06 November, 2016

On the Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins

1. It’s sometimes interesting to see where an author takes their tale in a sequel. These three parts form one story, and are published together, so I’ll use one set of notes for them. This story slides into the last comic between the pages, conceptualized as interludes in the events of the prior book. It is a three-part series, or mini-series—Oasis, Sanctuary, and Detour—with each part about ninety pages long. It deals with a situation that can fit in the timeline of the prior book in multiple places. And that’s kind of cool, that there’s this standalone story within the context of the earlier story, that can kind of slot in anywhere. It’s as if George Martin wrote a number of novels in his Song of Ice and Fire series, each from one character’s point of view, that all fit together like gears, rather than the already interlaced novels ruled by chronology that he has written. To be clear, I like the tactic Martin uses, but I also like this tactic too. Though this tactic could feel like a bit of an afterthought.

2. Here, it appears that Collins and his artists use these sequels trying to humanize Michael, trying to fix my main problem with the last book. But my main problem with it is the same: the characters don’t justify this fan service. Sometimes I read a book and the characters are so fascinating I don’t want it to end, or I want to see more stories about those people. This was not the case with Road to Perdition.
—Michael gets put into three situations that attempt to cause a conflict in his inflexible nature. In Oasis they take a break at a farm belonging to his dead wife’s best friend—but this of course endangers them. In Sanctuary, he lights candles for the men he killed in Oasis, then gets ambushed by the two Jacks while there, then works with the two Jacks against their ambushers—his honor and his need to focus on protecting himself and his son butting against each other. In Detour he tries to rescue his kidnapped friend from Oasis, but is forced to choose between killing Looney’s son and rescuing the damsel in distress.
—These three situations try to wrinkle Michael’s character, but he still doesn’t change. They only illuminate the same boring character that was there before. Despite feeling like it’s trying to branch out, it still relies on violence to move the plot—which is still a good plot—and doesn’t allow Michael to change.

3. The artists are José Luis García-López, Josef Rubinstein, and Steve Lieber. Collectively, they take the varied but detailed work from the last book and simplify it with less line-work. It is more important line-work: because there is less of it, what is there has to say more. But it comes off looking more typical, more like everything else we see. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just another indicator that we’re dealing with a run-of-the-mill comic book. A pulp fiction comic, and not a great one. It’s always awkward when a comic switches artists, but this switch is less awkward than others.

4. The worst thing about these are that each of the three parts feature a lengthy recap of what came before. I understand a few panels of recap might be felt necessary by the publisher, but he has way too much recap going on. He sets up the story for each chapter, then pauses to recap the earlier book before continuing with the new story. This pulls me out of the new narrative before it even gets going.

5. In all, this is where I am done with these books. I understand from Wikipedia that there are more books to read, dealing with Michael Jr. But I’m just uninterested and even reading these three was a bit of a slog. They’re alright pulp fiction and I know some people who would love this book, but it’s simply not for me. I want characters who change and feel like people, not flat, unchanging, cold killers whose killing never has any affect on them or their child, who witnesses all this.

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.