Monday, September 12, 2005


So, superfreak director David Cronenberg is out touting his new film A History of Violence. And you just know The League wouldn't mention it unless... Yes, A History of Violence was originally a comic book.

Occasionally I get behind in my comic reading, usually of my monthly periodicals, as I will pick up a few trade paperbacks or graphic novels and let them sit for too long, and then I get an itch to just read something from beginning to end, and that's when the trades and graphic novels get shifted into my reading list. I'm now about a week and a half behind in my usual comic reading, but I needed a break from Countdown to Infinite Crisis. Too many OMACs, Leaguers.

Paradox Press was one of those experiments which made complete sense in the crisp, golden light of the 1990's. DC Comics was having success with their newly minted Vertigo line of books (Sandman, Shade, Hellblazer) and saw an audience of comic readers aging and seeking more substantial material. A few imprints spun out, almost all of which are now forgotten, but Paradox Press was intended to be DC's entry into a new format of book-style publishing for comics. What I recall was a two-pronged approach by Paradox. "The Big Book Of..." line, which was usually a collection of non-fiction stories or vinettes around a theme. For example: The Big Book of Freaks (about circus folk, etc...), or The Big Book of Conspiracies (which detailed as many conspriacies as possible). All of this was in comic format.

The second approach, and the one I didn't read at the time, was a novel or digest sized format of comic. These were self-contained original stories, printed in black and white. I'm not sure, but I think most of them were crime dramas of some sort.

Formatting was slightly contrained as panel size could only be reduced so far and retain integrity from a normal sized comic. Thusly, most pages contain four panels at most, and dialogue is generally fairly tight in order to fit into the panels.

In the end, the comic fans returned to superheroics and the Paradox experiment mostly fizzled, being absorbed into DC's Vertigo line-up for reprints, etc...

But from that briefly lived line, two feature films have been produced. 2002's Road to Perdition and 2005's A History of Violence.

I finally read the graphic novel of A History of Violence this weekend. It's a quick read, but fairly well-plotted, if a tad predictable. I had the same feeling at the end of A History of Violence that I had at the end of Road to Perdition. It's a decent comic, but not perfect. It feels a bit like a draft that could have used some polishing and workshopping, and it certainly doesn't seem to have the meat to sustain a two-hour movie.

That said, it seems a lot of details have been changed in the movie version, including location (from Michigan to Ohio? What's that about?), and the central protagonist's name (just weird to do that in my book). But it also seems Cronenberg is taking the title to heart, a lot more so than the original author. Cronenberg and Co. are pitching the movie as a "meditation on violence".

While the comic does touch on the meaning of violence in the central character's life, it doesn't really "meditate" on the topic. Nor does the comic ever really pay-off after the thrilling opening scenes, which lead you to believe something far darker is moving beneath those still waters. But this is going to be a Cronenberg movie, so let's wait and see what the man has planned.

I'll definitely reread the comic after watching the movie to see if I missed anything, but I'm not counting on it. The film of Road to Perdition was, hands down, a better telling of the same story, even if it was an imperfect movie. Max Alan Collins is a gifted comic writer, but the film didn't seem as hindered by page count or as limited in scope on the big screen, and some of the key character moments simply worked better as film.

Nonetheless, it is always interesting to see a "comic book" movie being released that is gaining such early praise. With so many critics deriding the comic medium in reviews of Super-Hero movies, it's nice to see these other comics slip through under the radar and wind up garnering praise you suspect would be withheld if the critics knew the basis of the movie.

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