real people, from real problems? Sounds like fertile territory for a superhero story, if you ask me.
I don’t believe the superhero genre is inherently reactionary just because the companies that own the most famous superheroes in the world have no interest in promoting any agenda but their own. The desire to anger neither side of a political debate simply reinforces entrenched ideology. The characters themselves feel compromised, fed up after decades of being micromanaged by bean counters and monied psychopaths who bask in warmer waters many levels above those of “mere” writers or even editors. The problem is that superheroes who eschew hope and fight bitterly only for preservation of a doomed status quo eventually become self-destructive reactionaries. That’s what I learned from Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers, tho’ I cannot say if that’s the lesson he intended to impart.
The Beef Bros point in another direction. While they certainly aren’t the first leftist superheroes they may be the most colorful. How much juice does this concept have, long term? Could they get a full series out of these guys? Honestly I don’t know. If the book could get a big push off Kickstarter and into retail it might find a bigger audience of people who are similarly eager to see superheroes do anything but serve as auxiliary law enforcement. So only time will tell. If they never made another the one-shot would stand as a statement on its own. But then we’d never get to find out why the person in the beaver costume is putting pills into baby bottles on the last page, and I must admit I’m curious as to that point myself.