Do you want to read about a depression era thug who fights zombies, hobos, sea monsters, monsters made out of wicker, monsters made out of babies and insane burlesque performers? Then why the hell aren’t you reading The Goon? Eric Powell has created something somewhat unique and altogether special with The Goon. A delightfully fun period comic, this series manages to blend ridiculous lowbrow humour with surprising dramatic weight. Oh, and there’s also a heck of a lot of punching.
The Goon follows the titular character, a hulking, heavily scarred thug, who works for the mysterious ‘Labrazio’. As the series goes on, it’s revealed that Labrazio is actually dead, and The Goon has taken over his entire operation, using Labrazio’s name in order to maintain credibility. The Goon is rarely without his loyal buddy Franky at his side. Franky is a skinny, brash, overconfident man with a love of a good scrap. The Goon and Franky spend the first half of the series battling their nemesis, the Zombie Priest, as well as hordes of zombies, monsters and assorted bad guys. Volume 5 was a turning point for the series, where Powell starts to take a slightly more serious tone on the book and his art begins to progress far more toward his soft, painted style.
Being totally honest, when Eric Powell begun the series he was not a very good artist. The first few trades are pretty rough, and he even released a ‘0’ trade called ‘Rough Stuff’, acknowledging his shortcomings as an artist. The real beauty of the series, however, is watching Powell steadily improve and evolve into an amazing artist.
His use of soft inks create the perfect period tone, and the range of emotions his characters show is impressive, considering you rarely see the Goon’s eyes and Franky has no pupils. Dave Stewart’s colours certainly help, adding an extra layer to the already rich art. The characters themselves are masterfully created. The recurring group of orphans, known as the little unholy bastards, are like feral versions of the original Li’l Rascals, dealing with zombies and necromancers instead of losing marbles down exhaust pipes. Franky is loyal and violent, always picking fights beyond his ability. It always works out for the best, as Frankie relies on the confidence the Goon gave him and the Goon himself, who always comes to his friend’s rescue. Franky and Goon often talk about Charlie Noodles – a character we never meet, but always comes up in anecdotes. I love the fact that Powell can make us care for someone we’ve never seen or met before. The Goon himself is a deeply sad man. He has experienced a world of grief in his life, and Powell beautifully conveys this throughout the series. Scenes in Norton’s bar are particularly poignant.
The Goon is a hilarious, beautiful, touching and action packed package tied together with string made from pure awesome. If Tales from the Crypt was a comedy, it would be The Goon. If you want to start with the best, I’d suggest checking out volume 6, which is widely regarded as Powell’s best work. Otherwise, jump in from the start, knowing that things get a whole lot better as you go along. The series has won 5 Eisner awards, and deserves every single one of ‘em.