Graphic Novel/Comics Review

A History of Violence

(2005) John Wagner and Vince Locke, Titan Books, 6.99, trdpbk, 286pp, ISBN 1-845-76212-6


OK, so by now you already know there's a forthcoming David Cronenberg movie, loosely based on this comic (very loosely, I assure you). Got a lot of good actors in it too; Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris and William Hurt, to name but a few. But you should know this isn't a recent comic - it came out in 1997 from Paradox. John Wagner everybody knows as one of the creators of Judge Dredd. Vince Locke I first noted in the mid-eighties on Deadworld (Calibre?), a zombie comic, but he's probably better known as the inker on The Sandman: Brief Lives (over Jill Thompson's pencils, if memory serves...). The art here is a lot more Deadworld than Brief Lives; black and white, sparse, almost sketchy - it works particularly well in this digest-sized format (though I'm still pissed that it makes my shelves look untidy - perhaps I should get a life...).

The comic opens with a couple of bad guys killing a couple of hitch-hikers then rolling into small town USA where they attempt to rob Tom McKenna's diner, only to get their asses kicked and one of them gets killed. But Tom's just an easygoing small town kinda guy, isn't he? But the subsequent media spotlight threatens to illuminate Tom's past, and that makes him nervous... Which is the point at which film starts to diverge from comic. As reported to me, Cronenberg was given a script, liked the first third or so, rewrote the rest and was practically shooting (film) before he even found out that the script had been a comic! Anyway, it seems when Tom was younger he and a friend turned over the Mob, killing a number of 'Guys' and stealing a load of loot. Naturally enough the Mob are not too happy and, when the publicity surrounding Tom's heroics in the diner come to their attention, they decide to have a little chat with him... In the end, after having tried to defend his home and family, Tom decides to take the fight to the Mob and careers toward a sickening revelation about his friend's fate...

Probably not the most original plot in the world, but executed with a lot of style, and a cinematographic sensibility that demonstrates only too well why this was scripted as a film. The book has been tailored for adults who don't want to be seen reading comics - book sized format, no images on the cover. Why, you could almost be reading a real book. If that kind of thing bothers you. Who knows, bit by bit manga formats may well help to de-stigmatise the reading of comics, but it's interesting that it seems to be film adaptations that are driving this - think of all the re-issued volumes of Sin City in the wake of that film; slightly larger format than this, but still smaller than regular trade paperbacks. Be that as it may, this is, in its own right, a very good comic book. I think Locke's art is a matter of taste and might put some people off, but I like it. And this is a pretty good price for nigh on 300 pages! Give it a go if you like action thrillers. If you don't, don't. But whatever you do, don't see the film then decide to buy the comic, nor read the comic and on the strength of it see the film. The one is not the other; you'll have to take each on their own terms.

Tony Chester

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