Friday, March 12, 2010

Road to Perdition

Before it was adapted into a movie starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman, Road to Perdition was a graphic novel written by Max Allan Collins, a mystery writer with years of experience writing short stories, comic books, novels such as his Quarry series, and the Dick Tracy newspaper strip. The art was provided by Richard Piers Rayner, a British artist whose meticulous style takes time to produce. He has done a range of work for Marvel, DC, and this book's publisher, Paradox Press.

The plot of the book follows Michael O'Sullivan, an honorable and efficient assassin for a mobster, as he is left bereft of allies after the death of most of his family. Left alone with his son Michael Jr., he strives to travel undetected to mount separate attacks on the parties that have wronged him. His years of experience working in organized crime give him a great many resources to gather weapons and wealth while also striking where his enemies would hurt most. In seeking his revenge, he crosses paths with John Patrick Looney, a real life gangster who operated out of Rock Island, Illinois. The actual Looney appears to be a colorful character from various accounts. He was also quite brutal at times, as is seen in the multiple attempts he makes to stop O'Sullivan's vendetta dead.

Road to Perdition is inspired by the classic manga series Lone Wolf and Cub, which follows the exploits of a traveling assassin and his infant son in feudal Japan as they try to get revenge and regain their family's honor. Only this tale is set in the Depression era US Midwest, with cameos by Eliot Ness, Al Capone, and a few other notables. The popularity of the book and movie spawned a sequel series of graphic novels, called On the Road to Perdition, with art by José Luis García-López, which told of events that ran concurrently with the original tale. Additionally, there are two prose novels that depict Michael Jr.'s life as he ages and begins his own career, first as a soldier then in organized crime.

Critics generally enjoy the book even if many offer that the story itself is not a very original one. Bruce Kratofil enjoyed reading the book, even with limited experience reading graphic novels. Time Magazine's Andrew D. Arnold said that the book was "a neglected work of smart, tense, hard-boiled crime comix with more going on than just the usual violence." David Kozlowski called it "a solid, fast read." If not original, at least the story is well told.

A preview of the book is available here.

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