Sometimes the heroes you find in a comic book couldn’t look less like the protagonists you’re prepared to expect in superhero books. They’re dirty, mean, and don’t have a single nice thing to say. Thugs, prisoners, and bikers, they may not sparkle, but when the chips are down there may be no better champions or friends. This week we’re taking a look at three comics featuring unlikely heroes: a goon in the hardest of hard luck towns, prisoners castaway on a distant planet, and a gang of SoCal apes out for bloody revenge.
The Goon: Once Upon A Hard Time #4
Created by Eric Powell
Eric Powell finishes his newest installment of The Goon this week in what has been one of the most violent and darkest stories of the series so far. Goon has been broken and battered by the invading witches and forced to do some truly awful things, making it seem more likely than ever that he may not walk away from this fight, at least not with his soul intact.
Throughout “Once Upon A Hard Time”, Powell has been using every tool in his arsenal to construct a tragedy. It most closely resembled “Chinatown” up to this point, the best installment of The Goon to date. The tone, style, and mood of the story never change in issue four, but mid-way through it provides a solution to the problem that makes the story resemble a comedy more closely. It’s an easy answer that feels like something from a children’s cartoon once you strip Powell’s cartooning away. Nothing about what happens in Goon’s climactic battle with the invading witches speaks to the themes or ideas that led to this moment. It’s plot-driven storytelling getting to the point that is desired, not what was earned.
It’s hard to get hung up on the two twists which this issue relies upon due to its presentation. Powell has stripped away everything but what was necessary to tell this story relying more heavily on pencils and minimal colors in order to create an inimitable sense of mood. Noir runs through this issue’s veins like drugs through Juarez. It pumps darkness into every panel, elevating the violence and quiet moments alike. The action portrayed here is some of the best Powell has ever laid out, with each crack of bone and slap of skin emanating pain.
The Goon: Once Upon A Hard Time #4 is an incredible piece of cartooning. Powell has pushed himself to new levels here, and each page ought to be lingered upon. Yet the story behind his craft isn’t as powerful as what has come before. While the craft is almost enough to cover it, the story cheats and ultimately delivers an ending that doesn’t connect with what led to it. It is an excellent looking read that tragically stumbles on the precipice of greatness.
Written by Ed Brisson
Art by Damian Couceiro
Colors by Cassie Kelly
The finale of Cluster arrives with lots of questions left to be answered. Will the government’s inhuman treatment of prisoners be exposed? Will Samara find redemption? Will anyone make it out alive? All of these are answered in the pages of Cluster #8 albeit in a perfunctory manner that leaves little room for the excitement they ought to provoke.
Cluster #8 isn’t a bad comic, it just is a comic. Everything on display in this climax has been seen many times before. It’s so comfortable that it feels like placing your place in a well-worn shoe, but one that you might have just aged out of. It is a quintessential action movie climax complete with sacrifice, showdowns with the big bads, and some forced emotional sequences. It could easily be grafted onto the next Die Hard or Untouchables script if you removed the sci-fi elements. Everything about the script is functional, but functional isn’t enough to make someone care about these characters or excite them about this action.
The action is packed into this issue, but not in a thrilling, edge of your seat way. There’s simply not enough room to get everything done so the two biggest action sequence don’t even receive a full page to build or release tension. They happen without even a funny one-liner to play up how quickly everything is accomplished. Damian Couceiro never confuses the flow of the story, but that flow moves so quickly that there’s little to grab onto or linger with. Events happen and then pass on.
It’s difficult to summon strong feelings about Cluster #8. It’s neither great nor terrible because it is really just forgettable. Characters, plotting, and action all feel so familiar that you can slip in and out of them and hardly notice. It’s certainly a well assembled comic, but so are most machines we use everyday and that doesn’t make them noteworthy.
The Humans #8
Written by Keenan Marshall Keller
Art by Tom Neely
Colors by Kristina Collantes
Sometimes it feels like a comic can’t get much bigger. After reading The Humans #7, it’d be hard to imagine the next issue being any more intense, more violent, or more passionate, and yet it is all of these things. In the aftermath of the assault on Kirby’s, Johnny and The Humans aren’t backing down. They’re out for blood and nothing will stop them.
Tom Neely’s work was a discovery for many at the very beginning of this series, but what he does in The Humans #8 is his greatest accomplishment on the book yet. He’s digging into his his ink-stained roots that made The Wolf one of the standout indie comics of 2014. The action and drama are as clear as ever, but when the narrative peaks something dark and nasty crawls out. Every time the issue reaches an emotional or violent climax, his artwork becomes more raw, more primal. Blood flies in great sprays of color and Johnny’s interior is revealed to be something broken and dark. In these moments Neely creates a pure expression of the rage contained in this narrative, brushing tragedy onto this tale of bikers and apes with every bit as much power as the finest novels or films.
Outside of these brutal moments, the story flows with as much speed and wit as ever. Chases, fight scenes, and even tense verbal throwdowns all run smoothly between panels and down the page. Keenan Marshall Keller clearly isn’t a fan of decompression in comics, loading this issue with no less than three four significant scenes. That wouldn’t be effective if Keller and Neely didn’t have such a clear sense of pacing, but that is never in doubt. You start this issue racing down the asphalt and only gain speed from there, but if you grip tight, it won’t leave you as a smear on the pavement.
The Humans #8 moves like a finely tuned chopper, feels like the best heavy metal riffs, and aches with real pain. It’s not a comic for the faint of heart and it won’t hold your hand, but if you don’t look away it’ll sear your brain with something genuine and untamed, something human.
What did you think of this week’s comics? Sound off in the comments below.