Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Road to Perdition

The Road to PerditionThe Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Michael O’Sullivan is the chief enforcer for Irish mobster John Looney. He’s trusted without question until his son Michael Jr. accidentally witnesses O’Sullivan & Looney’s son Connor kill a rival. Connor Looney is spooked & convinces his father that O’Sullivan is a loose end that needs to be tied up. When the Looneys fail to kill Michael & his son, the two O’Sullivans hit the road, taking revenge by killing those closest to the Looney’s & disrupting their lucrative mob-run businesses.

Perdition is pure pulp: action-packed & steeped in the morose fatalism that seems part & parcel of Irish gangster stories. (Fans of the movies Boondock Saints and The Departed, take note, this graphic novel is for you.) Perdition has fun carving out an adventure story from bleak Midwestern history.

I’m of two minds about Richard Piers Rayner’s art. The illustrator is clearly talented & his detailed panels seem influenced by newspaper woodcuts, Weegee’s crime scene photos, and comics or ads contemporaneous of the 1930’s. However, his cross-hatching style often makes close-ups of faces appear grainy or indistinct, as if readers had their faces pushed closed to an old TV set. The older O’Sullivan’s face never looks the same: he can look like Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson or Denis Leary at any given moment. (If this is some visual comment on the unknowability of O’Sullivan’s character, it went right over my head.) This inconsistency is odd given that the faces of historical figures like Capone or Nitti are instantly recognizable, no matter what the context or emotion of the scene. Many individual panels are striking, particularly those of younger Michael. One sticks with me: Michael Jr. facing the reader with a smile on his face, his arms crossed over his chest, one hand holding a real gun & the other hand held in a gun shape as if he’s just playing. But despite these moments, the art is documentary-like & detached.

If you’ve seen the movie adaptation of Perdition, a note of caution: the original story does differ from it. Perdition’s graphic novel will appeal to traditional mystery fans, Prohibition history buffs and those who love staring at a comic’s art.

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