We all know someone who, when asked about a movie says, “It was passably good, but not a patch on the book.” Over the past few years, there has been a sudden increase in the number of movies being made from graphic novels, but this writer cannot say, with any measure of conviction, that all the movies were bad. Elektra was, as was Constantine, although that may also have to do with the choice of the leads in the two movies: Jennifer Garner is not Elektra (Charlize Theron is this writer’s choice); and Keanu Reaves isn’t John Constantine (Sting—of course he acts, remember Dune?—or Jude Law would have been better). Sin City was as good as the series of the same name created by the movies co-director Frank Miller. V for Vendetta had that unique touch of the brothers Wachowski, which actually extends to comics. Anyone read Matrix comics? No? Well, we’ll get to them in a future edition of Cult Fiction. And David Cronenberg’s History of Violence was actually better than the book.
One of the best movie-book combos this writer has had occasion to see/read has to be Road to Perdition. Written by Max Allan Collins and illustrated by Richard Piers Rayner, this was made into a movie by Sam Mendes. It stars Tom Hanks as a brooding Michael O’Sullivan, a hitman for the mob who takes the road (to perdition) along with his young son to avenge the death of his wife and daughter by his mob-boss’ crazed son. In the world of graphic novels, writers often get more credit than they deserve and illustrators, less. Rayner’s black and white sketches of 1930s America took almost four years to complete. The movie’s sombre and faded look is derived from his muted monochrome sketches.
To my mind, Road to... is one of the classics of pulp fiction (in the same league as The Big Sleep or Red Harvest) and deserves to be read on its own merit, not as a little-known comic that inspired a movie. Inspired by the success of Road to..., Collins tried to convert the franchise into a mini-series with On the Road to Perdition: Sanctuary and On the Road to Perdition: Detour, but the illustrations in these were done by other artists. These (the illustrations, not the artists) try and capture Rayner’s style but somehow lack the soul of his illustrations.
As admitted by Collins himself, Road to... was based on Lone Wolf and Cub, a manga book by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima about a Samurai executioner who is betrayed by his master and cuts a bloody swathe through Japan, infant-in-pram in tow, to get even. When it comes to graphic novels, trust the Japanese to have been there, done that.
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