Wrasslin’ with the Goon
Anyone who tells you that there is nothing new, fresh or fun to read in comics has never seen The Goon! This fantastic series by Eric Powell is one of the most entertaining and enjoyable comics to come down the pike in a long, long time. The basic plot is simple. The Goon is a huge, hulk of a man who is the hired muscle for a local gangster named Labrazio. But there is some question, here as no one has actually SEEN Labrazio for quite some time, and there are rumors that he is already dead. It’s the Goon’s job to maintain order and obedience among the residents and to fight off an attempted power coup by the Zombie Priest. This is where it starts to get a little strange, and wonderful. The Goon is a nearly indestructible force that is called on to fight some of the strangest, weirdest creatures imaginable but always comes out the winner. In many ways, the Goon is similar to the Marv character from Frank Miller’s first Sin City series: he is unstoppable, speaks little, is loyal to his friends and brutal to his enemies.
The series is set in an unnamed city which looks like any other urban city in the last forty years or so. The characters themselves appear as if they’ve just walked out of an old James Cagney gangster movie and talk like strange, warped characters from a James M. Cain novel. One of the great things about creator Eric Powell is that he takes different influences, which in some instances are diametrically opposed to each other, blends them all together, and comes up with something completely new and unique. It is a great homage to the old pulp heroes who leap into danger with both guns (or fists) blazing against impossible odds and still survive. Added to this is a good dash of humor and just plain, good-natured fun.
Eric Powell has developed something new here and it deserves to be read and devoured over and over again. His art mirrors the tone of the stories perfectly (reminiscent of early MAD comics, and also a mixture of different styles and influences) and captures some of the madcap lunacy that occurs on nearly every page. In the second issue, the Goon and his friend Franky are lured to a trap by the promise of a truck filled with Mexican porn. The truck door opens to reveal a mob of zombies sent by the Zombie Priest to wipe out the Goon. He receives some unexpected help from a weird, not quite dead, zombified sheriff with his own grudge against the Zombie Priest. After killing the zombies, the sheriff begins to eat them, much to the puzzlement and disgust of Franky and the Goon. “I ain’t seen nuthin’ that nasty since… since… I AIN’T NEVER SEEN NUTHIN’ THAT NASTY!” The sheriff proceeds to tell his own tale of woe involving the Zombie Priest and asks where to find him. Leaving, Franky asks the Goon if he thinks the sheriff will survive but the Goon is practical. “If it were that easy to walk down Lonely Street and kill the guy, I’d of done it by now.” In an excellently drawn final page, the sheriff is overrun by zombies but, is he dead? Only time will tell.
Obviously, this is not the type of comic for everyone. If you do not have a tendency towards somewhat sick humor, the zombies will put you off. But the blend of the humor, horror, pulpish action and excellent art are difficult to just dismiss. This is not a thinking man’s comic. It’s not going to change the world or the way that people think and treat each other. What it will do is entertain you and help you forget about the outside world with all of the myriad threats and problems that cannot be overcome. Perhaps that is one of the biggest draws of the Goon series in that it shows one man who is able to leap in and change his world. The Goon can right wrongs (when he feels like it), protect the innocent (if it’s in his best interest), and change his world. In many ways, this was the appeal of superhero comics in the early 30’s and 40’s; these characters had the powers to strike against the ills of the world and let the average reader vicariously enjoy that feeling of empowerment. In these difficult times, it is enjoyable to see a character that doesn’t over-think a situation and literally beats it into submission. The characters of Franky and the Goon are not particularly pleasant ones and certainly not the type of people one would invite over for Sunday dinner, but they are entertaining, loyal to one another, and just this side of shady.
But what makes this comic a “must read” is the sheer enthusiasm and fun that leaps off the page. Whether he’s fighting zombies, fish-men, or Santa’s evil elves, The Goon is a delightful romp through a pseudo-Depression Era world. While it may not be politically correct or the type of book that everyone would enjoy, it certainly made for hours of delightful reading for this reviewer and renewed my faith that there are still undiscovered treasures in the piles of dreck currently floating through comic stores.