I'm going to start with Powell's art this time, because I'm going to need some ramping up before I get to what exactly is going on storywise from here on out. First, in the middle of this collection is a series of one-off stories done by a great group of writers and artists showing the Goon in situations that reflect the PC (pre-Chinatown) tone of the series perfectly. These are fun diversions that highlight the sublime buffoonery that Powell encapsulated so well, and the series about the Pecker...well, there's nothing like running a joke into the ground in a book about people never staying there. But now in the AC (You can do it.), there are subtle changes that happen across the board that show how far Powell has shifted in his treatment of his beloved tragic heroes. We begin with an almost blank, impressionistic rendition of how the Horseeater Wood got its name, and what has plagued the town that lies on the edge of it for all its years, followed by the maturation of emotive tone in every panel. The meeting of the Priests is, for everything else this book has to offer, the perfect balance of the tone that will move forward throughout the series, as well as being the best example of just how nuanced a moment that can be created on the page. The Zombie Priest, who we've known as somewhat of a dangerous clown, who has touched on things beyond his abilities and has been terrified of what will be coming for him, is caught mid-scramble by the new, darker, and more somber Priest who's coming to bring pain, torment, and horror without the lighthearted tinge that we've come to enjoy. The poses between them are perfect for passing the torch of the story from silly gangster romp to truly terrible and terrifying all-out war upon the Goon and those innocents (somewhat) that he defends. There's an incredible poetry to the two images, and never have I seen someone distill their work to that fine a degree. It's simply incredible.
As I mentioned above, this is where our tale turns down a much darker path. Buzzard comes to the Goon with a dire warning, and the journey from jokey and hokey to tragic hero bleeding for all that is good and right begins. This will not end for another three volumes at the current pace, and though there's plenty of quick buffoonery to lighten the mood here and there, we've begun a descent into what it is to be a man in the impossible scenarios that he's faced with. Powell finds a way to evoke the tragic heroes of old while calling them a bunch of whining sissies, Goon handles more unbelievably bad spit than anyone but the author could imagine, and the moment that Frankie confronts Bella is a level of heartbreak on so many levels that it's hard to fathom in just the first pass. There are still comic diversions of senseless mayhem and mischief (Frankie's dream is a wondrous departure from every moment of sense.), but many more of these moments are more connected to and motivated by the story than they have been before, like Charley Mudd's revenge on Joey the Ball, or Goon's revenge on the pie-eating skunk ape. Don't get me wrong, there's still plenty to laugh at, but the moments that will steal joy are much more frequent and thoroughly engaging. There's a long list of characters who meet their ends in this volume, and no one goes pretty, but as ugly as our heroes go, the Goon is there to make sure that them that crossed him go worse.
If you've been getting into The Goon with these library collections, then you're about to see the true power and majesty of Eric Powell's twisted and brilliant mind hitting the next levels in every way. There's really something for everyone (who's over the age of 17, please...dear god, I can't imagine what this would do to kids.) in these pages, and if you're up for a good dose of catharsis drowned in whiskey and smothered in zombie guts, then this is the volume you've been waiting for.
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