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Goon Fishin'

  The Goon: Rough Stuff (Volume #0)

 

Eric Powell

Dark Horse, 2004

Rating: 4.2

 

 

Posted: December 30, 2004

By Dave Brennan

Some of our culture's most memorable movies aren't exactly highbrow entertainment -- for every Shawshank Redemption there's an Evil Dead II that appeals to our desire for off-the-wall slapstick and severed-hand mayhem. Likewise, a great comic book doesn't have to be intellectual, nor does it need to shake our perceptions to their very core. Eric Powell's The Goon doesn't necessarily challenge readers with complex storylines or sociopolitical commentary, but if good old-fashioned monster beatings and a wildly creative sense of humor are your cup of tea, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more entertaining book on the shelf.

Before Dark Horse propelled The Goon into the mainstream spotlight, Powell's muscle-bound, bucktoothed enforcer could only be found in a small-press black-and-white series published by Albatross Exploding Funny Books. Rough Stuff collects these issues in color for the first time, along with a new introduction, three original strips from thegoon.com and a sketchbook of The Goon's earliest manifestations.

As Powell freely admits, The Goon was still very much a work in progress at the time these stories were originally published -- the homely protagonist's overbite is now a little less pronounced, he no longer wields a talking chainsaw, and the artwork has become more refined over the years. Even so, this was a remarkably inventive, albeit simple, creation from the very start. Sporting a wife-beater T-shirt, a newsboy hat and one hell of an ugly mug, The Goon inhabits a world in which zombie gangsters, melodramatic vampires and drunken werewolves are everyday nuisances. Alongside his foul-mouthed sidekick Frankie, he opens a keg of whoop-ass in the name of goodwill. That's it. There aren't any profound interpretations -- just a gangster with a monstrous bowling-ball arm, black-market brains, a salty peg-legged monster named Fishy Pete and a whole lot of crazy fun.

Though the artwork is admittedly rough when compared to later publications, it's still on par with almost anything published in recent memory. At times cartoonish, at others roughly textured, the book is crammed with exaggerated detail and subtle visual gags that bring The Goon's world to life. And between the Depression-era tone and the clever absurdity of the characters, the dialogue is an absolute riot. As an added incentive, this collection also sheds some light on The Goon's origin, both within the three-issue storyline and as part of the supplemental "Evolution of the Goon" sketchbook. The latter is an especially enlightening treat for fans, providing a look at The Goon's humble beginnings as Mog (a Liefield-esque werewolf/gorilla-looking guy), alongside an informative commentary from Powell. All in all, this is an indispensable little package for dedicated readers who want to see where all the madness began.

Even in its earliest stages, The Goon's colorful villains, wacky dialogue and over-the-top, pulp-serial storylines make it a pure joy to read. Part Hellboy, part film-noir, and part Mad magazine (if Mad was actually funny), Powell's endearing creation should appeal to anyone who survived hours of grade school by inventing comic book heroes of their own. It's rip-roaring comic book junk food that's much smarter than it lets on, and there ain't nothing wrong with that.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: Breaks new ground
 4.0-4.9: First-rate
 3.0-3.9: Solid
 2.0-2.9: Mediocre
 1.1-1.9: Bad
 0.0-1.0: The worst

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