“Read a Damn Book – 153: The Goon – Bunch of Old Crap”
It’s been over two weeks since my last book review, and I apologize for that! So today’s review, Eric Powell’s The Goon – Bunch of Old Crap, was sent to me by a good friend, Mark Counts (who can often be seen on my various sites doing “remixes” of my artwork---AND Mr. Counts is also a genius collage artist, who creates retro-futurist items out of found materials! Check out this website for some cool photos and a video about his work!) Anyway, I had read virtually nothing by Eric Powell before this book, and Mark thought that my ignorance was a crime against the universe, so he sent me not one but TWO Powell collections to read. So far, I am impressed by The Goon, and I can’t wait to crack into the next book! I can’t wait…but I’m going to have to---because I have three other books that I’m currently reading already PLUS about EIGHT stacks of books, not counting digital, that I’ve accumulated over the last year, either given to me by my kids or things I’ve picked up at library books sales or comic shop trips, or just classics that I keep meaning to review so that people don’t forget about them!!! The point is, I’ve got a LOT of stuff to read and review, but I am still MASSIVELY grateful to Mr. Counts for bringing this Goon feller to my attention! THANKS MARK!!!
[This is a photograph that I took of the actual book that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]
Eric Powell – The Goon – Bunch of Old Crap (2019)
This book, Bunch of Old Crap – An Omnibus Volume 1, is a collection of four OTHER collections of Goon stories, going all the way back to material originally published (I believe SELF-published) by Powell in 1999. (WHICH was TWENTY YEARS AGO! Gawd I’m old…) Even though Powell says in his introduction to this early work that his art was “crude” and that “It looks like I inked some of this stuff with an electric toothbrush,” I’m going to respectfully disagree. From page one of the “Prologue” on, I was already getting a wonderful E.C. – Tales from the Crypt vibe. In addition, Powell PAINTS many of the covers for his books, and these works are FANTASTIC! His sense of light and shadow and his bold exaggerations remind me of some of the BEST in comics, folks like Simon Bisley or Brian Bolland. Maybe even (dare I say it) Frank Frazetta! I love the art. It’s dark, cartoony, and exaggerated, but Powell knows when to tone it down and look for emotion OR to go for the perfect slap-stick visual gag.
Okay, so what’s this Goon guy all about. For one thing, though “goon” is usually a snarky way to refer to a henchman or hired thug, in this book the main character’s NAME is The Goon. Even as a young kid working at the circus with his Aunt Kizzie, the circus STRONG WOMAN, she called him “Goon.” The Goon is a TOUGH GUY. He had a hard life, a tough childhood, and he LOOKS a bit worse for wear---scars all over, teeth like the top of a picket fence, eyes usually invisible beneath his “thug” cap. However, unlike the traditional, stereotyped “thug,” the Goon DOES have a brain. He’s maybe not as smart as Einstein (or this book’s brilliantly entertaining mad scientist, Dr. Alloy,) but he’s no dummy, either. And he has a great sidekick, Franky, who is short and scrawny, but wiry and also tough as nails, having built up his confidence fighting alongside the Goon.
The general premise of this series, and with FOUR collections worth of material between these covers Powell has a lot of time to explore this universe, is that the Goon works as an “Enforcer” for a crime boss, Mr. Labrazio, who nobody ever sees. The Goon does all the heavy work, and tries to keep the turf Labrazio controls safe from invasion. Meanwhile, as the inevitable turf wars and shakedowns take place (against odd folks, like Joey the Ball or Fishy Pete), there’s also a SUPERNATURAL element to the story, primarily in the form of a zombie invasion started by an unnamed Zombie Priest, who turns dead folks into thugs to bolster HIS gang. There are also ghosts and vampires and werewolves and giant spiders and interdimensional tentacle creatures and killer robots and…
So what you get with this series is something like a mash-up of noir, tough-as-nails gangster stories WITH H.P. Lovecraft and E.C. Horror comics! The stories are violent and bloody and sometimes a bit gross---but Powell tempers all the horror with a wicked sense of humor. This is HORROR-HUMOR, about a 50/50 split. The jokes are slap-stick and goofy and violent and bloody and sometimes a bit gross. I think a safe comparison would be things like Evil Dead 2 or Army of Darkness, or MAYBE Shaun of the Dead---if it were set in the 1930s in a weird swampy, southern bayou. Let me give you an example of what we’re dealing with here…
In one story, the Goon is asked by a guy to come help him with a child who is possessed by a demon. Goon and Frankie rush in to the guy's house and start pounding and bashing and smashing a little girl, believing that the best way to deal with a demonic possession is with brute force. After a few seconds, the girl’s face all bloody and teeth missing, the guy says, “NOT HER, THE BOY!” And so the Goon and Franky start wailing on the boy, instead, while the little girl, in a little word balloon, says, “Mommie, I can’t feel my legs.” It’s sick and wrong and horrible… AND HILARIOUS, if you just ignore the reality of something like this happening and go with the joke. Some of the evil humor in this book ALMOST reaches Milk and Cheese levels of nihilism, but there is definitely a more human, more TOUCHING, almost REDEMPTIVE feeling underlying all the monsters and violence.
And, there’s a crossover with HELLBOY in one story, which was perfect. And did I mention that Powell has won FIVE Eisner Awards? Even so, there are still POOP jokes in this book... Go figure...
Overall, The Goon is a brilliant, complex character, and Powell has created a funny, dark, violent, satirical, entertaining book with him, which I will DEFINITELY be reading many, many times. Let me be FRANK, I LOVED this book, and I really can’t give it enough praise. It’s violent and disturbing and morally ambiguous enough that it’s definitely not going to be for everybody, but if you like GANGSTER stories, and HORROR, and MONSTERS, and tongue-in-cheek naughty humor, then FEW collections are going to make you as happy as this book will. It’s silly, but not TOO silly. It’s violent, but not TOO violent. It’s got moments of sentimentality, but they’re not TOO sentimental. As close to a perfect humor/horror hybrid book as I’ve ever seen…
THANK YOU, MARK COUNTS!!!! You knew I’d love this book, and you were right!
---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)
SUPPORT INDEPENDENT FOLKS WHO ARE JUST MAKING STUFF BECAUSE THEY LOVE IT!!!
I love The Goon, I’m glad your friend recommended it. “Knife to the Eye” and the Psychic Seal immediately spring to mind 😆
Yeah, there are so many funny bits in this book. I love that half the scenes start we us (the reader) catching some bizarre punchline to a joke that Franky is telling, and we're left trying to imagine what could have lead up to THAT awful conclusion! Best non-jokes I've read in years... But I agree, the Psychic Seal is exceptionally funny!
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