After learning of Eric Powell at this year’s NY Comic-Con, I’ve been eager to absorb Powell’s highly touted wit and humor. Indeed, Powell’s reputation precedes himself, but interestingly enough this particular work, while a fine representation of The Goon experience, displays a concentrated depth of craftsmanship within an unusually somber though focused graphic novel.
Upon first glance Chinatown and the Mystery of Mr. Wicker can be wrongly dismissed as a duo of stories slapped together, providing a lengthier dose of unrepentant, whimsical pummeling one typically would expect from a Goon escapade. That expectation is immediately squashed with Powell’s blunt but effective disclaimer on page one: “This Ain’t Funny.” Even for a newcomer like myself, the blank slate this creates gives way to a duo of thoughtful interweaving of chronologically related episodes detailing a pensive depth to Powell’s chronicle of a brute foretold. Committed fans will receive a greater depth to Goon’s history, while new readers will get a firm grasp for the man himself in his quiet monstrosity.
The story dreamily flows back and forth between Goon’s young adulthood and his firm establishment as strongman-in-chief of the eerily invisible boss Labrazio. One half concerns the past circumstances detailing Goon and Franky’s reluctant negotiations of waterfront lebensraum with the entrepreneurial Triads, while the other with a more prickly unseen influence, straining the pair’s grasp on their community’s cash flow. Connecting these instances are the relationships experienced by Goon. His continual heartache with the sultry Mirna is better understood given the lessons learned from his time with Isabella in Chinatown. The resultant maturity Powell bestows upon Goon beyond mere street thuggery is thus the drive behind this story; it is where his scars, both visible and buried are fully revealed.
Which is not to say the tale lacks action in favor of romance. Powell sketches a startling brutality in Goon’s worldview, complete with flying fists, lead pipes and two-by-fours to all locations on the anatomical map. For however many lumps that Goon and Franky give, they receive an equal share, perhaps a reminder that they are admittedly little more than hardened tough guys and certainly no superheroes. Undoubtedly, though they live among countless thieves and slack-jaws, one can sympathize with their basic humanity but probably not much beyond an image of a pouncing Franky shrieking “Knife to the Eye!”
It is an elegantly sketched and colored brutality, though. The artwork emanates an expertly smoothened feel, showing great care attended to each line drawn on the page. The alternating time periods are brilliantly divided into a past colored in smoke-filled, charcoaled sepia, contrasted with a present washed in comfortable, light pastels with cloudy overshadowing of a rundown, quasi-gothic town. It is a strangely electrified and askew milieu, evoking both the squalor and dustiness imagined by John Steinbeck but with a supernatural and inviting charisma.
Chinatown and The Mystery of Mr. Wicker is not only an excellent introduction to The Goon, it is a meticulous work of art. Hopefully it will introduce new readers to the creativity of Eric Powell but it may also serve an indication for Powell to continue his graphic novel exploration.