Review by Roy Boyd
Okay, we know size isn’t everything, but let’s talk about it anyway. The Goon Library: Volume 1 is big. It’s over 500 pages, weighs about 2.5kg, and is about a fifth larger than the original comics. It’s the first volume in a series of five, and collects the first four trade paperbacks.
How best to describe The Goon? (The) Goon is an unusual protagonist. He’s a buck-toothed gangster, one who almost always wears a flat cap, pulled low to hide his scarred features. Goon doesn’t have any superpowers, though he does seem to have been blessed with arms like Popeye’s since an early age. His world is an intoxicating mix of pulp tropes (horror, crime and science fiction) and Eric Powell manages to combine hilarious and edgy comedy with a tale that, as it unspools, takes on more emotional weight.
The first section is called Rough Stuff with good reason. The title could be taken to mean any manner of things, but Powell himself calls a lot of this stuff crap, saying it looks like he’s inked some of it with an electric toothbrush. It’s not actually that bad, but it is crude. However, the strength of the idea behind the content shines through, and both writing and art improve almost page by page.
By the time we reach the second section, Nothin’ But Misery, the improvement in quality is readily apparent, and somewhat remarkable. The previous material showed real promise, but these pages look like they were produced by the mutant offspring of Mike Mignola, Jeff Smith and Jack Kirby. Clearly Powell had sold his soul to the devil. If so, judging by the amount of awards and critical acclaim he would eventually garner, it was clearly a worthwhile trade.
My Murderous Childhood (and Other Grievous Yarns) continues to expand the main cast with the introduction of Dr Hieronymus Alloy, mad scientist, and the Mudd brothers (bog lurks). We also enjoy a trip to the Hobo Jungle, where Franky and Goon try to avoid being eaten by a tribe of cannibal hoboes, led by Bob Dylan. The best story in this section may well be when we see how Goon and Franky first met, and how Goon set himself up as a mob enforcer.
Heaps of Ruination, the final book in this collection, is an absolute cracker. All four stories are excellent. We kick off with a widescreen adventure movie, as Goon gathers a team of misfits to stage a bold assault on the Zombie Priest’s stronghold. Then it’s a big dumb monster movie that starts off as an interplanetary invasion before turning into Mexican Godzilla vs Giant Kirby Monster. The penultimate story has a big red guest star in the shape of Hellboy, with four pages drawn by the mighty Mignola himself. Just when you think things can’t get any better, the final tale begins as a piss-take of vampires and ends with a gut punch that showcases just how accomplished Powell has become as a writer.
This book also has a great deal of bonus material: all the sketchbook/gallery sections from the trade paperbacks, as well as all the introductions (sometimes two or three) to the various editions.
If you don’t know The Goon, it’s unlikely that you’d start with this massive collection. However, for fans of the series, and they are legion, this is a prestige format (hardback, stitched and with dust-jacket) that they’ll most definitely want to get their hands on. Alternatively, there’s a slightly smaller paperback equivalent Bunch of Old Crap Volume 1.