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Nothin' But Misery
The Goon Volume 1
by Eric Powell
Dark Horse Comics, $15.99,160pp
Published: October 2003

I haven't read 'The Goon' before, but I couldn't resist the artwork. Eric Powell is responsible for that and the writing, which is, shall we say, variable, in this opening volume of his main character's series. The final page tells me that there are at least thirteen volumes published by Dark Horse. Wikipedia suggests nineteen now, collecting 54 issues of 'The Goon', and it's won at least five Eisner Awards.

Certainly at this beginning point in the series, and I have no reason to doubt it doesn't continue this way, it's surreal, violent and over the top, unabashedly so. The lead character appears to be just what his name suggests, the unnamed giant enforcer for a mysterious crime lord called Labrazio, who runs whatever town we happen to be in. However, it isn't much of a shock, given that there's some sort of deus ex machina explanation every time Labrazio is supposed to show up, to discover that the boss is dead, has been that way for a long time and the Goon is running the whole shebang in his name.

He doesn't do so alone, of course, but there isn't much of a cast at this point. Primary among them is Franky, who shares the Goon's propensity for action and violence, even if he's not up to being able to cause the same level of mayhem. The Goon is a large man indeed, with biceps as large as his head and fists that would rival Renny's in the 'Doc Savage' books. He has mismatched eyes but we rarely catch sight of them under his omnipresent flat cap. Franky has large and obvious eyes but no pupils, giving a surreal tinge to his character.

The feel is thirties through and through, so I quickly imagined the Goon like a gangster sidekick from a Warner Brothers movie. Imagine someone like Nat Pendleton playing Hellboy without the costume and you're not far away. Of course, that makes Franky a sidekick to the sidekick, and I imagined more of a substantial actor in the role, someone like Franchot Tone but shorter. Wouldn't that be a strange pairing? Welcome to the wonderful world of the Goon!

I mentioned Hellboy because, while the setting is very different, the tone is similar in many ways. The two series both take a very recognisable human world but shimmy the rules around, pitting the main characters not against other gangsters but an imaginative array of monsters. The very prologue has the Goon take on an army of fish-men, led by a boss fish-man with peg legs and hooks for flippers. It's not particularly substantial but it does set the stage.

The first story proper, though it's just labelled 'Chapter 1', is an exercise in gothic terror, with the old dark house and its inbred cannibal ghosts hiding a treasure that the Goon must stumble onto after a pitched battle with a giant squid while out driving. You know, that sort of thing. At least the Goon is conveniently gifted with a necklace of petrified cats' eyes strung on cinnamon dental floss. You might ask why that would be convenient, but you're clearly not in on the mindset of the Goon yet. This may be a wildly outrageous horror comedy action comic book, but Chekhov's Gun applies and Eric Powell is more than happy to be blatant about it at this point in the series.

In fact, he's gleefully happy to be that convenient here. He has a lot of fun manipulating the rules of the comic book medium. There's quite a bit of fourth wall breaking that's rather fun. There are some flashbacks that take place in uncoloured pencils. The various chapters are separated by fake adverts for other superhero comic books, like 'The Atomic Rage' that are hilarious, even an ad for the Psychic Seal, who has the best advice to guide your life decisions if you have an IQ under five. The Psychic Seal actually appears in the best example, a three-page story called 'The Goon in... Attack of the One-Eyed Scumbag from Outer Space' that ends with priceless dialogue: "Dis zounds like a bad zcience-viction story someone crammed into three pages!"

I'm a big fan of the 'Hellboy' comic books and I'm now a big fan of 'The Goon' too. Sure, the quality of these stories varies quite considerably but the humour is right up my alley, the wild characters are gems and the artwork is magnetic to me. I'm a sucker for witches and zombies and cannibals and even one-eyed scumbags from outer space. The Goon does not have a quiet life and there's always someone or something new ready and willing to take over his burb, whatever it's called, and he and Franky must use their fists and their guns to keep it for themselves.

Now, the ethics of the whole book are utterly down the tubes and I'd love to see how that progresses over the rest of the series. While the controversy that erupted over the 'Satan's Sodomy Baby' issue was manufactured by Powell himself, it doesn't suggest that he toned the stories down as he went. I only have the first book, however, so need to keep my eyes open for more. This is my kind of depraved comic book and I want to know how it continues! ~~ Hal C F Astell

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