Have you ever been reading a mob story set in or around the 1930s and thought that it could use more zombies, hobos, flying communist octopuses, vampires, aliens, killer robots, and man-eating rats the size of St. Bernards? You’re in luck! Eric Powell had the exact same idea back in the late 90s and started writing The Goon.
The Goon Library Volume 1 collects some of Powell’s earliest work on this series. The only story that precedes the four volumes included in this library edition is a strip titled Monster Boy that Powell wrote for a book called Best Cellars #1 in 1994. In 496 pages, there are a solid 455 pages of story and 41 pages of Powell’s sketches, reference photos, rough pencils, inks, unused cover art, character prototypes, and notes from the author.
In Volume 0: Rough Stuff, we get part of the back story on The Goon’s upbringing and how he met big-time mob boss Labrazio. We get to see how The Goon met his sidekick and best friend Franky, and learn how Franky developed his signature move, “Knife to the eye!” Toward the end of the volume, we learn The Goon is keeping a secret that might lead to his undoing.
In one of the three forwards, Powell says he titled this volume “Rough Stuff” because he feels the work is far inferior to work that came later in the series. I disagree. While you can see definite differences between the original character designs and the same characters further into the series, there’s nothing rough about this piece. It’s interesting to see how the original concepts for The Goon, Franky, The Priest, and the various monsters evolved from this early work. This installment also has the best use of washed out, muted color to fit the period and genre.
Volume 1: Nothin’ But Misery opens with the Zombie Priest interrogating a severed head, trying to ascertain The Goon’s big secret. We meet a new character named Buzzard who is a “reverse zombie” accidently created by the Priest who must eat the flesh of the undead in order to survive. Buzzard ends up being The Goon’s unlikely ally in his struggle against The Priest and his zombie hoard.
By this time, Powell has started using parody ads as story breaks and to set up callbacks further into the story. These are entertaining on their own, but get more fun when you realize ten pages later that you’ve been set up.
Volume 2: My Murderous Childhood (and other grievous yarns) is pretty well summed up by the title. This volume expands on the flashback sequences that Powell teased in Volumes 0 and 1. We learn how The Goon and Franky get in on the big-time racket of crime boss Labrazio, and exactly why Labrazio hasn’t been seen in almost two decades.
Volume 3: Heaps Of Ruination is the most disjointed of the installments. While each of the volumes features 3-4 separate stories, the other three volumes flow from one story right into the next. The first story in vol. 3 is a rescue mission to save Vulture from The Priest’s basement where he is being tortured. The second story features a malevolent tentacled alien, which to the narrator’s chagrin is not composed of large shapely breasts. The third piece features a crossover from one of Dark Horse’s other Eisner Award winning series, Hellboy. The storytelling ends with a segment titled The Vampire Dame Had To Die.
While each issue of The Goon is self contained and has a complete story within, Powell uses brilliant callbacks and references to previous issues, rewarding the reader for staying the course through the entire work, but not leaving new readers behind.
At $23.99, this book is a steal. I was shocked at the sheer size of the thing when I opened the mailer. I was hooked from the first page. Powell’s oil painted covers are beautiful. His writing and illustrations are solid. This book is laugh out loud funny. I read it from cover to cover in one sitting.
The Goon Library Volume 1 HC, released 11/11/2015, written and illustrated by Eric Powell, colors by Eric Powell, Robin Powell, Barry Gregory, Shayne Corbett, and Ben Cocke, $23.99
Review by Brendan Allen.