March 5, 2010

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Goon Volume 4

Written by Eric Powell
Illustrated by Eric Powell
Text Story Written by Thomas Lennon
Dark Horse

The Goon starts to move into continuing story territory in this, the 5th collection of Eric Powell's rotten but lovable mob man, The Goon.

After two pastiches, the rest of the volume takes us down a new path, as the Goon and Doctor Alloy's stories are linked in a way that I'm sure the Goon would have preferred to avoid. In saving their friend, have Frankie and the Goon doomed themselves?

Plus, what happens when we see the Goon in text form?

This volume shows the maturity, I think of Powell's plotting. The Goon has tended to be a one-off type of character, despite recurring themes. Here we see him ready to step out into longer plots, which I think is a good thing. Much as I've enjoyed the series, I think sometimes there's been a tendency to get the story finished too quickly. With these issues, we see what happens when a more complicated plot is executed, and I think it works just as well--if not better--than than the one-and-done stories we've been used to.

That's not to say the two one-off stories in this trade aren't any good. I simply love the idea of the Goon being central to a feel-good story about football. The retro setting of the Goon's world makes it perfect for a 1950s-movie plot, which Powell then lovingly skewers. Things can't end well, of course, and by the end, you actually feel a tug at your heart strings, despite the over the top level of violence and crude remarks that typify a Goon comic. That's the magic of Powell's writing--he's able to evoke a strong emotion, even when you almost want to gag.

I love adaptations of Dickens' Christmas Carol, so naturally the other one-shot appealed to me. That was a re-read for me, as I actually picked that one up at the time it came out in single issue form. His casting based on the characters in Goon's world is perfect, and their complete disrespect for the original makes it a winner. This is more Scrooged than a Disney version, but is the highlight of the trade.

The longer story is an interesting one. In typical Goon style, it meshes science fiction and the traditional prison narrative story, and turns them both on their ear. The Goon and Frankie work to save Dr. Alloy's life, but it turns out that it makes him a crazed madman again in the process. Before you know it, both the Goon and Dr. Alloy are in prison, an unlikely pair that must survive no matter how awful things get.

While there is the patented Goon cynicism throughout and a lot of funny scenes (Goon is thrown in with ruthless killers and ends up getting them to sing Johnny Cash), we continue to see a pattern of Goon trying to help other people. Yes, he's a ruthless thug who breaks legs without a second thought, but on the other hand, he'll help Dr. Alloy or try to keep the city safe. The idea of Goon as criminal with heart of gold lurks just below the surface.

But before it gets too sappy, Powell draws a grotesque orphanage just to keep you on your toes. It's that melding of caring and complete disregard for the usual standards that makes the Goon so good--and helped it win a few Eisner awards in the process.

Powell's art seems to get better with every trade. He's refined his style a bit, with everyone looking just a bit better defined than in the past. He's also opted to give everyone just a bit of a softer edge. Colors blend a bit more than in prior volumes. That adds to the lost in time effect that the whole series has. You can't see his classic comics influences as well now, which is not a bad thing. It means that Powell is developing his own look, one that progresses as the series goes on. He's a fine illustrator, and is only getting better as time goes on.

I don't have a lot to say about the text story that's included here. The Goon is such a visual book that reading about something in Goon's world just didn't have the right ring to it, at least for me. Lennon captures the style pretty well, I think, but I can't help but feel like it would have been better as a guest-written comic with full illustration.

It'll be interesting to see where the Goon goes from here. Now that we've started on the path of longer story arcs, will we see more detailed plotting or a return to the one-offs that got everyone hooked on the Goon in the first place? Either way, I'll be sure to keep reading. The Goon is unlike anything else that I read, and I wouldn't have it any other way.