Friday, December 16, 2011

UNDERCOVER REVIEWS - Road to Perdition

Review by Nick Ahlhelm

Anyone that saw the movie version might be surprised at just how good a pulp comic Road to Perdition actually is. Originally published in 1998 by the Paradox Press division of DC Comics, the original graphic novel wore its main influence on the sleeve. A quote by Kauzo Koike, creator of Lone Wolf & Cub opens the tale of a gangster assassin and his son on the roads of the Midwest in 1930.

The story is presented rather simply. Our narrator is the young son, clearly many years later, but our protagonist is Michael O’Sullivan. Known as the Archangel of Death, he serves the Rock Island crime boss John Looney. His son Michael Junior witnesses one of these hits. Looney’s son Connor orders a hit on O’Sullivan while he travels to the family home and murders O’Sullivan’s wife and other son.

It’s a dark, brutal set-up and from there the novel shows its pulp roots. The senior O’Sullivan quickly lives up to his roots as he becomes the Archangel of Death across the Midwest. He massacres gangsters, robs banks and evades the police, Looney’s men and the gangsters under the command of Frank Nitti and Al Capone, Looney’s Chicago associates.

Ultimately, the story comes down to a pair of bloody deaths that conclude the story with a satisfying if somewhat tragic bang.

Max Allan Collins knows the area he writes well and serves to bring it to life in vivid detail. Much like his Nate Heller series of novels, he knows the history of the time and place, and uses it to weave an amazing pulp narrative around the actual events. Unfortunately, Michael Junior’s narration sometimes distracts from the proceedings. His dry matter of fact approach often helps fill us in about historical figures presence, but the narrative technique often just drags down the story unnecessarily.

Richard Piers Rayner drew the book over a period of months and his attention to detail shows on every page. The English artist draws with a photorealistic style that still holds some rough edges. It creates an almost surreal black and white world at times, which probably serves a graphic narrative as bloody as this well.

Thanks to the far inferior movie’s success, Road to Perdition remains in print and probably will remain so for a long time to come. It’s a fascinating piece of crime pulp in comic form and well worth a read by any pulp fan. Highly Recommended.

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