Origin stories are often a crap-shoot in modern comics. For every unique “heroic alien sacrifices himself to be the herald of an enormous purple world-devourer” beginning, there are ten Disney/Batman origins – parent figure is killed, weeping child vows vengeance against the forces of darkness, go! While The Goon #38 (Dark Horse) doesn’t entirely eschew the more typical tropes of the genre, it combines an interesting premise with some unique spins on the titular Goon’s background.
Issue 38 takes a break from ghoul-smashing to follow the life of Aunt Kizzie, The Goon’s mother figure whose death jump-started the series. Dedicated to writer/artist Eric Powell’s grandmother, the story follows Kizzie’s childhood with Rooney (The Goon’s psychopathic father), her unhealthy interactions with a gross of abusive men at home and at her job as a circus strongwoman, and her eventual acceptance of her unconventional abilities and looks. The departure from fighting the zombie hordes of the Priest, only to face the actualized menace of misogyny and emotional abuse, is a welcome one; Kizzie’s triumph over these more esoteric, unfortunately-normalized forces is a refreshing victory on the “smaller” scale of those seen in most mainstream comics.
That’s not, of course, to say that the narrative is particularly subtle in how it goes about this. Several dramatic moments are followed by a bug-eyed, hyper-kinetic freak-out by one of the principal characters – while such outbursts do fit the bill for such a violent family of central characters, they come across as schizophrenic at times. The best instance of this is an early scene involving a child’s murder: a well-laid out page, almost entirely wordless, is full of emotion conveyed almost solely by the eyes and panicked faces of Kizzie, Rooney, and the victim. Rooney then seizes Kizzie, madness in his bulging eyes, and threatens her to help him hide the body; what follows is an incredibly tender moment with Kizzie’s grandfather, again almost wordless.
Those tender moments are the real meat in this issue, and there are enough of them to forgive the flaws: Kizzie with her grandfather, a moonlit chat between two lovers under a tree, a single heartbreaking panel in a doctor’s office, all conveyed with skill (and few words) by Powell. Though the final two pages are somewhat maudlin, with the dialogue suddenly seeing a shift to a Silvery Age-y “I WILL STATE MY INTENT” style, one can clearly see the care brought to this issue’s crafting by a writer/artist paying tribute to a lost family member.
And the art! I’m an enormous fan of well-done grotesquerie in my comics, and issue 38 has plenty of Eric Powell’s beautifully ugly penciling. Smashed-in faces, squashed noses, and gaps in teeth abound in even the “prettiest” characters, and every action is granted a dynamic purpose with fluid, clean movement and sensible anatomy. The page layouts are impressive, to say the least – several significant moments are given un-paneled freedom to stretch out beyond the square walls, and the breathing room helps the flow immensely. With Dave “Best Colorist in Comics, Not The Eurythmics Member” Stewart’s sepia tones shifting to monochromes with accents, one gets a real sense of time shift as Kizzie’s life passes.
The Goon #38 serves as a fitting tribute, an artistic showcase, and one of the finer one-shots I’ve seen in the last few months.