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Book Review < Back

Road to Perdition

Credits: Written by Max Allan Collins and Illustrated by Richard Piers Rayner
Publisher: DC Comics


Hi. I'm the guy that hated American Beauty, the Academy Award-winning film by Academy Award-winning Sam Mendes that starred the Academy Award-winning Kevin Spacey. Yeah, that guy that hated that movie? That was me.

I mention American Beauty because Sam Mendes' follow-up to said is, in fact, an adaptation of ROAD TO PERDITION. This time, Academy Award-winning Kevin Spacey is played by Academy Award-winning Tom Hanks, but don't let that fool you. There are high expectations on the Hollywood Award-o-Meter with regards to the film; so DC Comics have put the fine graphic novel upon which the film is based back into print. Savvy.

Now then: This was a book that, during its first time around on the shelves, six people read. Three of those six were Sam Mendes, Tom Hanks, and Steven Spielberg, however, so there's a certain quality-over-quantity thing to keep in mind. Needless to say, the book languished alone and unloved and vanished, more or less until rescued by Hollywood.

I don't really understand why the book didn't catch fire. Aside from the obvious, that it's an intelligent, sincere meditation on the relationship between a father and his son; it's a rip-roaring crime story drenched - seriously, drenched - in blood; it's a small yet thick booky book of a book that somehow declares its seriousness by simply existing in its exact size and shape; and that it's, you know, good.

Michael O'Sullivan, a mob killer dubbed 'The Angel of Death', is forced on the lam with his young son after the boy witnesses his father's dirty work and word gets back to the old man's employers. They set out for Perdition, Kansas by way of Capone's Chicago and off we go on this jazz-age reinterpretation of Lone Wolf and Cub. Max Allan Collins, who's always been a better writer than he's been given credit for, crafts a moving and forthright tale that never buckles under its own weight, never cheats its reader by insulting their intelligence or exploiting their emotional investment in the tale, and all the while managing to remember that this is a crime story. And Richard Piers Rayner is an absolute revelation. His energetic, yet heavily photo-referenced, pen and ink work recall Bill Sienkiewicz's more linear days, or even Bob Peak in his illustrative prime. I would go so far as to say that ROAD TO PERDITION is a team effort in the same way as From Hell - this writer and artist pairing are essential to the book working as it does.

Hollywood might be the place where, as one wag once said, you pull away the tinsel to get to the tinsel underneath, but it was smart enough to see this book for what it was. And now that Michael O'Sullivan and his son are gunning their way towards the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, you should get on board and pretend you were here all along. It's not often that masterful comics are brought back into print once they've vanished.

-- Matt Fraction

Matt Fraction splits his time between motion graphics and design house MK12, writing comics, and reading comics. He is the author of the graphic novels The Annotated Mantooth and Last of the Independents, both available from AiT/Planet Lar. He can be found on the web at mattfraction.com. His wife is hot.


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