Eric Powell, Buzzard (Dark Horse, 2010). Three-issue miniseries, $3.50 per issue.
Sometimes itâs really hard to take Eric Powell seriously. Best known for his creator-owned series The Goon, Powell has made a career out of puncturing the bubble of seriousness that has enveloped mainstream comics during the last couple decades. The Goon typically occupies an unusual middle groundâa blurring of genres that results in chaotic, bawdy, raucous fun. Powell draws from comedy, pulp adventure, horror, and irreverent satire (see Satanâs Sodomy Baby and the Goon letters column), but rarely does he wander into the territory of poetic drama. This isnât to say that The Goon hasnât tread this ground before. Powellâs Goon: Chinatown graphic novel was a serious story about a formative and tragic event in the title characterâs life. But Chinatown was prosaic and dramaticâa traditional story told with plenty of narrative dialogue. Powellâs newest three-issue miniseries, Buzzard, offers something else entirely: a quiet, contemplative polemic on the nature of mortality.
Actually, itâs less a polemic than an illustrated free-verse poem. Buzzard focuses on a supporting character from the main Goon seriesâan unnamed ghost of a man who is cursed to wander the Earth forever without the release of death. Readers donât need to know a thing about the character to understand this story, though, as Buzzard has little bearing on the Goon series. There is little in the way of plot here. Buzzard wanders into a town, finds it ravaged by monsters, and goes on a journey to find the monster god responsible for the townâs desolation. A young boy from the town accompanies him on his journey. Thatâs about it.
But plot isnât the point of this book. Powell uses very little dialogue in Buzzard, choosing instead to tell his story through the use of narrative captions and evocative art. Powellâs visual art has always been arguably the strongest part of his cartooning arsenal, and this is in full effect in Buzzard. The words arenât weak, but the illustrations are extraordinarily strong. Landscapes are bleak, desolate, and tilted toward collapse. Charactersâ postures are slouched. Faces are either fearful or stoic. Buzzard is a story that relies heavily on the ubi sunt (âwhere have they gone?â) motif of medieval lyric poetry. Itâs a somber, reflective story that asks readers to think about life as a gradually diminishing voyage toward death. Even the (few) exchanges of dialogue in the story are geared toward this end.
I shouldnât suggest that Buzzard is entirely a morbid downer of a book. It is tragic and difficult, but itâs also beautiful and poignant. Itâs a book with a point, and itâs the first time Iâve really taken Powell seriously as a storyteller who can utilize a broad emotional spectrum. Dave Stewart, paired perfectly with Powellâs pencils and inks, continues to offer evidence that heâs the best colorist in comics today. And the back-up feature in each issueâa story called âBilly the Kidâs Old-Timey Odditiesââprovides comic relief from the emotional heft of the primary story. âOld-Timey Odditiesâ is completely unrelated to the Buzzard story, but it is entertaining and does offer additional value to the individual issues. That value is important here, because the lead Buzzard tale is only 18 pages per issue and $10.50 is a bit much to pay for a 54-page story. When the series is collected as a graphic novel, it will work better. But if Dark Horse is going to charge more than $10 for the book (which is standard in todayâs trade paperbacks), I do hope they include some of the Buzzardâs most interesting stories from The Goon (especially #24).