Writer Stephanie Phillips’ afterword in The Butcher of Paris #1 makes it clear why the Parisian serial killer Marcel Petiot provides a fascinating historical focus for our present moment. In the midst of Nazi occupation, he used the fear of fleeing French Jews in order to accelerate his own terrible occupations. Accused of killing between 60 and 200 people, Petiot became a Ted Bundy-like figure in his own time, capturing the interest of a nation ravaged by war and offering a singular focus for its many atrocities. It’s not difficult to imagine this story functioning much like that of H.H. Holmes in Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, a similar narrative featuring a killer who elucidates the nature of his time in history. However, unlike that prose work, The Butcher of Paris fails to utilize its form or source material to craft anything as compelling as what seems possible. The first issue delivers a messy narrative lacking in characters and context on the page, rendering potent source material largely inert.
The first issue reads as an incomplete work, not in that there is more story to come (that is obvious with a serialized narrative), but that the pieces of this issue barely fit together. Readers are introduced to multiple men and women all attempting to flee Nazi-occupied Paris, a father-son detective duo, and a variety of other Nazi and Resistance figures. It’s only in the final few pages that these disparate stories begin to cohere into a clear concept. Reading this issue without already being aware of the core conceit would be even more difficult, as an understanding of the history at least provides a reason for many of the sequences to occur. Without that context, The Butcher of Paris #1 reads like a rough cut for an unfinished story, jumping between perspectives far too often to ever allow readers enough space to establish a grip on what is occurring.
A lack of visual signifiers contributes substantially to this problem. There’s a pivotal address that brings many of the central characters together, but the location itself is roughly sketched out in most panels with no clearly identifying marks. Recognizing that this same, key location is shared between previously unconnected stories requires a logical leap rather than utilizing the visual medium at hand. The same issue of flat, generic design work is repeated in characters. Only an old man stands out amongst the French citizens of the book due to his age. The rest are cast with similar builds and attire, and without any clear visual motifs, so that they all blur together while reading.
That blurring effect cannot be entirely blamed on the artwork as the story itself does little to provide life for its inhabitants. Individuals are defined by the needs of the moment, desperately searching for safe harbor or controlling a crowd. Without a small suppertime moment, this is an issue driven entirely by arriving at the next point in the plot, forgetting to offer readers a reason to care about the individuals involved.
The allure of the afterword and consideration of historical facts make the failures of this first issue more grievous than they would be otherwise. The Butcher of Paris #1 provides the same general sheen of competence that surrounds most new, direct market series which are forgotten before their second issue arrives. However, the concept at the foundation of this particular series demands better treatment, but it doesn’t look like readers can expect that in future issues of this muddled retelling.
Published by Dark Horse Comics
On December 4, 2019
Written by Stephanie Phillips
Art by Dean Kotz
Colors by Jason Wordie0comments
Letters by Troy Peteri
Cover by Dave Johnson