The Goon #37 and Angel & Faith #5: Dark Horse Reviews

Today we have reviews for two Dark Horse titles for you… We’re going to skip major spoilers, but be warned there may be some things that can be construed as “in spoiler territory,” so tread carefully! On to the reviews:

The Goon #37

After several pure comedy issues, Eric Powell mixes things up a bit with a story that barely involves the Goon – and when it does, he’s only a small part of the proceedings, an instigating spark rather than the thrust of the narrative. And it mostly works, though it makes for a curious read… Though perhaps one of the more important comics that we’ve seen recently.

What’s it about, you ask? Good question, friend. Without ruining the whole thing, essentially it follows what happens when a sweatshop producing bolts of cloth suffers a devastating fire, and the workers try to unionize. Hilarious, right? Except Powell doesn’t ignore sneaking some sly jokes throughout the proceedings, and even using his usual bawdiness to surprisingly poignant effect. In fact, what Powell does here is use all the tricks at his disposal to tell a timely/timeless tale of workers versus corrupt businessman.

Particularly – and I’m sure this wasn’t lost on Powell at all – the situation harks back to the Depression, but also clearly references the Occupy Wall Street movement and the response of business in no uncertain terms.

That gets to why I think this comic might be so important: Powell lays out rather complicated, difficult concepts in simple terms, filtered through the lens of a supernatural revenge story. If you want to read it as a Goon comic, that’s fine, but Powell also packs the issue with ideas about workers rising up against their masters. He does it in broad strokes, to be sure: its not a two-sided issue the way it appears here. But putting potentially inflammatory concepts about corporate structure, and responsibility to the working people in a comic, even one on the fringes like The Goon, is a surprising and exciting thing for a creator to do.

Point being: kudos to Dark Horse for publishing this book, and kudos to Powell for making it such a brisk, fun read, packed to the gills with panels that range from anguishing to hilarious, to even occasionally kind of sexy. It may not nail every single bit – the denouement is a little sudden and abrupt – but when you’re dealing with big ideas in such a simple, straightforward manner, I can forgive a few faults here and there.

Plus: The Goon has now been around for twenty-five years? Really? That Powell has maintained this level of quality and creativity for so long is incredible, and deserves some sort of award. Dark Horse should really give him a full half hour for lunch sometime. Just a thought.

Angel & Faith #5

I guess I shouldn’t necessarily be surprised how superb this book has been across the board. But as a spin-off of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, a title that was frustratingly inconsistent towards the end of its “Season 8” run, I wasn’t holding my breath. Luckily, I was totally wrong, on all counts: Buffy has been excellent since it came back in Season 9, and it’s quite possible that Angel & Faith is even better.

What makes the title work so well? It may be that writer Christos Gage has perfectly captured the voices of two of the most damaged characters in the Buffy-verse, Angel and Faith. It may be that he has a fabulous season-long hook: Angel is trying to bring Giles, Buffy’s mentor who Angel himself killed, back to life even though he knows he probably shouldn’t. Or it may just be that the book is relentlessly creative, adding exciting new ideas into a fantasy universe that is now almost fifteen years old.

Yeah, that made me choke a little too, when I checked that number.

Anyway, Angel and Faith is a great book, perfect for those new to the Buffyverse, and old readers as well; but this is all prelude to this issue, which gets a bit away from the overarching storyline for a done-in-one that brings back both ditzy vampire starlet Harmony Kendall, and loose-skinned lovable loser demon Clem. And its once again a tribute to Gage’s skill as a writer that he picks up one of my least favorite plot threads from Buffy Season 8 – seemingly out of nowhere, and with nearly no repercussions, Harmony reveals that vampires are real to the world by having her own reality show – and makes it work.

The hook is pretty simple: someone has sent Harmony a sex tape that could ruin her career, and she wants Angel and Faith to find out who’s blackmailing her. Gage, who worked for a while as a TV writer on Law & Order: SVU, knows perfectly how to structure a story like this, from introduction of suspects, to final reveal… And makes it fit seamlessly both with the Buffyverse, and as a comic rather than a TV show.

If I had two quibbles, its that, as opposed to Angel and Faith, who Gage has just grabbed, he writes Harmony as quite a bit smarter than she’s usually portrayed. It makes some sense given she’s become a self-run corporation promoting Harmony Kendall, and is possible given the time jump from the last time we’ve seen her, but it didn’t quite read for me.

The other quibble – and this is a silly one – is that as much as I like guest artist Phil Noto, and he does a bang up job on Clem in particular, I miss regular series artist Rebekah Isaacs, who raised the art bar far too high in the first four issues, ably jumping between likenesses of real life actors, crazy demon fights, and some really excellent characters work. So yeah, I get that she needs a break, but I want her back soon, please.

Those aside, if you’re looking to jump right into a new, great series, this is the perfect issue to get on board. Gage perfectly integrates the back-story, character ticks, and ideas into every page, making them work for the action rather than stopping the plot for exposition. Plus, this issue in particular is just a ton of fun, mercilessly skewering Hollywood celebrity culture. I know this has a limited run, but if Gage on Angel & Faith could go on forever, I’d be a happy duck.

The Goon #37 and Angel & Faith #5 hit comic stands on December 28th from Dark Horse Comics.

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