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On the Road to Perdition Book 3: Detour
Writer: Max Allan Collins
Artist: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

To many people, Road to Perdition signaled a return of the hard-bitten true crime genre and the untapped possibilities to be found in the comic book medium.

Of course, these people clearly never read Bendis’ torso or any other non-superhero comic worth a damn, but what do you expect when the book (published by Paradox Press aka DC Comics posing as “legitimate” artists) was packaged for the bookstore-going literati?

To add further insult to comicdom, when the property was adapted into a movie, the filmmakers did everything in their power to distance it from the “funny books," hoping to gain greater respect by acting like the graphic novel never existed.

Then they hired the screenwriter from The Haunting (the bad one), shoehorned in a licentious death-fetish photographer/hitman as the main villain, dropped all historical and true crime elements, and hired Tom Hanks to play a ‘20’s-era Irish mob enforcer-

Because, dammit, bringing sophistication to comics is what Hollywood does best!

But Max Allan Collins, not content leaving his masterpiece to be mislabeled as “the graphic novel based on the movie!” or “the book that inspired Conrad Hall’s cinematographic swansong”, launched the On the Road to Perdition mini-series last year.

The new story began by recounting the opening of the Perdition saga and then delved into an area the movie adaptation chose to exploit in its central stretch that the novel left relatively untouched: the six months the O’Sullivans were pulling heists on Al Capone’s banks.

For anyone new to the story, each installment has summarized how Michael O’Sullivan and his hitman father of the same name have been on the lam since he witnessed a killing that prompted the local boss’s nutcase son to gun down the entire O’Sullivan clan, thus keep the whole thing hushed up. Unfortunately for him, the two Michaels made it through alive and started a war on the entire criminal organization.

In this final chapter, Michael Sr. (known as “The Angel of Death” to the underworld) takes the battle to Kansas City, outlaw mecca of the Midwest and one of the most recent links in Capone’s empire. Leaving his son to sample the local barbeque, he ambushes a cop he knew in the old days (‘cause KC’s law is just as crooked as Chicago’s) and, using his pilfered uniform, slips into KCPD central for a snatch and grab on the department’s dirty money. The heist leaves Capone down more than $150 large and has the once loyal Kansas City gangsters looking to Chicago for some damn good answers.

Meanwhile, Connor, slayer of Mike’s wife and younger son, ditches the bodyguards keeping him locked down in a safehouse to deal with the “Angel” personally. Word comes to Mike through an old contact that Connor is planning to hit one of the few places the O’Sullivans found shelter in their months on the run. It doesn’t take Mike long to figure out what Connor plans, but he’s too late, finding another family dear to him destroyed by Connor’s hand.

But, this time, he has a chance to save them all.

If the original Road to Perdition was a true crime book with a toehold on pulp gangster novels, On the Road to Perdition sets itself firmly in the pulp tradition with little hints at true crime. The simple story of revenge and redemption has grown into a saga where we know the ending but find new adventure in the events leading up to that inevitable conclusion. The dark loss-of-innocence themes of the first story serve as a background to a rollicking gangster story that glides from legends of late western gunslingers through the American ganglands that existed before the rise of federal law enforcement.

Constructing the story as a three part mini rather than a 300 page sequel was a smart move, but I almost feel they could have gone one better by releasing it in 10 or 12 parts to bridge the gap between the bookstore and comic book crowds. The paperback format chases off a number of comic fans who should be drooling over this work, while, at the same time, it appeals strongly to readers who may be disappointed by its unabashedly “comic book” crime story.

As a sequel to Road to Perdition, this series doesn’t really live up to expectations. No major revelations occur, no bold new avenues are explored, the stakes aren’t really raised, and nothing really approaches the bittersweet moments of the original.

However, as a return to pulp crime comics, On the Road to Perdition is a sheer joy to read. Max Allan Collins’ work on Batman, Dick Tracy, and Mike Danger (created by Mickey Spillane for the doomed Tekno Comics line) screams out as you flip through the pages and relish the period-oriented dialogue so blatantly missing from the movie adaptation (though still not quite thick enough here, for my tastes).

The grim stylings Collins adopted when he first borrowed the plot (from the well known samurai-for-hire manga known to American audiences as Lone Wolf and Cub) blends with a spirit of adventure for a mood matching the lawless cities of a younger America as well as its forerunner’s matched a totalitarian Japan. However, the overall effect makes for a better continuous series than a single, solid story, which leaves me hoping Collins will continue his depression-era crime story, somehow.

Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez’s art suits the pulp story perfectly; less cartoony than the extremes of some Batman books but still miles away from mundane realism, it embraces the material with a flair seen all too little since the death of the ‘50’s EC line. His gangsters and gunsels have mugs like Dick Tracy villains, his women mix the ridiculous sexuality of old Tijuana bibles with the grace of Betty Page pinups and the personalities of Raymond Chandler stereotypes, and his backgrounds brim over with period furnishings, archaic decorations, and more brickwork than a Lakers game.

That said, it isn’t the same beast as Richard Piers Rayner’s photo-realistic quasi-woodcuts on the first story. While there can be no doubt that it suits the spirit of this series better than such stark, realistic pictures would, it’s also largely responsible for the shift in mood and may contribute to this being seen as “just a comic book” rather than graphic literature.

But, dammit people, graphic novels don’t have to be sad sack stories about lost souls coping with death every freakin’ time! Limiting what we can do with graphic narrative by insisting it has to fit some schmuck’s definition of “art” will just lead to the same stagnation that we’ve seen in motion pictures.

Sure, it may sell more… but I’d rather see the industry go down in flames than get to a point where everything has to be either kiddie manga rip-offs or depressing theses on the spirituality of menstruation.

On the Road to Perdition isn’t an elegiac tale of a woeful man doomed to die. It’s an adventure.

And, with any luck, the adventure will continue.


Jason Schachat

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