When TKO Studios launched in 2019, they aimed to disrupt the comic book publishing business. And while their method of “binge-releasing” titles in complete, six-issue story arcs is certainly a unique and refreshing publishing model, it would all be for naught if the series themselves lacked in quality. Luckily for TKO, the majority of their titles have been met with acclaim from readers and critics alike, and Goodnight Paradise is no exception. With Goodnight Paradise, writer Joshua Dysart, artist Alberto Ponticelli, and colorist Giulia Brusco have crafted a grimy, unsettling, and deeply thought-provoking spin on the murder mystery genre that will stay with readers long after they turn the final page.
Goodnight Paradise has a relatively simple premise: a Venice Beach man discovers a murdered girl in a dumpster and does his best to avenge her by bringing her killer to justice. Where the story stands out from other murder-mysteries is that its protagonist is an alcoholic homeless man named Eddie who seems to be in a near-constant fever dream state. Eddie is the epitome of an unreliable narrator, whose hallucinations and constant drunkenness add a level of uncertainty and spontaneity to the book that make sure the reader is never at ease or comfortable in the story’s direction.
As Eddie drunkenly stumbles his way through Venice Beach and other Los Angeles neighborhoods, readers are introduced to an incredibly diverse cast of deeply engaging and fleshed out characters. From the always partying Friday to the caretaker Hogan, each character has their own motivations and their own part to play in helping Eddie find this murderer. Even the apparently evil, Nazi-tattooed Birmingham is given a surprising amount of depth, and readers may even find themselves empathizing with him by the end of the story.
While some of Eddie’s fever dreams can be off-putting and his actions occasionally frustrating, he’s ultimately an incredible protagonist thanks to the depth of his character and how you’re never sure, as a reader, if you should feel bad for him, root for him, or dislike him. For every one good thing Eddie does, he seems to immediately do something reckless that results in a moment of apology and promise of grand gestures to make up for it. Anyone who has struggled with a friend or family member who has grappled with addiction will immediately recognize the tendencies of Eddie’s behavior and possibly empathize with his predicament.
But Eddie is extremely complicated, and Dysart doesn’t hold back in posing hard-hitting questions about Eddie without necessarily answering them. Is Eddie’s journey for justice for this murdered girl (Tessa) a valiant quest, or is he sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong and ultimately furthering gender stereotypes that men need to save women? Is Eddie a powerless victim of a system set against him, or is he a victim of his own poor decisions? Is Eddie a good person, or is he simply trying to convince himself he is a good person? None of these questions are ever answered — instead, they’re left for the reader to ponder throughout the book and, likely, well after they’ve finished.
What’s most astonishing about Goodnight Paradise is how it manages to be brutally honest, unfazed in its depiction of homeless life, and utterly chaotic without being a tough or overtly depressing read. While the story is by absolutely no means hopeful or uplifting in any way, the beautiful locales brought to life by Ponticelli, who traveled to Venice Beach and took thousands of reference photos, presents a visual aesthetic that regularly contrasts the more grim elements of the narrative. When needed, however, Ponticelli expertly captures the darkness of certain scenes and locations, especially with the help of Brusco’s colors. Eddie’s fever dreams pop with neon colors while flashbacks into Tessa’s past feature more dreary and drab colors that help illustrate the utter despair that her life encompassed.
Goodnight Paradise is a rare comic book that will leave most readers feeling somewhat off balance, lingering on the story and the pure chaos and absurdity it illustrates. It’s a deeply engaging narrative with an eclectic and lively cast of characters, but what makes this series truly shine is the questions it forces readers to ask about its protagonist and the struggles he, and those like him, face in the real world. If you missed out on Goodnight Paradise during TKO Studios’ first wave of books, I cannot recommend it enough.