Comics Time: The Goon Vols. 0-2

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The Goon Vol. 0: Rough Stuff

Eric Powell, writer/artist

Dark Horse, April 2004

96 pages

$12.95

The Goon Vol. 1: Nothin’ But Misery

Eric Powell, writer/artist

Dark Horse, July 2003

136 pages

$15.95

The Goon Vol. 2: My Murderous Childhood (And Other Greivous Yarns)

Eric Powell, writer/artist

Dark Horse, May 2004

128 pages

$13.95

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Originally written on July 26, 2004 for publication in The Comics Journal

‘Tis a strange fate that the breakout success story of Dark Horse’s recent attempt to craft a line of horror comics around its flagship title Hellboy turns out to be not so much Hellboy as Hellboy Junior. But such is The Goon, Eric Powell’s ongoing riot of hard-boiled noir tough guys, zombie splatstick, and Warren Comics pastiche. It’s unsurprising that its similarity to Mike Mignola’s endlessly fascinating tales of paranormal fisticuffs are both The Goon’s great strength and, by comparison, its great weakness.

The Goon takes place in what’s becoming a fairly common type of indie-genre-comic city, one that’s a melange of trash conventions thrown into a blender and poured onto the page. This one encompasses down-home hillbilly thugs, Edward G. Robinson-style gangsters, haunted houses of EC vintage, and so forth. (See also Street Angel‘s combination of mad scientists, b-boying ninjas, pirate conquistadors, and skateboarding female teen martial-arts experts.) The titular strongman (think Hellboy with a hat instead of horns, Sin City‘s Marv with a wifebeater instead of a trenchcoat, The Thing as a Tennessee redneck instead of a New York Jew) is the terror of the city’s underworld, serving as a brutal enforcer for the reclusive mob boss Labrazio. But a raging gang war against “the nameless man, the zombie priest” and his undead crime family has made the Goon and his Little Orphan Annie–eyed sidekick Frankie into the city’s unlikely saviors. As they’re all that stands between the city and uncontested zombie dominance, the Goon and his pal are forgiven their (ahem) enthusiasm for their work of roughing up lowlifes, werewolves, evil elves, giant fish people, et cetera, usually conducted with knives, Magnums, shotguns, huge monkeywrenches, talking chainsaws, et cetera.

Et cetera and ad nauseum, I’m afraid. Perhaps I’m simply armchair-editing the book, angling for it to become the type of genre fiction I personally enjoy, but the endless game of can-you-top-this splatter and silliness overpowers what could be a very interesting crime-horror concept. Now, I’m certainly not asking for the humor to be excised completely. There are moments that work hilariously–Frankie’s repeated “KNIFE IN YOUR EYE!” gag is in gloriously bad taste, and the reactions of the people of the Goon’s burned-out burg to his rampages are terrific in that “aieeeeeee!” sort of way. (“Look out!” says one bum in Volume One as the Goon gives the business to an arachnid poker cheat named (you guessed it) Spider. “He’s gone strangle crazy!”)

The problem is that when Powell gets serious, or seriously creepy, he’s clearly at his best. The Goon’s origin story, besides containing a pretty brilliant twist that alters our perception of his present-day behavior, packs a surprisingly emotional wallop. (I’m guessing Vito Andolini Corleone’s start in The Godfather Part II was the inspiration, and in this case the imitation is indeed flattering.) “What have I got to live for?” asks the Goon of his new friend Frankie as they embark on their first (and what seems at the time to be likely their last) gang-enforcer outing. At this point you’ve seen the Goon beat up, chewed up, and thrown up by nearly every monster known to man, and yet this clear-eyed (literally, for this panel only) expression of nihilism makes you feel the characters’ risk. Similar hints at a larger emotional tapestry are intriguing (a gorgeous dame whose romantic overtures the Goon thinks are too good to be true, the long and sordid history of the zombie priest), as is the fact that the hero of this story is himself a brutal criminal who looks good only in comparison to the cannibal zombies that fight with him for territory. Often these flashbacks are drawn in an evocative pencil-heavy style with far greater depth than the increasingly slick Saturday-morning cartoonisms that comprise the remainder of the series, to the flashbacks’ great benefit. But all this is inevitably drowned out by the next beheading, the next disemboweling, the next appearance of a spontaneously combusting orangutan. No, I didn’t make that last one up. Such is The Goon.

3 Responses to Comics Time: The Goon Vols. 0-2

  1. Jim Treacher says:

    You have no joy in your heart.

  2. You’re not helping.