PIP Volume 9: Year Of The Deadly Goon Giant Kingsman
Kept you waiting, huh?
Once again, Peril In Panels is back. Which means I am also back all up in your grill, the grill of comics in general, barbeque grills and any other grills both literal and figurative if I feel like it. So what am I, the loveable, brown-eyed, idol o’ no one, Jonathan Kruschack, going to talk about? Well, from the title you can guess more than one thing. Since I smashed parts of each comics’ title together so abruptly.
I managed to actually make some spare cash and bought a couple new comics during my long absence. From a coming of age tale set in the 80s at a school that’s basically Hogwarts for assassins, to an unofficial biography of a giant, two books set in an unnamed town that seems stuck in the Great Depression to another set in the distant future and finally a book about a complete loser who becomes the next James Bond-style super spy.
Let’s dig in, shall we?
Starting with that last book I mentioned previously. It’s called The Secret Service Kingsman by Mark Millar, with art by Dave Gibbons and co-plotting by Mathew Vaughn.
Basic Plot Overview (no spoilers): a British super spy named Jack London gets called back to his old neighbourhood by his sister after her oldest son is arrested in the London Riots. Feeling guilty that once he became an agent he basically left his family behind to live in poverty, he takes the young man under his wing and trains him in everything from manners to murder because the young man is just like him: a natural talent who can quickly adapt if given proper instruction. Then the two are instructed to take on a very serious case: mass kidnappings of various celebrities that is linked with a plan to murder 90% of the world’s population.
Now that’s out of the way lets get into the details. The writing is good. The story is fairly predictable and the characters are kinda bland. Very typical Mark Millar story, didn’t really feel any influence from Mathew Vaughn at all though so either he’s very subtle or didn’t do much. I did enjoy the plot but its very by-the-numbers. I really think Millar wrote this in hopes it’d become a movie right away or at the very least a short TV series. He does capture the feeling of these characters, the way they live and the differences between everyone. Which is to say, they all have their own voices. It’s just none of them are very interesting. The main character is just a white guy. The only thing that makes him interesting is when the story reminds you of his duality: high-trained MI6 agent who used to be a British street hooligan. And I did enjoy how all he wants in life is to make sure his mom and little brother are happy and not living in poverty with no hope, forced to coexist in the same space as an abusive boyfriend of his mom’s. It’s an overall happy moment, in a story that ends happily, just as you expect.
The art, handled by Dave Gibbons, inked by Andy Lanning after issue 2 and with lettering by both Gibbons and Angus Mckie, is good as well. Dave Gibbons is most famous for his work on Watchmen and it honestly hasn’t changed much in the years since. Still very tight, clean work that presents action and emotion clearly. I just wish the character designs were a bit more developed.
Again, the main character is just a bland white guy with short, brown hair. He looks the exact same before he becomes an agent to! For the love of all that is comics, HE’S A TROUBLED YOUTH. Give him something to make him stand out. A neck tattoo, piercings, long, dyed hair at the beginning, SOMETHING! Make him not just another white dude in a sea of white dudes. If this ever gets adapted for something else I really hope they just take everything involving the main character and make it somebody completely different.
So, all in all, a fun read. Won’t take you long, you’ll probably enjoy it if you like James Bond and Mark Millar (when he’s not being shitty) check it out. It’s not very satisfying but much like eating half a tuna sandwich, it is enjoyable at the very least.
Next up is an unofficial biography by the esteemed, award-winning cartoonist Box Brown for one of my favourite pro-wrestlers of all time: Andre The Giant, called ANDRE THE GIANT, LIFE AND LEGEND*.
*Just a side note, this book is written in a way the a non-wrestling fan will understand everything. It’s not about Pro Wrestling, its about a man who was a pro wrestler, among other things.
So, the art and writing are all handled by Box Brown himself and he does an amazing job with both. His simplified art style is fantastic, showing a wide range of emotions when needed and depicting movement and actions much more accurately than an initial look would leave you to believe. It’s deceptively deep. It appears shallow but like Kate Beaton or Charles Schultz is in actuality a sight to behold when observed closely.
Writing-wise it’s a highly researched book, taking bits and pieces from documentaries and interviews both featuring Andre The Giant as well as close friends, family and fellow wrestlers/managers/promoters. Brown himself admits he doesn’t know if everything is true, because many people tell the same stories about Andre and mix facts. I myself noticed something very different from what I’d heard in a documentary in one scene where Andre is asked by a doctor how much alcohol it takes to get him buzzed (so the doc can give him the right amount of anaesthetic). I heard years earlier the doctor was told a “case of beer usually makes him feel warm inside” whereas in this book, Brown claims its a bottle of vodka but it’s mostly little facts like that which are unimportant. The important fact is that Andre could and would drink a lot, among other things, and the book gets the important facts across very well. It even shows Andre in a negative light. How he wasn’t perfect. He could be an asshole, he had a temper, he was an absent father to his daughter, he said and did things he probably shouldn’t have. This book shows the good and the bad, how this man lived an incredible, although ultimately short, sad life. He may have been rich, travelled the world and been strong as all Hell but he was also lonely, looked upon as a sideshow freak and died at the hands of his medical condition: acromegaly.
All in all, a fantastic book. Much like Andre’s life, it ends shortly with a tinge of sadness. But overall, it is more of a celebration of the big guy’s life and leaves you feeling good once you’ve finished reading.
Now that the life and times of Andre the Giant are out of the way, lets go straight to the future. Far, far into the future with Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s amazing work Transmetropolitan (specifically, volume 3: Year Of The Bastard).
Okay, so backstory on Transmetropolitan: it’s the far future (as imagined in the 90s, which is freaky how well they called somethings and weren’t far off on others) and highly-opinionated journalist Spider Jerusalem (a Hunter S. Thompson expy) is hiding out in his mountain cabin, not working after having been the most popular, talented writer ever for years. Technically, he’s hiding in the cabin because he can’t write, he’s incapable of writing when people love him. He must be hated to get at the Truth (and yes, it gets capitalized for a reason, that ain’t no typo). One day he receives a phone call from The Whorehopper, the man who owns the company he signed a book deal to. For books that haven’t been written and that wrote him a gigantic advance check allowing him to run off for years. The Whorehopper tells him he still owes them books or he’ll be thrown in jail for contract breach, forcing Jerusalem to head back into the City (also not a typo) and get back to work.
But that’s just the beginning. Really, that’s not even like the entire plot of volume one (which is also great). The volume I’m going to be talking about is Year Of The Bastard, the third volume. Which takes place once Jerusalem has already “settled” back into the nameless City, gotten a job writing for The Word, a very popular newspaper run by an old friend of his, Royce, and already lost one assistant (Channon Yarrow) and gained a new one during the course of the story (Yelina Rossini).
Basic Plot Overview: Spider Jerusalem, in a haze of drugs and alcohol abuse (because he can’t deal with the City and the world without it), awakes to find his senses being constantly assaulted by news of the upcoming election. Ads for new candidates, interviews, press conferences, etcetera. Royce, his editor at The Word, and one of his few friends, tells him he needs to get off his ass and cover the election because that’s what everyone expects from him. Spider hates the idea but hates the current president (and all the candidates) so much he eventually finds himself drawn back into it. So, he sets out to do what he does best: tell the Truth, in all its honest, disgusting, disturbing, utterly gory glory.
Now the writing is handled by Warren Ellis, a fantastic writer with a real talent for making things gruesome and interesting and the art is mostly handled by Darick Robertson, who’s work before this was most superhero work and Transmetropolitan was really what thrust his art into the public eye. His art isn’t totally realistic but is incredibly close. It’s complimented in this volume by Rodney Ramos (inker), Nathan Eyring (colourist) and Clem Robins (letterer) who all do an unbelievably amazing job at making Robertson’s spectacular pencils look even better. The end result is a comic that hits you with an unstoppable barrage great storytelling from all fronts, a Dempsey Roll of art, if you will. (Sorry for the kind of out-of-place boxing reference, I’ve been watching Hajime No Ippo lately and loving it).
Little side anecdote: I have a special connection with this series. It’s one of the titles I would always read about and wished I had back when I was a little nerd and had hair on the top of my head instead of my face. It looked so out-there and cool, in the pages of the now defunct (I think) Wizard Magazine, which was a sort of terrible magazine about comic books that got really horrible as time went on. I’d love reading the tiny synopsis of each issue and looking at the minuscule panels and pages and covers shown in preview and think “One day I’ll have all the money and comics, especially this one!” Well, I don’t have much money and I don’t have all the comics. But I’ve finally gotten my hands on some of the comics I’ve been dying to read since childhood and I’m pleasantly surprised to say the majority of them are great. Now I just need all the money and my life will be complete.
Anyways, Transmetropolitan is a comic definitely worth reading if you like stories that blend art with writing nearly perfectly.
With the distant future finished, let’s go back in time (kind of) and take a gander at the first two volumes of Eric Powell’s The Goon.
For the B.P.O. I’ll have to give you people two, since it’s two separate stories. Volume One, “Nothin’ But Misery”, is the introduction to the Goon and his partner in crime (literally) Franky, who are seemingly small-time gangsters who work for Labrazio, a feared mob boss who hasn’t been seen in years due to being on the run from the authorities. They’re also mortal enemies of the nameless Zombie Priest, a terrifying little creature with a knack for necromancy. Basically, the Zombie Priest wishes to rule the unnamed city (what’s with all the unnamed cities in comics, anyways? Geez!) via a rotting, undead, army and the Goon hates him because he’s an evil jerk who’s encroaching on what the Goon believes to be his (and Labrazio’s) territory. So, the majority of volume one is the Goon going on “adventures” with Franky all the while fighting the Z.P.’s forces and the Z.P. finding out Goon’s second greatest secret outside of an event only referred to as “Chinatown” that the Goon refuses to speak of. There’s also the introduction of another important character called Buzzard, a holiday story, Franky’s hot date that goes bad and a parody of the film Signs, which are also great (the stories, not that movie).
Volume Two, “My Murderous Childhood (and Other Grevious Yarns)”, tells the origin of the Goon from his tragic youth, how he became Labrazio’s enforcer, how he met Franky, why even though the Goon is a thieving gangster everybody in the city loves (and fears) him, introduces and expands upon several character’s background, was almost sexually assaulted by a giant, female, humanoid, sea-monster, and features a guest story about a pie-eating contest. Fun stuff!
Now, onto the writing and art. The Goon is written and illustrated by Eric Powell and is really what got him the majority of his popularity in comics. He does have colourists to assist him, who all do fantastic jobs and obviously the art in the guest story in volume two is not Powell but Kyle Hotz, who’s also an interesting artist (though much different than Powell). Powell’s art is incredibly detailed. Each pose and gesture a character makes is finely crafted and presented, his art has a Jack Kirby-esque vibe and he even paints all his covers to look like oil paintings of old pulp fiction movies/book covers. He seems capable of drawing nearly anything well, from guns to people to monsters to backgrounds. His panel’s are placed perfectly for easy reading, changing size when necessary. Powell even works in photography into his books as well as graphic design (though I think he doesn’t do that entirely himself, as the first volume lists Amy Arendts as the designer so who knows). Great art from the outside to the inside.
The writing is also very well done. The only thing that may throw a reader off is that Powell inserts actual drama and character development and sadness into his insane stories featuring zombies and burly dudes punching robots. The Goon is a sad figure, from his facial disfigurement to his distrust of women who find him attractive (due to the previously mentioned Chinatown incident), Franky is insanely loyal to him due to their happenstance childhood meeting and there is mystery in who the nameless priest really is. So in-between the action and laughs you’ll actually begin to care for these characters. A sign of truly great writing.
Finally, we’ve come to volume one of Deadly Class by writer Rick Remender, artist Wes Craig, colourist Lee Loughridge and letterer and logo designer Rus Wooton.
Basic Plot Overview: set in America during 1987, homeless, orphaned, Nicaraguan teen Marcus Lopez Arguello wants to kill himself. Until one evening he meets a mysterious girl who invites him to join Kings Dominion Atelier of the Deadly Arts, a clandestine yet brutal high school where the children of the world’s crime families send their next generation of assassins to be trained. He’s also being hunted by a mysterious and horrifically disfigured young man who wants him dead.
So Deadly Class is essentially a heartfelt coming-of-age story with murder, drugs and sex. It’s The Breakfast Club but everybody’s what Judd Nelson playing the character John Bender pretended to be: a badass thug. Or at least they’re more than he really was. And they all do way harder drugs than pot. And they’re also the misfits of the school, so I guess they’re what you get if you combined Ally Sheedy’s character and Judd Nelsons. Just a bunch weird, violent, inebriated misfits bent on revenge.
You’ll notice that unlike a lot of comics I didn’t say that the comic was done by more than just the writer (Remender) and the artist (Craig), I mentioned nearly everybody involved but the editor (Sebastian Girner, he deserves credit cause he obviously did a good job) in that line, because while other comics have had teams that also did great jobs they didn’t all click so well together I felt the need to stress how incredible they all are.
Starting with Remender, he certainly knows how to A) craft interesting characters/plots/settings, B) have great dialogue no matter the scenario and C) write a multicultural group of people without there being too much stereotyping. And honestly the stereotyping is there (the asian girl is in a Yakuza style gang so of course she’s a martial artist) but it’s mostly played as a joke and that the kids aren’t good at being stereotypes. They’d rather all hang out together than with their exclusive cliques of wannabe secondary school murderers. And D) the man knows how to resolve stories while still making your mouth water for more with a cliffhanger.
Onto Wes Craig, the artist, he also does a bang-up job. Every character is unique, every panel is beautiful, his style changes as the story needs it to. Flashbacks look different, characters are animated and action is visceral and intense. I love every bit of it.
Colourist Lee Loughridge also knocks it out of the park by making every colour choice down to the most minute detail matter, have a reason for existing. Loughridge’s work is mind-boggling. Letterer and logo designer Rus Wooton did a remarkable job as well, his work is subdued and subtle but stands out if you’ve got the eye to notice it, just like Loughridge’s every choice has a reason.
Deadly Class is something I cannot recommend enough if you love these kinds of stories. Especially if you ever felt like you didn’t belong except with those few, certain friends or maybe even with nobody at all. And if you wish The Breakfast Club was a lot cooler with better taste in music. I don’t want to spoil it at all so please take my word for it and pick up this book in any way you can.
Okay, so with the reviews out of the way I should probably apologize for my absence. While it’s not just laziness that kept PIP from coming back that did factor into it. My computer breaking, the repairs taking a while, being busy with work and trying to have a kind of social life (even if the majority of it is drinking twice a week with a friend) all kind of piled up on me and left me unable to continue.
But I did a ton of thinking during the absence; about my life, PIP, Enigmatic Monster and what needs to happen. So. PIP won’t have a set update schedule, which I’ve mentioned before (though MAYBE I’ll have something out for this Halloween?), but it is coming back and will update. And I’m going to try and talk about more broad topics in comics when I can. Maybe even do articles about certain characters or creators, give my feelings on them, or discuss trends that I like or don’t like or feel indifferent towards. Maybe even go into my personal relationships with comics, why I like them so much.
Just please bare with me as we tumble down this hill together, oh dearest reader. I’ll do my best to either avoid all the sharp, jagged, rusty objects in the way or, at the very least, make sure they hit me instead of you. I hope you enjoyed reading this.
Keep it monstrous, everybody!