Thursday, February 16, 2012

GN Review -- A History of Violence / John Wagner & Vince Locke

I've been enjoying a lot of the graphic novels I've been led to read lately, and continue to be pleased that the sequential art medium has branched out so effectively beyond just superheroes for its storytelling successes.  You can experience a graphic novel, in its way, as intensely as you do a "regular" prose novel, and walk away feeling the same sense of fulfillment from it.  Such was the case with me when I finished with John Wagner and Vince Locke's story, A History of Violence.

When of couple of killers come to laid-back family man Tom McKenna's small-town diner, they find that they've bitten off more than they can chew when he ably defends himself and seriously injures the assailants.  Hailed as a hero and receiving nation-wide recognition for his act, McKenna simply wishes the media attention would go away so he could be left alone to raise his family in relative anonymity.  His fame makes him a highly recognizable figure, and it begins to cause serious trouble for him when he receives a visit from some "admirers" from New York City.

When a couple of out-of-town gangsters identify McKenna as Joey, a man who apparently crossed them years ago, McKenna initially denies the accusations, but as they continue to stalk and harass his family, he is forced to defend them.  At the hospital, he admits to his wife that he is the Joey the mobsters spoke of, and tells his family about the events of his youth, when he and his friend Richard assassinated a group of mobsters in revenge for their killing of Richard's brother.  He barely escaped the city, losing a finger and seriously injuring another mobster in the process, and spent the rest of his life creating a new identity and building a new life while trying to stay as obscure as possible.  With his cover now blown wide open, McKenna must return to the city he fled and confront his old ghosts in the hopes of saving his family's future.

The overall story plot is pretty well done, and the execution is performed impressively.  The lengths to which McKenna will go to deny his connection to his former life is both very convincing, even causing some of the mobsters to doubt their mission to harass him, and understandable, when he'd been able to leave his past behind so thoroughly up until his brush with fame.  He's no longer Joey Muni, a solitary young man on the run from vengeful criminals, but Tom McKenna, a man with a diner and a family to protect.  The situation he finds himself in is an unenviable one, but as the narrative shows, he's a man who's willing to fight back against extremely bad odds, leaving you turning each page quickly to see what happens next.

The tension generated by the events in which McKenna participated are also considerable.  From his family to the town he's made his home, it seems no one knows enough about Tom McKenna, or Joey, or whoever he is, and now McKenna must keep his past from destroying them.  There's quite a bit of direct and bloody violence in the narrative, including a horrific scene in which McKenna discovers the final fate of his childhood friend Richard.

My only real gripe with the writing involves the swiftness with which McKenna's family seems to forgive his keeping secrets from them.  I'd want much the same reaction he got from them in the same situation, of course, but I have a feeling it really wouldn't play out that way.  I have yet to see the film, but I've heard the fallout from that particular decision is much more realistically drawn out.

The art varies in this story.  It's not impressive in a lot of places, with its simple, incomplete-seeming line work, but then you get to a particular scene or see an expression on a character's face, and it's done so well as to be striking.  Locke does dramatic scenes expressively, and action scenes in a way that draws you in, but a lot of the slower scenes seem to languish in art that seems, in places, hastily drawn.

Overall, I have no problem commending this as a good story for comic readers.  It's involving, the art is serviceable enough to the narrative, and the ending leaves a gut-wrenching sense of finality.  Crime thriller lovers will very much enjoy this story, and so likely will anyone who's seen the film of the same name.  Highly recommended.

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