Friday, August 23, 2013

Reader's Diary #1052- John Wagner (writer) and Vince Locke (illustrator): A History of Violence

As I started to prepare this post, I realized that I have a tendency to be too apologetic. (Inner-Canadian, maybe?) Most of the graphic novels I've read have crossed my path either from Google searches along the lines of "best graphic novels" or ones that have been adapted for movies. For some reason I thought these methods weren't somehow valid. By whom and why, I have no idea. Should I have gotten a ouija board and consulted with the spirits of Charles Schulz and Herge? Should I have flown to the Comic Con in San Diego and polled the first hundred people in line? I think, as I got into comics later in life (with some exceptions), I still feel like a bit of an outsider and I need to have more confidence. By now I've read enough to discuss graphic novels, to make my own recommendations, to review comics, and not make excuses as to why I choose to read what I read.

With that long-winded self-reflection (see, still apologetic!), I picked up A History of Violence based on its having been turned into a critically acclaimed movie. I don't remember much about the movie. I know I wasn't crazy about Viggo Mortensen's performance, but I never am. Had I dug a little deeper I would have discovered that while the movie generated mostly good reviews (even had a couple Oscar noms), the graphic novel reviews are much more varied. It certainly doesn't show up in many top 10 lists!

Nor should it. My first clue that I wouldn't like this should have been the author: John Wagner. John Wagner created Judge Dredd. And while other writers may have done wonderful things with the character since then, I was not a fan of Wagner's early Dredd work. I will say that his writing has come a long way since then, but there were still some major flaws with A History of Violence.

The book begins on a very promising note. When Tom McKenna, a small town diner owner, defends himself against a random act of violence he makes the headlines. Unfortunately, after his new claim to fame a mysterious black sedan starts following him around and he's eventually confronted by someone who insists on calling him Joey. It appears as if it's a case of mistaken identity. And that would have been the more interesting story. Alas, it's not and very quickly the story dissolves into another silly mafia story (which apparently I have no business reading). What is perhaps most annoying is the character of Edie, Tom's wife. Though Tom has been lying to her all these years about his background, though his lies have put their family's lives in danger, she forgives him and promises to stick with him, without missing a beat. We all know people who stick by their spouses when they clearly shouldn't (I'm looking at you Anthony Weiner's wife), but we'd like to imagine that they have complex reasons for doing so. Or at the very least, an argument. Wagner offers us neither and instead presents us with a flat, unrealistic, and rather distractingly stupid character.

As for Vince Locke's artwork, I'm slightly less critical. With very rough black ink sketches, the gritty quality adds to the violence and noir (or is it neo-noir?) story. However, sometimes the drawings appeared so rushed that faces were grotesque— not including the ones that were intentionally so— and action sequences were confusing. A little more attention to detail would have been nice.

The book had much more potential but ultimately let me down. If the critics are to be believed, the movie version managed to work out the kinks.

Speaking of graphic novels that have been turned into movies, I'm very much looking forward to getting my copy of Blue is the Warmest Colour in the mail. Unashamedly.


Nikki in Niagara said...

hahaha! I hadn't seen that comment from max collins on your other post. Too funny! Snarky, eh? OTH, I love mafia, mobster books/movies. When I was about 11/12 when asked what I wanted be when I grew up (I was really into Al Capone and James Cagney movies at the time) I would answer "a mobster's moll"! My dad would freak out!

John Mutford said...

I want to like at least one. I didn't even like the Godfather! (Movie, haven't read the book.) Never saw a single episode of the Sopranos. But to Collins' likely chagrin, I'm going to keep looking!