GutterGeek Review: BUZZARD

Posted by on September 3rd, 2010 at 12:25 PM

Eric Powell, Buzzard (Dark Horse, 2010). Three-issue miniseries, $3.50 per issue.

Sometimes it’s 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 ground—a blurring of genres that results in chaotic, bawdy, raucous fun. Powell draws from comedy, pulp adventure, horror, and irreverent satire (see Satan’s Sodomy Baby and the Goon letters column), but rarely does he wander into the territory of poetic drama. This isn’t to say that The Goon hasn’t tread this ground before. Powell’s Goon: Chinatown graphic novel was a serious story about a formative and tragic event in the title character’s life. But Chinatown was prosaic and dramatic—a traditional story told with plenty of narrative dialogue. Powell’s newest three-issue miniseries, Buzzard, offers something else entirely: a quiet, contemplative polemic on the nature of mortality.

Actually, it’s less a polemic than an illustrated free-verse poem. Buzzard focuses on a supporting character from the main Goon series—an unnamed ghost of a man who is cursed to wander the Earth forever without the release of death. Readers don’t 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 town’s desolation. A young boy from the town accompanies him on his journey. That’s about it.

But plot isn’t 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. Powell’s visual art has always been arguably the strongest part of his cartooning arsenal, and this is in full effect in Buzzard. The words aren’t weak, but the illustrations are extraordinarily strong. Landscapes are bleak, desolate, and tilted toward collapse. Characters’ postures are slouched. Faces are either fearful or stoic. Buzzard is a story that relies heavily on the ubi sunt (“where have they gone?”) motif of medieval lyric poetry. It’s 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 shouldn’t suggest that Buzzard is entirely a morbid downer of a book. It is tragic and difficult, but it’s also beautiful and poignant. It’s a book with a point, and it’s the first time I’ve really taken Powell seriously as a storyteller who can utilize a broad emotional spectrum. Dave Stewart, paired perfectly with Powell’s pencils and inks, continues to offer evidence that he’s the best colorist in comics today. And the back-up feature in each issue—a story called “Billy the Kid’s Old-Timey Oddities”—provides comic relief from the emotional heft of the primary story. “Old-Timey Oddities” 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 today’s trade paperbacks), I do hope they include some of the Buzzard’s most interesting stories from The Goon (especially #24).

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