February 6, 2010

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Goon Volume 3

Written by Eric Powell (with Mike Mignola)
Illustrated by Eric Powell (with Mike Mignola)
Dark Horse

Lots of characters from the prior volumes return as Powell brings the usual insanity to bear on the printed pages. His foul-mouthed former mob enforcer is large as life (sometimes larger), taking on the usual zombie subjects as well as some other supernatural oddities that come in all shapes and sizes.

Oh yeah, and Hellboy shows up for good measure.

As with past volumes, each story is self-contained in one issue, an oddity in today's comics world. This time, however, the stories feel less rushed and more tightly constructed to fit within their page limits. Powell's plotting is getting stronger with every volume, using his colorful characters to good effect.

In this volume, the Goon is asked to save the Buzzard, and gathers the closest thing this world is going to get to the Avengers, as the werewolf, the Muds, and even the reformed criminal Dr. Alloy join in the rescue attempt. It's a battle royal as both sides pull out all the stops to win. It also shows the sympathetic side of the Goon himself, even if he won't admit it.

Lest things get too serious, Powell promptly takes us back to the silly fun with a twisted homage to the likes of Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery, as a horny space alien translates badly, get killed by the Goon, and exacts a revenge on the scale of Godzilla. Only Dr. Alloy can save the day, in the most destructive way possible. There's mayhem in the Powerful Powell Particulars that result, as he does his best Stan Lee impression, if Stan were writing the script drunk.

The fun part of being associated with Dark Horse is that you never know when Hellboy might show up. He does in the third volume, with a framing piece by Mignola himself that fits with his signature character. Once Hellboy enters the Goon's world, however, it's all Powell as Hellboy tries to figure out just what he's gotten himself into this time. The interplay between the two characters is great, Powell's Hellboy art works well, and in the end, they both do what they do best--smashing monsters trying to take over the world. This is definitely the high point in a solid collection of stories.

I wasn't quite sure where the last story was going at first, as it opens with Powell's skewering of comic critics who everything too seriously. But the tone quickly changes, even if the skewering does not. A real vampire is resurrected by the posing wimps and quickly starts her reign of terror. Her fate is tragic, but no less deadly for it. Can even the cynical Goon resist her charms, or will the entire town not controlled by the Voodoo Priest fall under her spell? Only another with pain as great as hers can save the day, in a very touching ending.

Powell's Goon is such a complex comic. On the surface, it's a treasure trove of crude humor. There are fart jokes, sexual remarks, and ugly-as-sin drawings all over the place. But especially in this trade, there's a deep sense of caring underneath the light pacing. Goon may be a thug, but his heart is in the right place. He'll help those in need, even if there's no money involved. He watches over Frankie, who he really doesn't need. There's a good man in that cold exterior, and I wonder if we'll ever really get to see that side in a feature.

On top of that, Powell's artwork is amazing in its ability to capture the essence of 1950s comics without being a slave to it. Kirby is echoed but not aped. There's a retro feel about everything in the Goon but with a modern sensibility and structure. Sometimes I have a problem when the art and dialog don't match up, but Powell finds a way to make it work.

I always enjoy reading Goon comics, and if you like tributes to the past that have their own agenda and don't just reproduce what has come before, I think you'd like it, too. Just be prepared to wince here and there, as Powell is not afraid to risk offending his reader. After all, if you complain, you just might get a knife to the eye!