Thursday Comics Hangover: The muscle behind the muscle

Eric Powell's The Goon is one of those rare commercially successful comics that also feels deeply personal. Yes, it's an adventure comic about a mountain of a tough guy who lives in a pit of a city that's constantly under assault from some supernatural menace or another. But it's also a book that feels entirely assembled from Powell's interests — 1940s noir movies, the weirdness of animals, expectations of masculinity — on a bone-deep level. Nobody else could make The Goon.

And did I mention that the book is hilarious? The Goon is full of some great jokes — bawdy humor, physical comedy, reveling in the silliness of phrases like "seafaring trousers" — and very few cartoonists are as good at bouncing back and forth between humor and adventure as quickly and as effortlessly as Powell.

A few years ago, The Goon took a turn for the serious. The storyline edged into darker territory, investigating a romance in the title character's past and the toll that his lifestyle of zombie-punching has exacted on him. And then the book went away for a while.

This year — the 20th anniversary of The Goon's first publication, if you want to feel old — Powell is bringing The Goon comic back with a new first issue that debuts next Wednesday. The preview copy that I read proves that Powell still has a lot to say with the character.

The gap in the title's publication is addressed immediately, with a caption that reads "Welcome home" and a sequence in which The Goon and his sidekick Franky arrive home from a long journey abroad. They expect to be greeted as heroes, but the town loathes them more than ever. One woman berates The Goon that things in town are "as bad as it ever was! Worse! Because you meatheads weren't here to keep things in check."

The Goon #1 mostly involves a resetting of the status quo, in which our main characters have to find lodging — no thanks to a horrible real estate agent — and take up a fight with someone who's not happy to hear about their homecoming. (The excellent sound effect "Ku-PUNCH!" is involved.)

But comics shelves are festooned with flying punches and supernatural threats. The reason you want to read The Goon is for Powell, and the artistry he brings to the book. The Goon's house-hunting sequence brings with it several gorgeously rendered illustrations of houses that are definitely haunted, sketched in a gorgeous washed-out ink and subtle coloring by Rachael Cohen. These dilapidated shacks and gloomy mansions force the reader to slow down and appreciate the effort that goes into every panel. When you step back from the duck gags and the sex jokes, the handiwork of a great cartoonist becomes visible. Powell, with his Eisneresque ability to blend cartooniness with realism, has always been The Goon's greatest strength.