Monday, April 4, 2011

Knife To The Eye, I Love That Bit

It's a great time to be a fan of horror comics. While things are still hit-or-miss at the movie theater, those of us who read the funnies are being treated to some of the most entertaining, disgusting, and inventive creepfests since before the Code cracked down on the genre back in the 1950s. Mike Mignola has been expanding his Hellboy universe, Batman is getting back to his Gothic roots, and all kinds of new characters and stories are invading the comic shops. When Marvel makes Spider-Man a flesh-hungry monster who's eaten his Aunt May, it's difficult to wonder how things can get much better. Of course, those mentioned above are well-established heroes with respectable fanbases either receiving a fresh bloody twist or just getting deeper into their weird world. Where's the truly original stuff?

"Destroy MY sandcastle, willya?"
Ah yes, The Goon. Written and illustrated by Eric Powell, this is not an easy one to categorize. A single issue will have elements of organized crime, slapstick humor, giant monster movies, ghost stories, zombie outbreaks, drama, and pie. The core of the story is an enforcer known only as the Goon and his sidekick Franky, who alternate between extorting citizens of the town for their employer (a thug named Labrazio) and protecting them from threats both practical and paranormal. Their archenemy is a man they call the Zombie Priest, who has been raising bodies from the grave in an attempt to take over the criminal underworld with his undead army. However, Goon and Franky deal out beatings to these "slackjaws" so often that they are usually confined to Lonely Street, a seedy stretch of road at the end of town. What the Zombie Priest doesn't know is that the man he believes himself to be fighting is actually dead. Labrazio was murdered by the Goon's own hand after his actions caused the death of Goon's Aunt Kizzie, who was his only family. With a book of names and a merciless attitude, a young Goon was able to convince everyone that he was in fact working for the man he'd secretly killed. All the money from Labrazio's schemes went into his pockets, and until the Priest showed up, it was a pretty easy gig. But now, thanks to his meddling and a host of other evil folks, there's opposition springing up everywhere. Zombies is one thing, but giant octopuses, inbred ghosts, primitive cannibals, and obnoxious vampires is just too much!

The first thing to note about this title is its sense of humor. Rarely have I laughed aloud as often reading anything else as I have reading The Goon. They go to a psychic seal (yes, a seal) for advice, then beat him senseless when he apparently insults Franky's mother. A houseful of grotesque hillbilly spirits are exorcised by the use of cat's eyes, strung on cinnamon dental floss. A bum named Spider who is indeed a giant spider gets the stuffing knocked out of him by Goon because he still owes him five bucks. And, the Goon opens a can of whup-ass on the local vampire coven because they've been scaring a little girl who lives below him and making her cry, which has been keeping him up nights, and he can't just slug a little girl. This is oddball comedy at its finest.

The crime element is well-handled here. The characters have to walk a tightrope, appearing to be ruthless enforcers for Labrazio while simultaneously protecting everyone from all these creatures and the Priest's zombies, making for some tense situations. When an inside job results in one of the Goon's hired toughs getting killed, everyone meets at Norton's Pub to try and figure who it was that ratted them out. Powell not only keeps you interested in the characters' plight, he manages to make you care that a swamp toad with poor hygiene and only a rudimentary grasp of the English language got an axe to the head.

Finally, Eric Powell's talents as an artist cannot be overlooked. Besides filling the book with a clean, colorful style that nevertheless makes excellent use of shadow and darkness, every cover is gorgeously hand-painted and suitable for framing. There's even a few unique touches that make it stand out. When a character called Buzzard begins sharing his origin story, the panel splits between his present self and his mental self-image from the past. Powell uses colors and inks for the present and represents the past in rough, sepia-toned pencil sketches. The transition not only works, it enhances.

The Goon is not for everyone, but if you're a fan of horror, sci-fi, broad comedy, or even crime dramas, you're punishing yourself by not reading it. There's talk of director David Fincher (Se7en, The Social Network) helming a CGI feature-film adaptation, which if it lives up to the teaser trailer, will be a genuine contender for best horror comic movie ever made. Give it a look, and tell us about your favorite horror comics in the comments!

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