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


Really 4.5I read this because I saw the movie. It starts out the same--nice small-town diner-owner foils a robbery from some really violent guys. Achieves a measure of fame. Which attracts some mob guys from New York who think that he's someone who did them wrong a long time ago. In the book, there's the compelling point where he's missing half a finger, and the mob guy kept the other half of the finger of the guy done him wrong. But diner-owner insists it's a mistaken identity. The movie does a better job of keeping us doubting whether he's really the guy. But the back-story in the book is better. As a kid, he had a buddy who wanted to get back at the mob, and who convinced him that they could pull off a robbery, helping get a needed operation for grandmother raising him. (In the movie, he was more of a professional gangster type.) The book does a good job of keeping the suspense of how he's going to get out of it. It goes wrong at the end, though, with just a gross-out sicko mob guy, son of the original gangster killed in the robbery, having tortured the buddy for 20 years, and starting in on the new guy with drills, chain-saws, etc. The art wasn't fabulous, but did catch some gritty atmosphere.


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.


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.


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.


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 became interested in this graphic novel after seeing the film version by David Cronenberg. I enjoyed the movie and wanted to see where it all began so I picked the original graphic novel. The story begins with an attempted robbery in a small-town diner owned by Tom McKenna, who manages to kill one of the would-be robbers and hospitalize the other. Suddenly, Tom's a local hero and, as a result, is getting some unwanted attention from New York mafiosos who believe Tom looks suspiciously familiar.For interested parties who've seen the movie first, keep one thing in mind: the book is incredibly different from the movie. Aside from the basic premise and some character names, the two share little in common. While the film seemed to center more on how Tom's secret past affected life with his new family, the novel is all about Tom trying to put an end to the history that has caught up with him. The novel is much more violent, with scenes of brutal violence and torture. Of course, it also has a engaging story to back it up. Once I started reading, I didn't put it down until I finished it. Though, at a mere 286 pages it's a quick and easy read good for one sitting.A History of Violence completely took me by surprise the first time I read it. While the film had a bit of a slower pace, the novel is the polar opposite. It jumped right in with the introduction of the would-be robbers and doesn't let up until Tom finishes what he sets out to do. My only complaint was that the story was over so fast and I was left wanting more. While Vince Locke's illustrations appear somewhat simple, the use of black and white give the story an ominous noir feeling that enhances John Wagner's story. I really have to thank David Cronenberg; if it wasn't for his film, I most likely never would've discovered this awesome novel.


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.


Die Gewalt ist der Dreh- und AngelpunktMan sollte schon mit etwas rechnen, wenn ein Comic mit dem Titel "A History of Violence" daherkommt. Wagner, 2000AD- und Judge-Dredd-Altmeister, schon immer nicht gerade für seine Kuschelcomics bekannt, zeigt sich hier aber von seiner ernsteren Seite. Während bei Judge Dredd die Gewalt meist humorisiert ist und gegen Bösewichter, die es eh nicht anders verdienen, geht, wird in diesem Titel ein Mensch gezeigt, der in die Mühlen der Mafia gerät. Was man diesem Comic bestimmt nicht vorwerfen kann, ist, dass er Gewalt verharmlost - hier werden tatsächlich die Folgen einer ewigen Gewaltspirale schonungslos dargestellt.Die Kugelschreiberzeichnungen mögen nicht jedermanns Sache sein, geben aber dem Comic einen ganz eigenen Charakter. Gegen Ende tauchen hier Szenen auf, die einen sehr unruhig lassen werden ob ihrer schonungslosen Darstellung menschlicher Perversität, und definitiv nichts für Leute mit schwachen Nerven sind - und ich rede hier nicht von hirnlosem blutspritz-Geballer oder so.Wer Action sucht, ist fehlt am Platz. Wer einen spannenden, auf echt wirkenden Charakteren aufgebauten Comic mit Tiefgang und einer echten Message sucht, der kein Blatt vor den Mund nimmt, liegt hier richtig.


Now that this is back in print and I've finally read it, I can say I'm not sure why this book was such a big deal. It's dark and gory and maybe when it first came out that was more groundbreaking for comics, but it's really just a mafia story - a big action movie revenge tale. You would think from the title there would be more introspection into the nature of violece, but there is not. If you liked Sin City or Perdition Road this might interest you, or maybe if you're a Bendis crime kind of fan. If you're looking for something deeper this may disappoint.

Nathaniel Bertram

When a violent encounter pushes small town café owner Tom McKenna into the media spotlight, three members of a New York mafia family show up bringing with them implications of McKenna's dark past. Vince Locke creates an appropriately dreary world full of stark, claustrophobic shadows encroaching over wide panels and empty landscapes, the visuals being the primary vehicle for the underlying theme. There is a definite sense of encroaching darkness on a previously bright and unassuming world, however Wagner's writing doesn't entirely hold up against the sophisticated visual weight. Though the book is titled "A History of Violence", Wagner's writing is often overly concerned with the history and less with the present violence. The story starts off incredibly well, the inciting incident propelling a neo-noir style mystery into action as the mafia begins prodding into Tom McKenna's quiet and peaceful family life. The problem is that the mystery itself does not entirely pay off. Where I would have liked to see the cat and mouse game in the novel's present play out with more rawness and tension, the scene is quickly truncated for an inserted chapter detailing at length the event's of McKenna's past while his family sits idly by and listens with little to no real emotion in their reactions. The story ultimately focuses on McKenna and makes little use of the surrounding characters in the sleepy rural community. I want to see how the sudden insertion of violence and death into this peaceful rural world changes things, if it does at all. Does this shake the townspeople's trust in one another and with the law? Does the event alienate the town against other outsiders? There are a lot of questions the might have been invoked within the events of the story, but ultimately it is allowed to devolve into a more simplified crime drama, albeit a good one and one with a rather interesting protagonist. Perhaps this is merely the limits of the medium, or perhaps this was simply not the story Wagner wanted to tell. Either way, A History of Violence is a compelling thriller that tells its story well, maybe not as insightfully as it could have, but well told nonetheless.


tapered off into an action flick.

William III

This is one of those rare cases where the film is better than the book it was based on. MUCH better. Everything I loved about the film A HISTORY IF VIOLENCE is missing here in the book. Don't waste your time with this one.


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.

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.

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.

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