ROAD TO PERDITION
...is Max Allan Collins' ode to LONE WOLF AND CUB, set in a time period he's more comfortable with - Depression-era Chicago. Almost everything about the book will remind regular readers of Dark Horse's LW&C series of Koike and Kojima's masterpiece. It features a protagonist in a dangerous situation drafting his son into his little war, heading down a long road to a definite ending point. It's got lots of action sequences with the hero in his prime, and elements of honor and loyalty in the midst of a situation that would seem to call for any move possible to stay alive. It's even printed in black and white with a slightly smaller-than-usual format. Heck, I was waiting for the lead character to scrunch up his dark eyebrows and say "meifumado" somewhere in the course of the story.
The story is that of Michael O'Sullivan, enforcer for the Looney family, which is in cahoots with Al Capone. When the Looneys find O'Sullivan to be expendable, they attempt to do him and his family in. But O'Sullivan escapes with his son, and together they begin a lonely road to redemption. Like I said before, it's a recast LONE WOLF AND CUB.
That said, it's an excellent story all on its own, without being a slavish imitation of a previous comics masterpiece. Collins knows his Capone lore, and weaves in some real life examples into the storyline. He also crafts a believable set of characters with guidelines and morals all their own. Artist Richard Piers Rayner has his own amazing art style with a storytelling ability that at times makes LW&C look confusing. Since there are no massive swordfights in RTP, Rayner doesn't need to move his camera as much and can afford to be more clear in the fighting tactics of everyone involved.
The book reads quickly, owing much to the fact that the pages are smaller, so there's less story per page, usually only four panels. It also comes up surprisingly light in covering the topics that make the book so unique. The ideas of loyalty and devotion are shown in action over the course of the book, but I wonder if it's not too subtly done to the point where it isn't the driving force of the book that it should be. It's easier to see it in LW&C, of course, because the writer there had thousands of pages to play with. Here, Collins has 300, and uses them very effectively.
Rayner's art, the book proudly proclaims, took four years to draw. (The story clocks in at just under 300 pages.) The art is precise and detailed and line-intensive. It's a beautiful book to look at. Rayner doesn't sacrifice style for detail, nor does he make everything look stiff with his hyperactive cross-hatching and detailing. If you've ever looked at the front page of the WALL STREET JOURNAL, you'll be familiar with the little head sketches that accompany certain articles. Imagine that style transferred to comics, where people look completely real and natural. The stuff Rayner pulls off with feathering and by varying with his line weights is unreal. Every inker in comics today should look at this book, if only for that.
There's a fresh printing of this book due out this summer, in the hopes of capitalizing on the Tom Hanks movie adaptation of the book, due to hit box offices in July. I'd recommend it highly, and suggest reading it before the movie comes out. The movie will, no doubt, rejigger some of the story. The whole graphic novel is written as a flashback. It's O'Sullivan's son writing his memoirs of his father. The narration gets us into the heads of the characters and overcomes some of the narrative glitches (how does the son know about events which didn't happen in front of him?). It's the kind of thing, though, that would probably drive a director (Sam "American Beauty" Mendes) nuts and throw the screenwriter (David "Thirteen Days" Self) into rewrites.
There's also a problem at the end, where everything falls together a bit too easily. It needs to be punched up a bit for drama. It's anti-climactic, although everything feels natural. I think the last couple of set pieces will probably be combined somehow for the classic big Hollywood finish at the movies.
The one last potential pit-fall for the movie is the choice of actors to play O'Sullivan's son. He's about 13 or so in the book and would need to stay there for plot purposes in the film. If they cast someone who is annoying or too cute, the whole movie would be compromised. Tyler Hoechlin has been cast for the part, but I know nothing about him aside from that he was about 13 or 14 when the film started shooting. So far, so good.
After SPIDER-MAN, this is the comic book adaptation I'm most looking forward to right now. Let's all keep our fingers crossed for this one. In the meantime, check out the book when it's re-released in July, or beg a friend to borrow his copy. It's worth it.
THREE MORE TO ROUND OUT A COLUMN
I like Studio F's coloring over Humberto Ramos' work. Check out the very first issue of OUT THERE for a prime example of how the two can work together really well. PETER PARKER: SPIDER-MAN #44 is the start of a new four-part storyline that Paul Jenkins has written for Ramos, inker Wayne Faucher, and Studio F. The problem is that much of Studio F's coloring is so dark and so busy that the storytelling suffers from it. Most of the issue takes place in the night during rainy weather. The second half, in particular, focuses on a fight between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin in that condition. This is not, of course, going to be the brightest lit fight in the history of comics. However, it gets completely muddied by the combination of dark colors, Ramos' own somewhat skewed panel layout, and the special effects used to indicate rain streaks, drops, and slicks. The pages where Peter is sitting down to talk to Aunt May, or Mary Jane is at her place in California, are wonderfully lit with a warm and soft glow. Sadly, that's only a small number of pages.
Jenkins' story is OK here. It's not his finest issue as a writer on this title, but it also seems that he's working to fill a four-issue storyline and this is just the opening gambit. We'll have to wait and see what the whole of the storyline looks like when it's done.
GEN13 #77, the series' final issue, is an artistic wonderment, with penciling done by Rick Mays, Kaare Andrews, and Adam Warren. Each works in a style he's comfortable with, and all add something to the story that the others might not. While Warren apologizes in the text page at the end of the book for using different artists on the bonus size story (the issue costs $3.50), he doesn't need to. Mays handles the bulk of the issue in great style. Andrews sees limited action, working mostly on full-page splashes to set up different "chapters" of the story. Warren takes over for the climactic battle, and experiments a bit with his artistic technique in the process.
After the deaths of the Gen13 teenagers last month, their powers are blowing out of control and threatening to bring down the west coast, if not the entire planet. It's up to a small band of teenaged gen-active counterparts to save the world or die trying. Warren is up to the task of writing the story with his usual jam-packed dialogue, filling each page with a measure of pathos and drama, while moving the plot ahead one section at a time. By the time he's done, his Large Ideas may have gone over your head, but you understood enough to follow what the characters were doing and to be entertained by how they got there.
It's remarkable how a series at its peak is driven out of business by slow sales. I only wish we lived in a more perfect world where such quality would be recognized with higher sales. We'll have to settle for the great issues we got, in the meantime, and look forward to whatever upcoming projects Warren has placed with Wildstorm.
I never read the original MICRONAUTS comic, nor did I ever own any of the toys. The nostalgia appeal of the latest license picked up by Devil's Due Publishing is completely lost on me. I can only take it on its own merits. The MICRONAUTS 2002 CONVENTION SPECIAL book is out right now, with a brief look at the forthcoming series, written by Scott Wherle and drawn by Eric Wolfe Hanson. There are a half dozen brief character biographical sketches, and a few pages of concept sketches and page layouts from the artist. Wherle takes a page to set up what the series is about, but otherwise, the star of this book is Hanson's art. I like his stuff, but I'm a little concerned about the character designs. While I'm sure they pay much honor and homage to the original toy designs, to me they end up looking ugly. I'll give them an issue or two to grow on me, though, once the book comes out.
And on Friday? More reviews. I've got a lot of catching up to do.
More than 400 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.