Sunday, April 06, 2014

A History of Violence (1997)

I guess it makes sense that my favorite part of this graphic novel is the art by Vince Locke. The story didn't much impress me in the movie version by David Cronenberg and it doesn't much here either. I understand the temptation to go to the device of New York City Italian-American organized crime as the most heinous evil the mind can conceive, but it's old now, so old. Can we please have another brand of monolithic evil please? The story here goes well over the top to a much greater degree even than the movie, into areas that are frankly unbelievable, such as holding a hostage for 20 years and torturing said hostage all that time. With blowtorches, pliers, crowbars, etc. For 20 years? Man, that's harsh. Locke's illustration style feels scratchy and sketchy and rushed, black and white, and some very serious cross-hatching, but I came to like it a great deal. On the downside, his skill level with portraiture is so weak I had a hard time separating characters from one another, which was really a critical lack at some junctures. I liked the ways he compensated it, establishing certain elements, such as cars, by their shapes, and then varying the angles of view from close-up to medium to long and back and all around, recognizable by the shape. Lots of great interiors, some really nice cityscapes, and a solid sense for propelling a story. That could as well have been writer John Wagner, of course. I don't know much about him—I was slightly familiar with Judge Dredd in the '80s, which never made much impression though I liked the premise a lot. In the nuts and bolts of this graphic novel the storytelling is perfectly fine. I'm just tired of some of the things I've already mentioned and others: the Mafia, children in danger, sadism pushed into farce, the Ethan Edwards who's got what it takes, and similar nonsense. In conclusion, I'm not sure whether or not I can recommend it, and I suppose that means I am actually not recommending it at all. But hey, YMMV.

In case it's not at the library.


  1. I feel similarly to you about the film. Its depiction of evil forces felt very stale and tame (for exactly the reasons you mention, among others), and its vision of small town Americana just didn't work for me as either satire or realism. There were a few excellent scenes - the bizarre sex scene with him and his wife going up the stairs, and that tense family dinner at the end, but they seemed to belong to another movie that cut deeper, a Lynch film perhaps (not to slate Cronenberg, although I'm admittedly not a huge devotee I respect much of his work). Oh and the beginning was very good too. I'll look into the graphic novel eventually and won't be surprised if I like it; it wouldn't be the first time I've much preferred a stylized, simplified vision on page to on screen.