John Updike, grousing about Don DeLillo, famously said, “The trouble with a tale where anything can happen is that somehow nothing happens.” Nowhere is this observation truer than in the field of comic books — surely a medium in which nearly anything could happen. It is disappointingly rare for a reader to encounter a genuinely playful intelligence at work; rarer still in the über-dreary Punisher franchise. What an astonishment, then, to encounter Butterfly, a one-shot written by Valerie D'Orazio, a short narrative so layered, twisted and personally invested it blows apart genre conventions and reassembles them in a way that opens the field to manifest possibilities.
“Butterfly” presents herself to a potential publisher as a “mob hit-woman” keen to expose all in her memoirs. On the face of it, she and her story bear more than a passing resemblance to The Punisher. But as the truths behind the story she's peddling unfold, then fold in again in increasingly complex patterns, his presence becomes increasingly ominous.
D'Orazio and her artist co-conspirator Laurence Campbell take on a number of modern comic tropes, including, particularly, Frank Miller's noir fabulism. But they don't just tweak and play off the genre's abundant ironies, they exploit them to spectacular effect. To choose just one non-spoiler example, after decades of establishing a “Movie Of The Month” approach to controversial subject matter, Butterfly marks the first time that the emotional effects of child abuse are trenchantly disclosed, in a way that is absolutely integral to the narrative engine of the book.
Nuff said — buy the book and discover its many pleasures for yourself. And here's hoping Butterfly ignites a much-needed revolution in a genre where so little seems to truly happen.