Getting Graphic: The Goon
Come 'ere, let me tell you a joke. OK, so there's this guy, an enforcer type, a real bruiser, and he's got a dark past. He enjoys hanging around in this decrepit bar called Norton's down at the far end of Lonely Street with his best bud, Frankie, a real pint-sized motor mouth. Anyway, the big guy works as the right hand man to the feared boss, Labrazio, who controls half of this sorry excuse for a town. It's not much of a life, but the heavy has found his purpose. Sound familiar?
Well how's this for a punchline: he spends his days punching out zombies, fighting monsters and generally ruining the evil plans of a cast of villains that beggar belief.
Get it? Welcome to Eric Powell's The Goon.
Really, the best way to describe The Goon is to recount it as a series of tall tales. Each issue of the series piles on the deliciously, lurid images of the class B-movie and the forgotten, low-budget horror film. Yet, the story starts simply with our man, Goon, fighting zombies. We gradually learn of his tragic past (including his early life on a circus, the fate of his parents, and the broken heart he has suffered along the way). Seeking only peace, he is besieged on all sides by his memories, and by, of course, the ongoing war being waged, initially, by the evil Zombie Priest. Did I mention that Powell cranks his story conceit absolutely as far as it will go?
Fortunately, then Powell ups the ante by introducing every rogue element from the underside of culture. He embraces the creeping zombies, marvels in the spectacular monsters, has fun with the garish tropes found in most genre work. The villains are gross, the heroes are anti-, the femmes are fatale and the rubes just get in the way. Powell gleefully explodes the notions of expectations as everyone from a huge squid monster to an unassuming granny can get pummelled rather outlandishly.
The Goon is the bruiser, Frankie the enabler. For my money though, the most fascinating (and fun) character is Doctor Alloy. He is introduced as a mad scientist, determined, at first glance, on destroying the town. Upon his defeat he calmly explains that he just wanted to remake the world in a better image, eliminate the dirt and grime and conflict. He vows to stop and calmly accepts his punishment. There will be no remaking of the world in the universe of the Goon.
The heroes of our story are doomed, you understand. I mean, they live in a town that is a vortex for every evil force dreamt up by man. In this beautifully mangled way, Powell has created a story that revels in its character's decision to ride out the wave to guaranteed destruction. Everyone in his story is stuck, but they are together. The Goon, Frankie, their zombie buddy Nagel (don't try his desserts), the hexed Buzzard (a cursed man who lives to eat only the flesh of zombies, in a delightful twist), the barkeep Norton (and his poor mother), a cast of orphans (fighting over fish innards), the inherently damaged Mr. Wicker (and his insane sister)... well, you get the idea.
Comic books can be serious, they can be dramatic. They can teach us things about life in other cultures with people unlike ourselves. They can show us fantastical worlds filled with mythical creatures. Sometimes, though, comic books are at their best when they show us two guys, prescribed to their doomed, hopeless fate, carving through a mob of zombies, spouting one-liners, and smashing our preconceived notions of good taste into oblivion.