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Preview

The Goon: Chinatown

Writer: Eric Powell
Artist: Eric Powell
Playback:stl, November 2007

When comedic actors make their first drama, there's typically a collective flinch from filmgoers. Sure, those actors may have hinted at serious roles, or even played mildly funny characters in dramas, but when they take the plunge and abandon comedy (even briefly), audience skepticism rises. It's a big risk, and even though many have failed, it's a risk worth taking.

In The Goon: Chinatown, the first straight-to-graphic novel release in the Eisner Award-winning Goon series, Eric Powell not only removes the comedy, but takes another Hollywood risk and makes a prequel. Comics aren't the movies, though, and with this book, Powell has made something better than anything currently in cineplexes or on comic shop shelves.

The first page of the book establishes that it isn't like previous Goon comics. Above a darkened image of a Chinese dragon, in large white letters are the words "This Ain't Funny."

Chinatown takes place in the same universe as previous comics, but years before. It deals with the Goon's love life and it establishes how his face and eye became damaged. Franky is still the Goon's sidekick, but he's slightly more timid than he is in the previous comics. Also, the two don't fight any zombies. Instead, they deal with a Chinese gang and the Goon's own personal heartbreak.

But just because the story is emotional and there aren't any zombie battles doesn't mean Powell has gone soft with The Goon. Violence and supernatural happenings abound, but the comic is more melancholy and low key. The tragedies of Goon's young life are truly tragic, and the emotional storyline that develops around Franky near the end of the book is fairly heartrending. Anyone buying this expecting a typical Goon book will either be sorely disappointed or terrifically impressed, most likely the latter.

While the storytelling has been stepped up, so has the art. Each page is well-designed and the drawings themselves are downright gorgeous at times. Action panels come alive while silent panels convey complex emotions. At one point, five consecutive pages feature only the Goon in close up as he first starts to cry, but then becomes a scared, sobbing wreck. The way Goon's expressions and the drab-colored background change along with light and shadows could and should earn the sequence a spot on a gallery wall.

If comics were movies, The Goon's foray into solid drama would earn two enthusiastic thumbs up and a slew of award nominations. (Gabe Bullard)

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