05 November, 2016
Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins
1. From one violent comic book, to another, I guess. Not all comics are violent. But I wanted to compare this one to Scalped, for whatever reason. So here goes. This comic book is not great. I don’t understand why the hand-writing panels are in there, when so much is already voiced over. It seems redundant.
2. This comic gets away from the typical twenty-four page chapter length pacing of comics. Collins does this by writing the whole thing in one go, as a two hundred and eighty-six page piece. This follows a pacing more like a novella’s. And it often works in comics, and it works well here too. It keeps the story moving along nicely while allowing some spaces to breathe. Where Scalped often escapes the tyranny of the last-page reveal, this escapes both that and the twenty-four page pacing. I appreciate that a lot.
3. And what a story. This is a plot many writers would love to use. Collins found some loose threads in the history around the Capone and Looney crime families, and decided a single character could tie them all up nicely. And boy did it ever. This story fits perfectly within that context and what is known about the history of the times and characters. I want to emphasize here that the story is really something special, as is his tactic of expanding upon the known by speculation—and not wild or overly complex speculation, but concise, effective, this-could-actually-be speculation. Scalped does a similar thing, and does it well too.
—But the story here isn’t allowed to do anything. It’s so caught up with telling that wonderful, small tale well, with fitting all the known pieces from history together, that it feels chained, like too much of a railroad, predictable. We know that Michael does two things—kill and love his family. And he doesn’t do anything else throughout the whole comic. Nothing changes. Some violence to his wife and youngest son means the eldest son and his dad go on the run, but the loving relationship of the family was set up to be too perfect, so you know it’s going to fall. Scalped is predictable only in its unpredictability. This is a story we’ve heard before, and it changes nobody.
4. Mainly, I don’t think this is a great comic book because the characters are not well-developed. They’re flat, unconflicted, and never changing. The strong-silent type protagonist doesn’t really engage me. He’s just not conflicted at all. There’s no development. He goes on his warpath, murders a bunch of guys, and dies. End of story. Michael is just as impassive before and after his wife and youngest are murdered by his boss’ son. He’s just as emotionally neutral and efficient. Any humanity he shows to his son is hidden behind all the violence they are perpetrating and running from. Michael is not a character, he’s an archetype and nothing more. An interesting move could have been his conversion to this cold-blooded killer, but that is glossed over by simply stating he is a war hero from WWI who wanted to keep on killing when he got home. That’s not engaging. Scalped also has a murderous veteran, but Dash is conflicted in a couple of different ways. And that, to me, makes all the difference.
5. Where Scalped is sensationalist for a reason, and that’s a credit to it, this is violent and sensationalizes violence in a useless way because nothing ever changes. This is a big detriment to this comic. Michael never doubts, never questions. It’s all black and white for him. The dead men are unnamed. They don’t matter. They’re redshirts. They’re just impediments to his ultimate goal of killing Looney’s son. This is sensationalized violence because it’s pointless, or because the point is only violence and the violence never changes anything meaningful.
6. The writing is functional. It communicates what is happening in the book and the characters, such as they are, but doesn’t ever really sing well. It’s not a comic I would read for the writing, but the writing isn’t so bad it distracts.
7. Like Scalped, this is violent.Like Scalped, this comic speculates wonderfully upon some historical knowns. Like Scalped, this comic gets away from some of the comic tropes and shows that other paths are effective. But unlike Scalped, the theme here is violence for revenge’s sake alone, not for saying anything about humanity. This is fine pulp fiction, but it’s not a great comic.