For the longest time I never knew this was a book. I am sure everyone remembers the movie when it came out starring Tom Hanks. Believe it or not I have not seen it, it’s on my list just have not got around to watching it. Everything I have seen about the films says that it is good, so me being me once I found out that his was first a book, not only that but a graphic novel, I knew I had to check it out.
Collins was born in Iowa and attended the University of Iowa where he studied to be a writer. I am ashamed to say that I have not heard of him before and that is because I am not a huge fan of the “true crime” genre. I guess that is a misnomer, it’s not that I am not a fan just never really read anything in that genre. From what I have gathered he has mostly written stories dealing with 1920’s -1930’s crime. He did work for DC comics for a while writing Dick Tracey, Chester Gold, and Batman. There is a lengthy forward in this book about how his writing on Batman was legendary because of his portrayal of the Robin character that fans eventually voted to kill off. That is pretty funny, and he is able to poke fun at himself. It is always nice to see successful people that do not take themselves too seriously. Collins has also written quite a few series and a few screen plays, he also was a writer for the TV series Dark Angel. So despite my never having heard of him he is very successful, and wildly talented.
This one starts where an older man is retelling his childhood memories from his past. He tells about his father who is an enforcer for the local Looney gang in the Iowa Illinois area. The story takes place during the 30’s to Prohibition is in full swing and crime is rampant. Eventually his father is double crossed and he is sent on a mission of revenge against some of the biggest crime lords in the business, all the while dragging his son along with him.
My plot synopsis is very brief, I didn’t want to give away anything big because the story is driven by some tragic events that take place, and I didn’t want to spoil it. With that said the story was great, I had no idea what to expect in this one. Given the dated nature of the book, it was released in 1993, I thought that maybe it would feel like those old comics always do. I could not have been more wrong. This was the first graphic novel in a long while where I was actually nervous as to what was going to happen. Each turn of the page was exciting and had my total attention.
I felt the story also did a great job with the characters. The father in the story is somewhat of a cliché but I still liked his character. What made his character and the story more interesting is the fact that his son was involved with everything along the way. The other thing I liked was that the father seemed to have two different sides to him, and even though he is mostly cliché was still very complicated. He seemed to be stern, yet full of compassion and principle. Despite his line of work he still seemed to have a very deep moral obligation. The more I think about this character I keep uncovering so many layers. Even though I said he was cliché, at the same time he is not. There is a lot going on with this character that makes for a very interesting read.
The kid in the story is also an interesting character. He looks up to and admires his father yet he does not want to be like him when he grows up. It is interesting to see how the two interact and the relationship they have as the story progresses.
This is one of the few graphic novels I have read that read at a very quick pace but there was plenty of detail in the story. It went by fast but did not feel like it. Most of the time graphic novels are too short and you do not get enough detail or depth in the story. That is not the case here as the book is about 300 pages and looks more like a regular novel rather than a traditional graphic novel. The more pages give the reader a better story in my opinion.
The artwork in the book is very good, but there is no color. I felt the detail in the artwork was superb and some of the scenes must have taken a very long time to draw out. The style is an older looking style but still very traditional. You can see how every line is used to make the scene, which I think makes the reader appreciate how much time and effort went into the artwork. Often times the detail from the pencils gets overlooked because of the inker and then the color thrown in on top. With this simpler style you really get to see the talent that the artist posses at it base from. The style reminded me of the engravings that very old book use to have in them. It is very unique in that sense. There are no colors so don’t have anything to discuss for that aspect. The page layouts and scene selection are pretty simple. As I said the book is very small in terms of dimensions, and looks more like a normal sized mass market paperback. With the limited space comes limited creativity with the page layouts. With that being said there are a few full page splashes that are quite impressive, but they mostly have to do with the artwork. Still they are very well done, but other than that there is not much to talk about with the page layouts and the scene selection.
One thing I think that is pretty interesting about this is that quite a few of the characters in the story were real people. Al Capone, Elliot Ness, William Gabel, Connor Looney, and John Patrick Looney who was the leader of the aptly named Looney gang all make an appearance and were real people back during the 1930’s. The other neat thing is that Collins does a great job of intertwining real events that actually happened with the above individuals into this fictional story. Although I am not sure if famed lawman Elliot Ness was involved in the take down of the Looney gang, but still neat to include him. As you know I always like the historical fiction especially when it is done right and this story is done very well.
In the forward Collins talks about how he got the idea for this story from an old film called Lone Warrior and Cub, which basically tells a story of a betrayed samurai who is out for revenge while bringing his son along. I like old ideas with a brand new take, pretty cool.
Overall I really enjoyed this book. What I am having trouble figuring out is why this book has all but disappeared from any list that includes classic graphic novels. I think this is a classic in my opinion and I will argue with anyone that says otherwise. The story is great fully of excitement and suspense. The artwork is very well done and molds well with the story, the setting, timeframe, and the seriousness that the author is trying to portray. It seems to me that this one has kind of fallen under the radar, which I think is a tragedy of epic proportions. There are also a few sequels that follow a few of the characters in the story later on in life. Perhaps one day I will check this out, but for now you really need to pick this one up. You will not be disappointed in any way, this is a great read.