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A History of Violence


John Wagner (Author), Vince Locke (Illustrator)

DC/Vertigo Comics (Publisher)


A slow-burning story dealing with an individual’s inability to escape the past, readers will find that A History of Violence is a fast but meaningful read. Author John Wagner also created the character of Judge Dredd; deeper analysis may yield a potent connection between Dredd, a figure who is instant judge, jury and executioner, and Violence’s Tom McKenna, a middle-aged regular Joe who has been holding onto to a secret criminal act from his youth. In a feat of strength belying his calm demeanor, McKenna murders two men who come to rob his small town diner. The ensuing media attention trains a spotlight on McKenna, dredging up dangerous figures from his past. McKenna at first denies any knowledge of the men, but eventually must bring his true past into the light. Wagner takes pains to establish that McKenna is “good guy,” presenting him as a victim of circumstance whose choice to rob a mob boss was really only made to help his ailing grandmother. But as the story unfolds and McKenna discovers the disgusting lengths the men he stole from are willing to go to for revenge, the reader begins to wonder if his decision was worth it. A History of Violence asks a fundamental question: should making one mistake ruin your life? The shocking ending of the book suggests that the longer a violent action is left to fester, the worse the consequences will be. The art is simple for such a morally complex story, with Locke’s gritty, imprecise and nervy black-and-white line drawings hinting at the instability experienced by McKenna while also communicating a heavy level of anxiety to the reader.

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