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Road to Perdition

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There’s no point in comparing the graphic novel Road to Perdition with the respectable though somewhat ponderous movie based on it. I get the impression (especially after Lord of the Rings) that people nitpick over differences between books and films as a subtle way of saying, “I was a fan of the original work, long before you rabble showed up.” Suffice to say the graphic novel and David Self’s screen adaptation can be enjoyed separately.

Max Allan Collins’s Perdition follows hitman Michael O’Sullivan as he seeks revenge for the murder of his wife and youngest son. It’s a compelling story, one that could easily be read in one sitting, not because it’s short, but because it’s hard to put down. Collins crafts a strong narrative that swings between Michael’s relationship with his surviving son and his acts of (graphically violent) vengeance.

Richard Piers Rayner’s acclaimed art is appropriate for the story, but I found it too sketchy and blotchy. And in order to get the level of realism that he did, Rayner obviously used photographs as references. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s distracting when the main character suddenly turns into Montgomery Clift, or panels based on stills from The Third Man and Jaws appear. The layout is unimaginative, just a basic three or four panels per page. But when a comic book is strong on content, this becomes less important.

One of the things that gives Perdition some depth is the surviving son’s inner struggle as he tries to reconcile the images of his father as both a saint and a sinner. But Collins presents a protagonist who — like those in The Godfather and The Sopranos — usually kills people who are less sympathetic. In fact, Michael even helps out an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire. So, despite his high body count, Michael never becomes the real dichotomy Collins intends.

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