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A History of Violence
Written by John Wagner
Drawn by Vince Locke
Published by DC Comics/Paradox Press

In his introduction, Matt Wagner describes a little of the process of pitching a script, he talks about ideas, the way you morph one into the other; he talks about deadlines, meeting them and blowing them; and he talks about dry rot. He brings up the graphic novel heís introducing only briefly, at the end. He talks about not blowing the book in the introduction, and letting the surprises come without warning. Therein lies this books biggest flaw.

While he doesnít want to blow the book for anyone, Iím perfectly happy to do so. The surprise of A History of Violence is, apparently, there are no surprises. Itís not a happy tale, not by any stretch of the word, but itís most assuredly not a surprising one. Donít let any of that fool you though, because Wagner and Locke have crafted a good story throughout,

A History of Violence is the story of Tom McKenna, local diner owner, who kills one and immobilizes another thug during a robbery attempt at his restaurant. McKenna quickly finds himself the center of both local and national media attention. Unfortunately the attentions brings with it the secrets of McKennaís past. One act of violent heroism brings Tomís entire world crashing to the ground, exposing his troubling past to his family.

The book raises some really interesting questions, like how far would you go to protect the life that youíve built? What would you do if you found out the person you love is not the person you know? How far would you go to set the past right? And, what would you do is everything you had was suddenly ripped away from you? Granted, theyíre all extreme situations, and most of us live out our lives in fantastically mundane fashion, but they are questions weíve all asked ourselves from time to time.

Thought the book lacks any real surprises, itís definitely a page-turner. Wagner, no doubt due to years of writing for British magazine 2000 A.D. (where he created Judge Dredd), keeps the pace almost super-swift, at times to a fault. Wagner imbues his characters with as much humanity as youíre likely to find in any story like this. Everything feels very real; the small town people McKenna has chosen to surround himself with, the love he has for his family, even the perverse, ultra-violent satisfaction the ending brings. Wagner never strays too far from what heís trying to accomplish, and with the exception of the few flaws Iíve mentioned, he does a fine job of it.

Lockeís pencils are simplistic at best, sloppy at worst. He has this kind of faux-detail that shows up in a lot of the panels, but occasionally there are hints of something beneath, something that could be wonderful. Unfortunately none of the pencils bring any emotional weight to the story, instead plot and character must shoulder that alone.

Like the plot, the art holds nothing in the way of surprise, but part of that could be the bookís lack of color. If this were a simple black and white tale, simple black and white art would feel appropriate, but Wagner hasnít written a simple story. Itís got layers of emotional depth that the art canít carry and are occasionally glossed over by the quick pace.

A History of Violence isnít among the best works in the world of graphic novels, but it is a good, solid, worthwhile read, one that the cover proudly proclaims will soon be a major motion picture, in case you didnít know. Fortunately it reads like a story begging to be adapted to movies, one thatís certain to be beautifully violent and ask the questions we really don't want to know the answers to. Grade: 3.5/5

-- Logan Polk

Send review copies to:
Logan Polk
5812 Glenlake Ct.
Columbus Ga 31909

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The ADD Blog by Alan David Doane. Trouble with Comics Reviews of comics and graphic novels. Commentary about the artform and industry of comics. Get back to the main page.

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