Tom McKenna does not appear to be who he pretends to be. He is not, in fact, a simple family man running a diner in Raven’s Bend, Michigan. Or, rather, that is just who he’s been pretending to be for the last twenty years. Though he has been living a simple life, all that changes when two thugs enter his diner in an attempt to rob him. He quickly dispenses the two would-be robbers and seals his fate to the ensuing drama he will face. With his face plastered country-wide as a hero, McKenna is quickly recognized by some old enemies looking to exact their revenge.
When the gangster Johnny Torrino and two of his thugs from New York arrive inquiring about McKenna, Tom knows he and his family are in trouble and that a time of rekoning is near. Torrino seeks to exact revenge for his missing eye. He captures McKenna’s son and sets up a meeting for an exchange. McKenna escapes with his family intact and Torrino hospitalized, but unfortunately, that is just the beginning. McKenna will have to return to the streets of New York and face the world he left behind.
A History of Violence is much more than a collection of unrelenting unnecessary vengeful acts of violence, but you certainly do get some of that. From language to violence, this graphic novel is right in self-identifying as “For Mature Readers.” The warning also emphasizes the adult nature of the themes. Because, as adults, we can understand why McKenna would lie to his loved ones so vehemently about his past life on the streets of New York. More mature readers can also understand why that past is almost destined to catch up to him.
After reading this graphic novel, one can easily understand why and how this it would be so attractive to producers - hence the recent theatrical release of A History of Violence starring Viggo Mortensen as Tom. It’s a compact, easily told story in three acts with agreeable but not entirely perfect heroes as well as some unusually vicious and sadistic villains.
From its outward appearance, this graphic novel resembles more a mass market paperback than anything relating to comic books. The cover and back exhibit no art, just stark white writing on black background. Writer John Wagner composes an interesting introduction while Vince Locke illustrates this black-and-white series. The grainy quality of Locke’s art works well within this tough and dreary tale. With scenes at night and in the rain, the extensive use of streak marks give a foreboding atmosphere to the story.
By story’s end, it comes as no wonder why A History of Violence has reached that esteemed canon of classic graphic novels. Like all other great graphic novels, it strives to depict the human identity. It provides a snippet of human character that we can understand and gives us just one more hint into the mystery of life. And of course, you can read it a zillion times and appreciate it more with each read.