A History of Violence

ISBN: 1563893673
ISBN 13: 9781563893674
By: John Wagner Vince Locke

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About this book

A new edition of the hard-hitting graphic novel that inspired the Academy Award-nominated 2005 motion picture starring Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris and William Hurt.In this suspenseful crime story, Tom McKenna is a family man who becomes an instant media celebrity when he thwarts a robbery at his own diner – a robbery attempted by wanted murderers. McKenna’s newfound fame draws the attention of a group of merciless mobsters who have been looking to settle a score with him for over 20 years. Now, as the killers descend upon his small town in Middle America, the Brooklyn native must face the actions of his youth and relive his past history of violence as he attempts to salvage the life he has built and keep his family out of harm’s way.

Reader's Thoughts


As a person, I have my own history of violence, and that history has led me to become obsessed, as a thinker and author, with violence as a concept. I see it everywhere. I dwell on it, am awed by it, wonder about it, write about it, dream about it, nightmare about it, loathe it and love it in turns. Thus, when I pick up a book with the title A History of Violence, I expect to read something that engages with violence consciously, something that doesn't simply use violence for visceral gratification but has a plan for the violence, is using it to say something (even if that something is something I don't like).John Wagner's A History of Violence says many things about violence, but what bothers me is that I never once felt like the things being said were intentional. I felt like Luke in the cave on Dagobah: everything in the cave was there because I brought it with me. Wagner's writing left me hollow and sad. He was merely telling a story, one he needed to tell, perhaps, but only to move a plot B to C, then back to A, then C to D. He seemed totally disconnected from the thematic life of his work, and I felt abandoned by him as I made my journey through the text. As I write this I think that in itself, that abandonment by the author, is a unique and potentially powerful authorial authorial -- but I don't like being the object of that action.Moreover, I despair that someone could use the sort of violence that appears in this graphic novel with what seems to be flippant disregard of its power. Similar violence occurs in David Fincher's film Se7en (in fact, Wagner blatantly stole one of the seven killings from that movie for this book), but Fincher's use of violence feels conscious, pointed, thematically aware, and that makes all the difference for me.Vince Locke's is scratchingly, noirishly lovely, well suited to the bleak world Wagner has written, but it only added to the alienation I felt.I know I am going to have to come back to this book in the future and give it another read simply because it made me feel so strongly. I didn't enjoy this book at all. I put it down feeling angry, isolated and disgusted. I wish I felt like those feelings were intentional rather than incidental.


The art in this didn't do a whole lot for me. Black and white illustration, and it was often times hard to see which character was whom on the page. The story starts with a fun conceit of the ordinary man swept into something sordid and dangerous and in that way Tom McKenna is a fairly good protagonist. The first two chapters I enjoyed but the third gets a bit silly and gratuitous. In other words, it went off the Frank Miller deep end.I had seen the movie previously, and if I recall it correctly, the plots of the two deviate somewhat towards the end. Not sure which was better, but the comic was worth the time it took to read at the very least.


tapered off into an action flick.

Sarah Payok

When I first saw the David Cronenberg film, A History of Violence, based on this graphic novel, I knew nothing of the book. I found the movie deeply disturbing and as a result, once I learned about the book, I was a bit apprehensive about reading it. I already knew the topic and did not feel any driving need to become disturbed again by the same material. However, I picked the book up this week on a whim and was pleasantly surprised. The things in the movie that disturbed me to such an extent are not in the book and while the book is brutal, it also gives a strong sense of what a kind, compelling man Tom McKenna is and this really helps to understand how he has such a brutal past.I am always interested in the intersection between films and books and in this case, I really don't think the two have much impact on each other. I read recently that when Cronenberg was working on the movie, it wasn't until he saw a later edition of the screenplay that he even realized it was adapted from a book. They really are two separate entities. If I had not seen the movie years ago in the theatre, I do not think I'd have any driving desire to do so now after reading this. The book is complete and left me with no desire to see the story carried on further. The story itself is timeless and would probably be well served in any format, whether film or book, comic or prose.


I haven't seen the movie yet, but because the director's David Cronenberg and the figure lines would be a lot more defined than the artwork, I imagine people who have seen the movie first would be either disappointed that the book doesn't seem to exude as much edge as its title suggests, or considerably satisfied. My doubt that there are few who prefer the original over the movie stems from the idea that movies usually change things up to attract a bigger audience. With the exception of the ending scenes where Richie is revealed, the comic isn't very striking or hard-hitting. The story is about a man whose hidden past is revealed when a couple of men thought they could rob his diner. The man, Tom McKenna, becomes famous after killing one of the men and holding a gun to the other. When you learn about Tom's past, it still doesn't explain why he has catlike reflexes and is able to take down two guys; he's a smart man but no means anything that signifies the skills of a secret agent or a man who has been through training of the sorts. In fact, the probable reasons for Tom to really take down those guys are that he has been paranoid for twenty years of hiding his secret and that they didn't expect a man with one expression to be so cold (but really, what could you expect?).The story is an easy story to comprehend, and the meaning of the title can be figured out halfway through the first part of the graphic novel. The developments of the characters only really go so far, and there isn't really much of a wow factor as much as there is a lot of disbelief when his wife decides to go along with it. I would imagine that a lot of people would find the artwork unfavorable, and at times, it's almost like fighting than reading the pictures. But I tried to look at Vince Locke's art as the type you would see at newspaper or court sketches: messy but decipherable. However, what really is the most promising part of the comic is the introduction that John Wagner wrote about ordinary people placed into dangerous situations - a promise that was never fulfilled in this book.


Stayed up all night reading this, and now that it's over I wish I hadn't. It started out alright I guess, with sort of a western/cape fear feel, but the stilted comic book dialogue didn't grip me and I found the crosshatching art claustrophobic (probably deliberate) and unfocused, sort of like a muddy snowstorm.But this book became truly stupid after the first act- after an okay setup nothing but joyless, nihilistic violence happens, in a sort of bastard child of Death Wish 3 and Saw IV way. I'm not really interested in violence for violence sake, and the cynical reasons for including so much of it in this book is not up to snuff. This book is for teenagers and revenge-fantasy-induced lunch breaks.I should've picked up the fact that all the blurbs on the book were for the Cronenberg movie, not the book itself. Who knows, maybe the movie is better, since they changed the plot considerably.


This graphic novel, basis for the film of the same name, is very well done.The basic story is that a small town diner's owner handily thwarts two stone cold killers who are attempting to rob his diner and plan to kill him. This draws media attention, attention which leads to a criminal act that he committed against the NY mob in his youth coming back to haunt him. The story is well done and captures the sudden, jarring nature of violence and a past that wil not stay buried. And the drawing in the book perfect.Looking at the differences between the book and the movie is interesting: there are things that I prefer about BOTH. I enjoyed the way that the graphic novel flashed back to show the the events that start the story but I have a little trouble believing that one jarring, violent act committed decades before would provide the skills used by the lead character later in the book. I felt that the movie's change to make the lead a person with a long history of extreme violence made a little more sense.Still, this is a gripping story and very well worth reading.


"I was fourteen when they murdered Richie's brother. They took him down under the Brooklyn Bridge adn blew his brains out. Word was he got smart with the wrong people. But, that was Steve all over - Mr. Bigshot. Anyway, that's how it all began...with Richie's brother."Tom McKenna lives in a small town in Michigan, where he lives with his family, and runs a small diner. When he acts in self-defense to stop two men from robbing the diner, he becomes an instant media sensation, even though he tries hard to steer clear of the spotlight. The media attention draws others to his small town: three men from New York City, who claim that Tom is not who he says he is, and that he owes a serious debt to dangerous people. When Tom is forced to defend his family, his carefully-constructed cover about his past unravels, and he must return to Brooklyn to face secrets that have waited twenty years to surface. I'll admit that I've never seen the film version of this GN, although I've heard it changes things around quite a bit from the original. I thought the plot of this story was great, and the first chapter builds the feeling of dread gradually and effectively, as the NYC killers begin to fliter into the small town. The second chapter, though, started to pull me in another direction as a reader, as it relies mostly on flashback to tell the story's of Tom's youth, and his involvement with the NY mob. Flashbacks in this novel are definitely necessary, but I thought by the end of the second chapter, the novel had lost a lot of the dread it established earlier. The plot ties up relatively well, but it defies believability in some spots, which bothered me. The artwork is done in a sketchy, rough-looking black-and-white, and while effective, the style does make it difficult to distinguish between characters, especially when looking at them at twenty-year intervals.

Kristen Fiore

I’m not sure if this is the graphic novel, or the novel itself, but either way, I read the book and liked it a lot. The story was complex, but understandable. Tom McKenna was a family man who ran his own diner. One day he had customers who were out to hurt the people in the diner, including him. Tom ended up hurting the men with violence. Come to find out, they were after him because of a crime he committed back when he was a kid in Brooklyn, NY. The men that came into the diner were looking for a man named Joey. Tom McKenna changed his name and whole identity when he escaped New York. He had no choice. Throughout the novel, the McKenna family was fighting to stay alive. They had to hide from these men that wanted to harm them. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but the McKenna family ended up moving back to New York, and in the process of that, Tom had to reveal secrets about him that his wife doesn’t know about him. I thought this story was a good insight on how someone’s childhood can determine the rest of your life. What you do as a kid or teenager can affect the way your life turns out. The pictures were in black and white, but the illustrations were clear. You could tell who was who.


A little shocking. Lots of violence and stuff, but there didn't seem to be much going on.

Robert Kristoffersen

Everybody remembers the film adaption of this graphic novel from Director David Cronenberg and starring Viggo Mortensen, but few know of its graphic novel counterpart. The original book, written by John Wagner, best known for the creation of Judge Dredd, and drawn by Vince Locke, of Sandman and Batman fame, details the life of Tom McKenna or Joey, owner of a Michigan diner and of a secret past.The story begins its history of violence with the murder of two hitchhikers. A random and brutal act of violence that is re-payed shortly but Tom. Early in the story, Tom is portrayed as this small town, family man who owns a diner. Your typical blue collar worker, just trying to make a living and support his family. Shortly, Tom proves that he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, and that he can do it with intellect and some skill. In small town USA, people don’t die this way and more, simple men don’t respond with a set of skills that most don’t have. In short, Tom kills one of them and injures the other greatly. This event brings him notoriety and a trio of people from the past that come to investigate. Including a man named John Torrino.The story that unfolds takes the reader back to Brooklyn, when Tom was known as Joey, and where he got even for the death of a friend, Steve. Along with his buddy, Richie, the pair hash a plan to make quick cash and strike a blow to the mob. They do just that, but that doesn't mean there aren't repercussions. What happens to Richie in the aftermath, revealed toward the end of the story, still gives me chills. Joey has to run, and slowly takes on a new identity with the nest egg he had. The final act of the story take Tom back to Brooklyn to settle this once and for all.In a culture of violence, the culture that American’s and a lot of other people live in, the violence here is shocking. It’s more creative, especially as the character of Richie is concerned. Locke’s stark visualizations make it all the more impactful, some of these images will stay with you long after you've read the last panel and the book is closed. This is a book that also proves death doesn't have to be dealt at a distance to be effective. If you’re cunning enough, it can have a great impact on events unfolding in the story, as well as add to shock value. Locke’s ability to take this to small town U.S.A. and make it realistic is a credit to his keen writing ability. These mobsters aren’t just the murdering type, but they play within the rules too, making this more real, and frightening to a small town resident like me.Wagner and Locke have created a really affecting novel, one that speaks to a culture of violence. Everyone, and I mean everyone, can relate to this book, and with the events of yesterday, it hits home more than ever. A must read for sure!


Extremely disappoint. I had seen the movie first, and loved it. I love graphic novels, so figured it would be a good read. Unfortunately, a lot of the things the movie does right, the book does wrong. I wanted to love this book, but it was really just okay.


I read A History of Violence over the course of the weekend. I typically read graphic novels in one sitting if I can, but this was a novel I had to take in smaller bites. The introduction gives a sporadic account of how John Wagner came up with the idea for the novel's underlying threads. Without giving anything away, he provides the reader an idea that this book will be unsettling because it speaks to the ideas of "What if..." that plaque us in relationships. What if I found out that my husband was a mass murderer or that people thought I was someone I'm not. In a case of supposedly mistaken identity, Tom McKenna is an everyman character who has carved a quiet life in a small town. The sense of relationships between him, his family, and those out to kill him are held together so delicately. There is an image of a spider in a web on one of the panels, and Tom is someone faded with his back to the window pane the reader is "looking" through. Later he is compared to a fly being trapped in a spider's web. It is interesting to see how that image plays out because it brings up the idea that there are two types of people: the flies and spiders. But with the violence that plays into this novel, it makes me wonder if Tom really is a fly or if he is a spider threatened in his territory.I encourage you to read this novel with an open mind. It is one you may want to read through a time or two because the themes are quite dense. It questions the integrity of a marriage, the understanding of children in a grown-up world, what makes a man, what is power, is there necessary violence, and much more. It is a book I read as a bedtime read, which I would not encourage because I found my mind continuing to digest the book long after I found a stopping place.


(I THINK THIS MIGHT HAVE A SPOILER... READ AT OWN RISK) I think I have found a not stereotypical mob story... Oh wait not really. For all you movie buffs out there take a hard pass and just watch any mob runner story. I did however get sucked into the book and finish it faster than any other book I've read so far in this semester. So back to the summery. Tom is a hometown hero when he kicks some robbers butts, unfortunately it brings his past back. He has to face his history with going up against some gangsters... blah blah blah... gangsters threaten family... blah blah blah... The rest is stereotypical history. The art is very symbolic, but there are some very detailed scenes (like the mob-like torture stuff. Also it's just using a grey scale pallet... probably to go alone with the symbolic relation. The tone is very dynamic when it comes to the hometown hero feel to the B.A. mob to his past of blues and then the ending tone which I will leave up to you to find. I suggest this book to mob obsessed people, and people that enjoy a story within a story. If you really like violence this is the story for you my darling. Until next time loves.

Skipper Ritchotte

I liked the movie a lot more. Is that wrong? Where the movie seemed to say beneath it all that Violence Begets Violence, and held incredible tension and nuance of character (except for William Hurt's silly gangster portrayal), the graphic novel mostly delivers unnuanced shock for shock's sake. I will say that I'll never forget the gruesome ending in the novel, which was completely and utterly different than the Cronenberg flick. Cannot be unseen. Interesting afternoon reading.

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