Goon Vol. 1: Nothin’ But Misery

By Eric Powell
136 pages, color
Published by Dark Horse Comics

All right, I can admit when I’m wrong. Every now and then you hear about a book and people keep praising it to the heavens and you’re thinking, “Yeah, sure, whatever.” Because all it took was something small, something you may not even recognize, that has somehow pitted you against it. I cannot explain why I never picked up The Goon when it was self-published by Eric Powell’s Albatross Exploding Funny Books, but it took a collection from Dark Horse to finally push me into action. And now, of course, I’m really regretting it taking this long.

There’s a war going on, between the living and the dead. Or in the case of this town, between the power of the Labrazio family and the hordes of undead controlled by the Zombie Priest. As the two forces struggle for control (to say nothing of all the other strange ghosts and bizarre creatures infesting the town these days), only one person can stand up to them and force order on the town: the Goon. Well, ok, he is the head enforcer for the Labrazio family, so he’s really just letting them stay in control of the town. But hey, at least he’s not working for the Zombie Priest.

When I first looked at The Goon collection, I glanced at the indicia to see exactly what it collected, and found this little statement: “This volume collects issues one through four of The Goon and The Goon Color Special originally published by Albatross Exploding Funny Books, as well as The Goon short story which originally appeared in the final issue of DHP. Yes, after setting creative milestones with the likes of Chadwick and Miller, Dark Horse Presents, possibly the greatest anthology comic of all time, ran a Goon story by Eric Powell, and was subsequently cancelled.” It was right then that I knew that if the rest of the book was even half as funny as this, I was in for a good time. What I found was a strange merging of slapstick, demonology, and a little bit of drama all merged into one that had me constantly shaking my head and laughing on a regular basis. Part of the charm of The Goon is that you never know what’s around the corner, from a massive hand coming down from off panel and smashing anyone who starts taking the story in a wrong direction, to a sudden sepia-toned flashback to the Wild West, to a fake old-style comic book advertisement. Throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the mix doesn’t work for most, but Powell knows how to balance all these elements out. Like an experienced juggler, Powell keeps all the balls in motion, because he’s ready for that sudden appearance of the chainsaw into the mix even when the audience isn’t.

Powell’s limber art is critical to its success as well because it’s got to pull all this crazy stuff off. It’s a very cartoonish style, reminding me a little bit like Frank Cho’s work on Liberty Meadows (but with slightly smaller chests). When you’re going for the occult and slapstick humor in the same book, you’ve either got to aim for silly or ultra-realistic in the art styles, and I’m glad that silly won here. Seeing the Goon fighting off a gigantic squid wrapped around the hood of his car should look wonderfully silly and fun, even while keeping its own internal consistency. The nicest part of all, though, was seeing that Powell can just as easily switch styles to something completely different if he chooses. The Wild West flashback was beautifully done, instantly putting you in a slightly different frame of mind, for instance. And his painted covers for the series… wow. The Normal Rockwell spoof just about had me on the floor, laughing, and the others are almost as nice.

The Goon will have you laughing until you puke. Ok, maybe you won’t puke, but really, I don’t think the Goon himself would be too terribly offended. Stranger things happen to this poor guy before breakfast, and the important thing is to just roll with the punches, no matter how odd they are. Eric Powell’s an evil, evil person and I am delighted that Dark Horse is going to help bring us all on a ride with him. Just imagine Hellboy meets Bone and you’ll see why you need to rush out and get your own copy of The Goon Vol. 1: Nothin’ But Misery right away.

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