Sean Maher's Quality Control

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Goon: Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

Jason Rodriguez freaked me out today with this post in his comments section:

"I should just give up on the monthlies and go with all trades at this point."
Sweet Jesus, Jason, say it isn't so!

One of the keystones of comics for decades has been its unique grip on entertainment as a serial experience. Sure, TV still runs in episodes, but comics have a vice grip on me as a weekly dose of pulpy enjoyment.

Now, I'll admit that recent industry trends have had a somewhat repressive affect on the monthly issue format of many comics. And there are a lot of great discussions being had on the subject, as people wrestle with the excellent, relatively new format we've called the OGN (original graphic novel).

But not everyone's going quietly into that good night. And in the interest of saving Jason's soul, I'm gonna spend the next few days talking about some of my favorite monthly purchases.

Stray Bullets, I already know you're reading, Jason. We've talked about it. And I'll be devoting an entire post, I'm sure, to the next issue that comes out. So for now I'll leave it alone, though I would reference folks to my reviews of the recently released Volume One and Volume Two trades. This is the best comic on the market and deserves your immediate attention.

But obviously, I don't need to sell you on that book. So right now I'm gonna talk about The Goon.

Okay, so this isn't quite monthly, but Eric Powell is one tough sonofabitch writing one hell of a pulp comic. Every issue is jam-packed with attitude, great dialogue, hysterical characterization, stunning artwork (which recently took on a painted finish that I'm absolutely loving), and a satisfying chunk of story. This is one of those rare books that's really worth owning in both formats for me - I get it in trades because it's so good, I know I'm gonna want to be able to read it forever.

But I also buy it in the single-issue installments because, frankly, it reads really goddamn well that way. This week's issue #13 only cemented this belief, though my favorite is still #3, which tells the story of how a young Goon first met his sparkplug, Scrappy-Doo-As-A-Kneebreaker buddy Franky.

One thing I really dig about the book is its versatility. Depending on what Powell wants to do, each issue can give you black tough guy humor, horrific images of monsters and zombies, Kirbyesque trips into unknown dimensions, smoky shades of noir mystery, or heartfelt and tender character developments. Often, you'll get more than one at a time. By spinning each of these plates with such variety, Powell keeps what could easily be a tired genre-homage extremely fresh and unique.

Issue #13 is a great example of this. Page one is full of the Franky attitude. This guy is one of the best supporting characters in comics - his short-tempered little man tough guy routine is funny as hell and it's a little different every time - it's a character trait, not a catch phrase (to be honest, Franky does have a catch phrase, but it's a really good one - he doesn't say it too often, either). Then there's a lot of sick, charming humor (see yesterday's post), prison drama, brutal violence (beautifully drawn and painted), a long-standing character making an important personal choice, a Johnny Cash reference and a fist fight with a shark.

This is all in 22 pages, and none of it feels rushed. I mean, could this get any better?

Powell also isn't married to any one style of pacing. Most of the issues he's released so far have been self-contained adventures (contributing, as all great one-shots do, to the overall arc of the tale of the tortured Goon), but we've just wrapped up a stellar three-issue arc and Powell's also just finished a wonderful four-issue miniseries called Billy the Kid's Old-Timey Oddities.

This series started out a little slow, I thought, introducing Billy the Kid as a backwoods, piss-stinkin' outlaw with no class but a lot of skill with a six-gun. At first, I didn't dig it as much as I dig The Goon, but the heroic and stupid behavior of Billy in the third issue really got me ramped up and this last issue knocked it out of the park, with the same manic blend of horror, dark humor, action and heart. Billy's relationship with the little boy in peril is moved forward on nearly every page, but it never weighs down the fun, and Kyle Hotz is a perfect choice for the artwork - he hits all the best points of Powell's script and contributes his own touch at the same time.

Frankly, Eric Powell is one of the greatest talents in today's comics. He does such stellar work that you often don't see his technique; it feels almost as if he's showing you something he's discovered, something natural that you never would have noticed without him.

Remember the first time a kid in the neighborhood found an animal run over in the street, and he ran and got you so you could both look? And the animal was gross and cool-looking and he tried to pick it up with a stick so he could throw it at you?

That kid was Eric Powell.

The Dark Horse website has previews for both The Goon #13 and Billy the Kid's Old-Timey Oddities #4, for those so inclined. But really, you should skip that and just go buy them. You don't have to take my word for it, either - Powell took home two Eisners over the weekend.

So, y'know. Smarten up. Read this.


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