The 13 Greatest Hits (and Stabbings, and Gunshots…) of THE GOON
With its beautiful art and stories that blend genuine tragedy, disturbing horror and the physical comedy that comes from having a main character who makes a habit of punching out street-walking mules, Eric Powell's The Goon is hands down one of my favorite comics on the stands. And this week, after a hiatus lasting almost two years, the book is returning to the stands with The Goon #34, in which the title character takes on what the solicitation describes as "a bunch of gothy vampires."
The Goon beating up the characters of Twilight already sounds like it might be the best comic this week this month this year ever, but to make sure we've look back at 13 of the Goon's finest moments!#1. Joey The Ball (The Goon vol. 1, #1)
If you're not familiar with the Goon, the original premise of the series was that he was a thuggish mob enforcer who was secretly the head of the family, having killed the man he claimed to work for by beating him to death with a rock when the Goon was only a kid. That alone is a pretty solid premise to start from, but the rival gangsters Powell pit the Goon against tended to be a little... off. The Goon's rival crime families weren't just crooks, they were sinister demon priests with armies of slack-jawed zombies, cannibal hobos and of course, Joey the Ball.
As one of the Goon's more human enemies, Joey here got his start in a conversation between Powell and comic book writer Tom Sniegoski (credited as his co-creator) on a simple topic: What would happen if a little person got his hand stuck in a bowling ball when he was a baby?
That's what great comics do, folks. They answer the questions you didn't even know you had.
#2. The Goon Meets Santa (The Goon vol. 2, #3)
Despite the occasional soft spot and his role as a comic book protagonist, the Goon isn't exactly what you'd call a nice guy, and neither is his sidekick Franky, whose defining characteristics tend to revolve around stabbing people in the eye with a switchblade and attempting (unsuccessfully) to get freaky with virtually every woman in the comic. This is a fact that becomes abundantly clear when they meet Santa Claus himself, after his elves get loose in the Goon's town and start eating children.
Fortunately, the kids are fine (elves have shockingly slow digestive processes, it seems), but Franky's Christmas is slightly less than merry:
Say what you want about Santa Claus (and risk your own presents), but that dude tells it like it is.
#3. Franky Meets the Harpies (The Goon vol. 2, #4)
Speaking of Franky, one of his most trying moments came when he was kidnapped by an evil magician -- who was later punched to death -- and trussed up as food for his lovely assistants, who engaged in a truly horrific round of torture:
They were, of course, a pair of evil shape-shifting harpies, and after the Goon knocked out a cow to win a bar bet, he was able to punch the magician to death, leaving them to glue the pieces of their magic amulet back together over the course of around 20 issues.
You may notice at this point that "punching things to death" becomes a pretty strong recurring theme of the series.
#4. What Do Comics Icons Think of The Goon? (The Goon #1)
After a brief run at Avatar Press and four issues being self-published by Powell's Albatross Exploding Funnybooks, The Goon moved to Dark Horse in 2003 for a full-color ongoing series. To mark the occasion, Powell included a fourth-wall-breaking one-page strip where six famous creators allegedly showed up to voice their dubious support of the comic.
There's a lot of awesome stuff in this one, but my favorite thing about it is that the late Jack Kirby still speaks in larger letters than anyone else.
#5. In Case Of Fire... (The Goon #2)
Powell's one of the best artists for physical comedy working in comics today, but while it's always fun to see the Goon sock a mule in the face for prostituting itself in his territory (Goon #28), sometimes it's the little touches that make the best jokes. Case in point: When super-villain Heironymous Alloy gets out of jail and decides to try his hand at heroics by taking on the local crime boss -- who is, of course, the goon -- his robot is met with an axe held in reserve for a very specific pair of emergencies:
Fortunately, it works just fine on rampaging monstrosities of SCIENCE! too.
#6. Monsters! (The Goon #5)
The Goon's primary arch-enemy throughout the series has been the Nameless Man, the Zombie Priest -- who actually does have a name, the reveal of which is one of the best moments in the series. His undead horde held a grip on Lonely Street and constantly threatened the Goon's territory, until their war finally exploded into a conflict that could only be dealt with in one way:
The fight itself might be more visually impressive -- it ends with the aforementioned robot self-destructing in an explosion that takes up most of two pages -- but there's no getting around the sheer poetry of a line like "Release the great zombie chimp!!"
#7. Hellboy Meets the Goon (The Goon #7)
In The Goon #7, the crossover that pretty much everyone wanted finally happened when Mike Mignola's Hellboy was conked on the head with a wrench and apparently sucked into a copy of The Goon. The two characters got off to a rough start, what with Franky wanting to lock Hellboy in the back of Norton's Pub and charge patrons a quarter to look at him, but eventually they came to bond over their mutual love of punching monsters in the face. It's their first meeting, though, that pretty much sums it all up:
The fighter pilot octopus of the Communist Airborne Mollusk Militia. In the words of our own Curt Franklin and Chris Haley: Comics, everybody!
#8. The Goon's Eisner Nomination (The Goon #8)
In 2004, The Goon was nominated for four Eisner Awards. This news took absolutely no one by surprise, but Powell's reaction to it, in which he devoted two pages to the concept of a comic with "a defecating idiot" getting comics' most prestigious nod was pretty amazing all on its own:
It's worth noting that The Goon did in fact win in 2004, taking home the first of five Eisner Awards for Best Single Issue. Clearly, filthy simpletons are the secret to success!
#9. The Goon of Christmas Present (The Goon #10)
In the grand tradition of Mickey Mouse's running crew, the second Goon Christmas issue saw the characters taking on the roles of Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol. The Zombie Priest became Scrooge, Franky became a foulmouthed Ghost of Christmas Past, and Buzzard, a sheriff cursed by the Priest to live forever by eating the flesh of the dead, slipped naturally into the role of Christmas Yet-To-Come. Between them, the Goon himself put on the robe of Christmas Present, leading to one of my favorite scenes from the entire series:
I would have been perfectly happy if this sequence had gone on for an entire issue, with the Priest's face becoming more and more beaten up from being bashed against the Cratchitt's wall. Because really, that's what Christmas is all about.
#10. Live From Folsom Prison (The Goon #13)
After dealing with Dr. Alloy's brief return to super-villainy, the Goon was finally arrested and hauled off to prison, where beating up another convict got him sent to the hole. Of course, unlike other prisons, where that's just a metaphor for solitary confinement, the hole in this prison was an actual hole, full of unspeakable horrors that prisoners were dumped into when the guards wanted them dead.
As should be abundantly clear by this point, though, the Goon is made of sterner stuff than the average crook, and when the hole was opened at the end of his five day sentence, he hadn't just survived...
He'd introduced the monsters to the wonderful music of Johnny Cash.
11. Union Rules (The Goon #15)
Despite the evidence of this entire column up to this point, the Goon doesn't solve all his problems by beating the living crap out of something. Occasionally, he has to get a littel clever on them, which is exactly what happens when a Gypsy sorceress starts menacing his bartender's elderly mother. After finding out that she operates on a complex series of rules and conditions that allow her to raise the dead to do her bidding and extract ancient blood debts from her enemies, the Goon imposes his own order...
...as local Union chairman. There's even a regulation in place preventing the use of "black magic, sorcery or mysticism" on construction sites that keeps her from spellcasting. A pretty obscure bylaw, sure, but in the Goon's hometown, a very useful one.
#12. Heartbreak (The Goon: Chinatown and the Mystery of Mr. Wicker)
Despite Powell's knack for comedy, The Goon isn't all about the laughs. The entire series is built on a core of tragedy, centered on the revelation in #25 that it's set in a town that draws darkness to it, in which no one, especially the Goon himself, can ever be happy.
For the original hardcover Chinatown, which revealed the origin of the Goon's scars in a story that had been referenced throughout the run, Powell even opened with a full-page message that just read "This Ain't Funny." And that's a promise he kept. There's a sequence where the Goon gets his heart broken -- something that up to that point in the series had never even been considered as a possibility -- rendered in a series of six full-page portraits of the Goon looking at himself in a mirror as he breaks down.
The entire sequence is just brutal to get through, and it serves as the perfect example of what's so great about The Goon as a whole. For all the monsters and mule-punching, the core of the series is one that's gut-wrenchingly tragic, from the Buzzard being cursed to live forever with his failure to the Goon's rejection of a life with anything other than violence, pain and misery. Everything else is just layered on top of the story of a man who is explictly written as someone who will never be happy.
At its best, the series lulls you into laughing at the characters' misery, then blindsides you with the knowledge that for them, it never gets any better, marking it as one of comics' greatest tragedies.
#13. The Little Unholy Bastards Go to the Show (The Goon #26)
Of course, it usually goes right back to stuff like this:
So really, it could go either way.
The Goon is available in paperback at finer comic shops everywhere, with the first twelve issues available right now on the Dark Horse app for iOS devices, and #34 hits shelves this Wednesday!