Comic Review: ‘A History of Violence’

From Vertigo’s Crime Imprint, John Wagner, Vince Locke, and Bob Lappan, as well as the second graphic novel in the “read all graphic novels” project.


Everybody remembers the film adaption of this graphic novel from Director David Cronenberg and starring Viggo Mortensen, but few know of its graphic novel counterpart. The original book, written by John Wagner, best known for the creation of Judge Dredd, and drawn by Vince Locke, of Sandman and Batman fame, details the life of Tom McKenna or Joey, owner of a Michigan diner and of a secret past.

The story begins its history of violence with the murder of two hitchhikers. A random and brutal act of violence that is re-payed shortly but Tom. Early in the story, Tom is portrayed as this small town, family man who owns a diner. Your typical blue collar worker, just trying to make a living and support his family. Shortly, Tom proves that he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, and that he can do it with intellect and some skill. In small town USA, people don’t die this way and more, simple men don’t respond with a set of skills that most don’t have. In short, Tom kills one of them and injures the other greatly. This event brings him notoriety and a trio of people from the past that come to investigate. Including a man named John Torrino.


 The story that unfolds takes the reader back to Brooklyn, when Tom was known as Joey, and where he got even for the death of a friend, Steve. Along with his buddy, Richie, the pair hash a plan to make quick cash and strike a blow to the mob. They do just that, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t repercussions. What happens to Richie in the aftermath, revealed toward the end of the story, still gives me chills. Joey has to run, and slowly takes on a new identity with the nest egg he had. The final act of the story take Tom back to Brooklyn to settle this once and for all.

In a culture of violence, the culture that American’s and a lot of other people live in, the violence here is shocking. It’s more creative, especially as the character of Richie is concerned. Locke’s stark visualizations make it all the more impactful, some of these images will stay with you long after you’ve read the last panel and the book is closed. This is a book that also proves death doesn’t have to be dealt at a distance to be effective. If you’re cunning enough, it can have a great impact on events unfolding in the story, as well as add to shock value. Locke’s ability to take this to small town U.S.A. and make it realistic is a credit to his keen writing ability. These mobsters aren’t just the murdering type, but they play within the rules too, making this more real, and frightening to a small town resident like me.

Wagner and Locke have created a really affecting novel, one that speaks to a culture of violence. Everyone, and I mean everyone, can relate to this book, and with the events of yesterday, it hits home more than ever. A must read for sure!



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