A History of Violence
by John Wagner, Vince Locke (Vertigo, 2004; 2011)

Aristotle stated that tragedy is higher and more philosophical than history because history simply relates what has happened while tragedy dramatizes what may happen. Tragedy creates a cause-and-effect chain that clearly reveals what may happen at any time or place. History is concerned with the particular.

The best thing that A History of Violence has going for it is that is shows up Aristotle's theory somewhat. In the story of Tom McKenna, history and tragedy are inextricably intertwined. McKenna's past may contain a secret whose influence unfolds into the present in a clear chain of cause-and-effect. Sometimes history is a tragedy in and of itself.

Tom McKenna is a simple family man who lives a simple life. For the last 20 years he has run a diner in Raven's Bend, Michigan. All that changes during an attempted robbery by two thugs. After dispensing some quick justice, this quiet man finds himself the center of some rather unwelcome media attention as he is labeled a hometown hero. As the media attention goes viral, his face virtually everywhere, the Mafia, who believe he resembles a man who wronged them, hunt him down, looking to exact revenge for a something that happened a lifetime ago. Although McKenna vehemently denies being the man for whom they are looking, they circle like hungry vultures. Eventually, they kidnap McKenna's son, forcing his hand.

The self-referential title certainly lives up to its name in both theme and content. The violence is as frequent as it is graphic. This novel is definitely for mature readers only.

Therein lays the one of the main problems with the story. Beyond its central premise of questionable vengeance, it's one set-piece of violence after another. There is so much of it that the message gets a bit obscured in the powerful images that grip the story in spasms of intensity.

Another problem is that the narrative itself is actually a rather standard mob story. It's a nice tale of how the average American is anything but average; however, there is very little nuance or depth in terms of plot development. It doesn't help that most of the characters are two-dimensional and wooden.

The artwork is also perhaps not quite tonally correct. I would have thought that, given that the story is ultimately a morality tale, there would be starker, black-and-white artwork, with lots of washed-out tones emphasizing the struggle between good and evil. Instead, there are thin, scribbly lines that make it difficult to tell one character from another or even one detail from another.

All in all, it's not bad. But you might find David Cronenberg's movie of the same name to be more entertaining.

review by
Mary Harvey

6 August 2011

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