A couple of years ago, I started reading Eric Powell’s The Goon, a noirish old timey zombie send-up featuring the hamfisted title character, his sidekick Frankie (“knife to the eye”), the Nameless Zombie Priest, and a memorable supporting cast of misfits. I loved it.
Powell is one of those writer/artists with a firm grip of technique and knowledge of comic book history. You can see the influence of giants like Will Eisner and Jack Kirby without much effort. You can also see the influence of more recent pros like Mike Mignola, Mike Oeming, and yes, Garth Ennis in his work. The Goon has been with Dark Horse for several years now, usually published 4 to 5 times a year. The book often includes smaller side side stories as well as a main feature that may or may not have anything to do with a longer narrative thread. Following this recipe, Powell managed to build a devoted fan base and garner some awards (several Eisners included) over the past years.
What I’ve enjoyed most about The Goon has been the blend of comedy and action/horror in this backwoods noir setting. I’m guessing Eric Powell is about my age, and we must share a lot of the same pop culture reference points. He’s also a Tennessean and has some of that middle-country sensibility. In early issues the jokes and punchlines almost seemed like the driving force, with entire stories built around them. As such, I can’t recommend the first several Goon trade paperbacks highly enough:
- Volume 1: Nothin’ but Misery
- Volume 2: My Murderous Childhood (and Other Grievous Yarns)
- Volume 3: Heaps of Ruination
- Volume 4: Virtue and the Grim Consequences Thereof
About two years ago, the publication frequency on this book slowed as Powell did some work for the Big Two as well as finishing up a black and white Goon: Noir graphic novel (which I haven’t picked up yet). In 2008, the Goon returned with a vengeance and we saw a monthly publication schedule and a more unified storyline, ‘The Return of Labrazio’. This storyline was quite a bit different than earlier issues: it’s pretty much a single narrative arc and quite a bit darker and less comedic than before.
I have to admit, I prefer the earlier issues.
And yet you have to give Powell credit for trying something different. ‘The Return of Labrazio’ brings together several themes and unanswered questions from earlier Goon books. Stuff like the origin of the Goon’s heartache and revelations on characters like the Zombie Priest and Buzzard. Powell enlisted a local writer to help with the story outline, and longtime readers will certainly recognize the shift. It has that Joss Whedon-method feel of series writing. Usually good, but not necessarily suited to The Goon.
Maybe Powell felt he wanted to address some of these small mysteries and dangling plot points he developed early on. Maybe he wanted to reach a good narrative stopping point before taking time to focus on the movie. And it’s not like these issues are bad or anything – The Goon remains one of the best comics out there.
Issue #32, reportedly the last in awhile, celebrates the 10th anniversary of the character, and serves as a postscript to the Labrazio arc. It also has a few of the off-kilter segues and wackiness of earlier fare. I took this as a positive sign. Hopefully Eric Powell hasn’t said everything he want’s to say about Frankie, the Goon, and Lonely Street. If you ask me, you just can’t have enough quality zombie mayhem.
We’re looking forward to the movie around these parts, and also the eventual return of the funnybook. So check out The Goon if you’re down with old timey slapstick monster whippin’ (done artisically, and with real heart). You’ll thank me later.