Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Big Man Plans Review (Eric Powell, Tim Wiesch)

1979, Nashville, Tennessee. An ex-Vietnam war vet returns home to the town he bitterly left years ago for one final mission: revenge. And he’s also a little person. With Big Man Plans.

Ok, first of all: I really liked Big Man Plans. Second: I’m not joking - this is an EXTREMELY dark and violent comic. I want to recommend this to as many readers as possible (obviously excluding younger readers) but I’m not sure this level of graphic violence is for everyone. There are some very fucked up scenes in this book so be warned.

Eric Powell’s The Goon is one of the best ongoing titles out there. Generally it’s a mix of Golden Age comic book action, straight drama, ridiculous goofy humour, and pulpy chic. Sometimes though Powell will put out a Goon book that’s dead serious. And while there a couple of scenes of dark humour, Big Man Plans is tonally like one of those books: full on, brooding drama.

It’s such an unapologetically pitch black revenge tale seared through with so much pain and tragedy, any yuks you might have about the protagonist being a little person are out the window almost immediately. Big Man is not fucking around (we never learn his name but let’s call him Big Man). And even as graphic as The Goon can sometimes be, I don’t think Powell has ever drawn anything quite like the stuff in this book - he goes way off the reservation in this one.

It’s really well written too. Powell and Tim Wiesch both write with Powell on art. It’s a simple revenge story interspersed with a deeply sad life story - Big Man gets beat up at school, at the orphanage, in the army, just about everywhere. His heart gets stomped on repeatedly until hate is all that’s left and he becomes a mini avatar of death.

Powell/Wiesch strike a fine balance between the two storylines so the pacing never flags and you learn all you need to about Big Man’s character to understand where he’s coming from. Once you get to the final pages you find out what it was all about though you can pretty much piece it together before then. Even so, it’s a well put-together story.

Art-wise, it’s Eric Powell. If you know the guy’s style, you’ll know it’s first class quality all the way. He uses a variety of styles - paints, pencils, inks - for different sequences like un-inked pencils for the childhood flashbacks; that sequence in the jail is deliberately very hazy; and we get clear inks for key moments so the characters’ facial expressions pierce the pages.

But, again, wow, once Big Man gets going, taking out his targets, Powell does not shy away from showing you every gory detail - and it is fucking gory! You’ll see a man decapitated with a pair of pliers from the top down!

All said and done, I can’t say I liked Big Man the character – by the end, he was just too far gone - but I was rooting for him to succeed. And even though it’s grim as hell, it’s a very compelling story that you’ll want to read in one sitting, especially if you like your revenge stories bleak and visceral.

In some ways it reminded me of Frank Miller’s The Hard Goodbye - an unstoppable protagonist on a blood-drenched quest of righteous fury. Even if Marv and Big Man are clearly physically different, they are kindred spirits, though Powell opts to show the reader far more than Miller did with his black and white panels.

Eric Powell and Tim Wiesch’s Big Man Plans is a brilliant comic and a powerful story with a really memorable protagonist – but, man alive, it’s brutal! Real castrated-balls-stapled-to-the-wall-and-napalm-the-house kinda stuff! 

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