A Slice of Fried Gold

#6 - The Goon: Chinatown by Eric Powell

Monday, March 3, 2008

#6 - The Goon: Chinatown by Eric Powell
If you ever step foot in this town again...I will kill you.
As I continue to read through my current book (Lamb by Christopher Moore), I read the occasional graphic novel to keep me somewhat near the mammoth 52 book pace I'm aiming for. Truth be told, I'm still way back, but I'm going to keep trying!

Up now? Eric Powell's first graphic novel version of his comic, the Goon. Chinatown is a massive departure from the comic series, but it's one that only makes sense. Here's a quick rundown of what the series is all about before I get into Chinatown.

The Goon is a noir stylized story of a character, shockingly named the Goon, who is the main enforcer for a gangster named Labrazio. The ongoing story is about how the Goon and best pal Franky continue fighting over rule of the city they live in against a number of foes. These foes include everything from primary villain Nameless Zombie Priest and his horde of zombies, a one eyed alien who has come down to Earth to enslave the planet, and all kinds of other ghouls, ghosts, and creatures that get in the Goon's way.

The comic is more often than not sheerly comedic, using the range of enemies the Goon fights and bizarre situations they get themselves into to get many, many laughs. Every once in a while, Powell pushes the plot further by incorporating serious plot points, but those stories are few and far between.

In Chinatown, that type of storytelling is the norm. It tells the story of the Goon's former love Isabella, his old enemy Xiang Yao, and how exactly the Goon's face became so heavily scarred. It's a tragic love story, and one that gives the character of the Goon far more depth than he used to have. Mostly absent from the story are the bizarre monsters, the irreverent and quite often intensely raunchy humor, all replaced with a story of loyalty, friendship, and betrayal. The dialogue still has the traditional snap to it, but most of the lines bite emotionally instead of with the typical levity they have.

It's a stunning departure by Powell, and one that he pulls off with every bit of success as he does with his equally great "fun" stories. Even better? This is where Powell begins incorporating a watercolor esque color scheme to his art, which he continues to do in the monthly series and has really stepped up the overall quality of the art since. Chinatown is one of the best looking graphic novels I've read since Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon's Pride of Baghdad. It's truly exceptional work by the two way comic star.

Now here is the question: with Silver Surfer: Requiem and Wanted getting full recommendations from me, will Chinatown get the same? Sadly no. Not because of quality, but because Chinatown works so well as a counterpoint and continuation of Powell's already 9 year old series. For a first time reader, it likely would not work as well.

But for those looking to pick up a bit of an unheralded and underappreciated comic series, the Goon is a great way to go. It's hilarious and constantly surprising, and it even picked up a bit of buzz after last summer's Superbad, in which character Seth (Michael Cera) had Goon posters up in his bedroom. Amazingly enough, that was plenty to spike sales a bit, but it still has a rather small audience. After you read into the series a bit, its definitely worth it to check out Chinatown.


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