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A History Of Violence
John Wagner and Vince Locke
Vertigo / Titan paperback £6.99

review by Tony Lee

This timely new edition of the 1997 comicbook is a psychological crime thriller and a profoundly disquieting drama about vengeful gangsters. David Cronenberg's screen adaptation has been rightfully lauded as the thinking man's action movie, and it's clearly everything that The Punisher remake should have been, but wasn't. However, unlike the film, the book features lengthy 'flashback' sequences to the main storyline, a terrific plot twist in the later chapters, and one scene of ghastly horror as thoroughly outrageous as anything to be found in early Clive Barker or Joe Lansdale.

Tom McKenna seems like an ordinary family man in a small US town until he deals out instant justice to the ruthless killers threatening his business and employees. Then, even before Tom's local hero status and 15 minutes of media celebrity are forgotten, some hitmen from New York arrive in town, suspecting Tom is actually their former partner-in-crime, who disappeared and has changed his name. Is this simply a case of mistaken identity, or is Tom really reluctant criminal Joey Muni from Brooklyn, wanted by both police and the mafia?

The pulp-styled black and white artwork by Vince Locke matches the tone of Wagner's writing perfectly. This book's steady decent into gory and shocking violence; when Tom pays a visit to New York, distinguish this original story from Cronenberg's subtler, but ultimately restrained work. That's not to suggest the film is a weaker piece of fiction, but it's unquestionably less horrific than Wagner's sordidly macabre plot and Locke's hellish vision of gangland retribution, which is comparable to Frank Miller's excellent Sin City, in certain respects.

Recommended, whether you saw and liked the film version or not.
- review previously published in Starburst.
A History of Violence - paperback

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