TONY'S ONLINE TIPS From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1424 (03/02/01)
"You must choose a road for yourself."
Between now and November 2, millions, tens of millions, even hundreds of millions of people, will know much about a DreamWorks movie called ROAD TO PERDITION. They'll know it stars Tom Hanks as a Depression-era hitman named Michael O'Sullivan whose wife and son are murdered by his own employers and who, with his surviving son, sets out on a path of vengeance.
They'll know the movie also stars Paul Newman, Jude Law, and Tom Sizemore. They'll know the movie is directed by Sam (American Beauty) Mendes. But, sadly, it will only be a minute percentage of those hundreds of millions of people who will know the movie is based on a comic book. Or, to be accurate, two comic books.
In 1998, DC Comics/Paradox Press published ROAD TO PERDITION ($13.95), a 294-page graphic novel by writer Max Allan Collins and artist Richard Piers Rayner. Collins is a two-time winner of the Private Eye Writers of America's Shamus Award for his Nate Heller novels TRUE DETECTIVE (1983) and STOLEN AWAY (1991). In the comics field, he created Ms. Tree (with artist Terry Beatty), penned some notable Batman stories, and had a most memorable run as the writer of the Dick Tracy comic strip. He has also written, directed, and produced his own films: MOMMY and MOMMY'S DAY.
Collins is on the very short list of my favorite contemporary writers, sharing shelves with Dave Barry, Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, and Ed McBain. His Nate Heller and Eliot Ness historical novels, the latter set during the legendary lawman's time as Safety Director of Cleveland in the 1930s, are among my favorite books. His and Beatty's MS. TREE is the comic-book series I'd most like to see return to publication. I make no apologies about any of this; I am a Collins fan.
Surprisingly, given the above, I hadn't read ROAD TO PERDITION until just recently. I'd received a copy, misfiled it, and--dumb, dumb, dumb--forgotten about it until I read a newspaper item about the film. It took me hours to find it in the chaos that is my life and stuff, but it was worth the effort. Once I started reading it, I couldn't stop reading it until I finished it.
Collins does so many things exceedingly well. His meticulous attention to detail, both in his characters and his settings, never overwhelms his stories. He is the Blue Fairy of the mean streets, bringing life and dimension to his players and the stages on which they perform. His dark, noble, twisted O'Sullivan is as real as Al Capone's Chicago. O'Sullivan's son, his namesake, is a real boy, albeit one caught up in horrific circumstances. On their bloody road, they face the craven and the monstrous with no guarantee of victory or redemption. At any time, the turn of a page can signal the end of a life. It's a powerful story, made so because Collins puts the stamp of truth on each and every scene, even those that do not feature such historical figures as Capone, Ness, Frank Nitti, and the notorious Looney clan.
Rayner also makes a formidable contribution to the veracity of ROAD TO PERDITION. According to the back cover copy, he spent four years working on the artwork for this novel, "a labor of love that has resulted in some of the most stunningly realistic drawings of 1930s Chicago ever seen on the printed page." Though his attention to detail and use of photographic reference occasionally takes away from the fluidity of the action, the artist compensates the reader by imbuing the panels and pages with the overwhelming feeling that, yes, you are there.
Digression. I'm not nearly as familiar with Rayner's work as I am with that of Collins. He's contributed to a number of DC and Marvel comics, including Hellblazer, Swamp Thing, and Doctor Who, and most volumes of the DC/Paradox Big Book of... series.
Perhaps the most recent and unusual credit is the one I found through an online search: Rayner was the "artist in residence" for the Middlesbrough (Great Britain) Football Club during their 2000-2001 season, winning the position over 75 other artists who sought it. If you'd like to read more about his sports illustrations and view samples thereof, hop online and set course for
At the beginning of this gush-fest, I remarked that the Road to Perdition movie is based on *two* comic books. For those of you who didn't figure it out from the big whopping clue that was this week's opening quote, let me now mention that the quote, which also appears at the beginning of the Collins/Rayner graphic novel, comes from the world-renown LONE WOLF AND CUB comics by Japanese creators Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima.
LONE WOLF AND CUB is an epic adventure of a samurai assassin, his son, and the honor and violence that drives them on their self-proclaimed road to Hell. Over 7000 pages in total, it is a classic of the comics art form, Koike's magnificent and penetrating writing working in irresistible rhythm with the late Kojima's beautiful and terrifying drawings. It is cinematic, operatic, and unquestionably Japanese, perhaps the most powerful comics work ever given birth in that stronghold of the art form.
Audaciously and delightfully, ROAD TO PERDITION is an American counterpart to LONE WOLF AND CUB. Though its 294 pages may lack the grace and scope of its inspiration, and its Chicago setting the relative elegance and formality of feudal Japanese culture, it is, nonetheless, one of the finest graphic novels of the past century; small wonder Collins considers it "the most rewarding (ride) of his comics-scripting career."
In a better world, I would urge you to run to your friendly neighborhood comics shop, or your somewhat less-friendly mega-book-CD-video-and-cappuccino emporium, and score yourself a copy of ROAD TO PERDITION. Sadly, such instant gratification may elude most of you reading this column.
Only the most terrific of book stores and comic-book shops are likely to have ROAD TO PERDITION in stock. A quick check of the DC backlist in the most recent PREVIEWS catalogues would indicate that the graphic novel is not currently in print. However, it does seem to be available from Amazon Books. I suggest you order a copy from them sooner rather than later.
For that matter, I recommend you order multiple copies of ROAD TO PERDITION. It would make a great gift for fans of crime fiction and non-fiction. It would make a great gift for fans of LONE WOLF AND CUB. It would even make a great Father's Day gift, your way of thanking Dad for not being a mob hitman.
If reading ROAD TO PERDITION peaks your interest in LONE WOLF AND CUB, you'll be thrilled to know Dark Horse Comics is currently reprinting the entire extraordinary series in monthly pocket-size volumes. I'm not completely enamored with the dimensions of this format--my eyes are not the eyes of my youth--but each $9.95 book contains over 300 pages of story and features, material which has either not appeared in English previously or been out of print for over a decade. Is it worth straining my vision to elevate my soul? I'll give you a big "yes" on that one.
According to the DreamWorks website, ROAD TO PERDITION will commence filming in Chicago in the spring. The company is looking for Chicago residents between the ages of 18 and 80 to be extras in the movie. If you're interested, send your name, address, phone numbers, height, and weight to
47 W. Division Street
Chicago, IL 60610
For the latest news on the Road to Perdition movie, visit the DreamWorks website at
I have a few more notes before you start surfing the Internet. First, let's politely urge DC Comics to get ROAD TO PERDITION back in print as quickly as possible and keep it there. I'm thinking sales from a little "soon to be a major DreamWorks movie starring Tom Hanks" cover copy ought to cover the cost of a new printing and then some.
Second, let's talk up the comics connections with our friends and our local movie reviewers. In one recent interview, Hanks made the comment that he didn't know what a "graphic novel" was or where one could buy one. Aren't we all getting just a smidgin tired of Hollywood making millions of dollars off comics while our industry barely makes dimes and quarters?
ROAD TO PERDITION is a comic book. It represents some of the best our art and industry have to offer. Moreover, because it's not a super-hero comic book--as much as I love and will always love that wild and wondrous genre--Perdition has the potential to reach readers who aren't likely to leave the theater in search of the new issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN or SPAWN. This movie is an opportunity demanding to be seized.
Let's choose a different road for ourselves this time around. I've had enough tripping over the discounted action figures and the remaindered tie-ins which are usually left in the wake of comics-inspired movies. Let's take a higher road.
Please send your comments on and review items for this column to: Tony's Tips, P.O. Box 1502, Medina, OH 44258. You can e-mail Tony at
Shortly after I wrote the above, I received the following note from Dark Horse Comics editor MIKE HANSEN
Thanks for the Lone Wolf and Cub review. Since taking over this series as editor, I've become a huge fan of it myself. I will definitely track down Road to Perdition; while I haven't read much Collins material, I've heard nothing but good things about his work. Thanks for the "tip"!
A couple of things about LW&C you may not have known
The artwork is printed the same size as in the current edition of the Japanese LW&C collections. This size was chosen for both aesthetic and economic reasons, and ultimately because it is the size preferred by Kazuo Koike. Though the art is obviously smaller than in the First Comics editions, it's the same size as just about anyone reading it has seen the complete series. (Plus, at this size the price can be kept under ten bucks a book, which was a plus considering there are 28 volumes!) Although a few people had some initial concerns about the size, once they actually read it (as you have), they found this series to be well worth it. Personally, what I like the most about the format is that it looks nothing like what one expects a comic book to look like--if one were to read this in public (as I've actually heard about numerous times with LW&C; Yay!), the 99.9% of people who are non-comics readers who see this wouldn't think twice about it. Although there have been plenty of different formats for comics over the years, I think the widespread exposure of LW&C might break down a few barriers. "Mr. Gorbechev, tear down that wall!" (Oops, a Republican reference!)
Because of the smaller size, the lettering is smaller than in typical comics or TPB. I've heard a few complaints about eyestrain, some legitimate, some from people trying to read LW&C in the dark, and with some experimentation, we found that we could increase the size of the lettering slightly. So, starting with Volume 4, the lettering is a bit bigger, noticeably so, if you compare. Hope this helps!
Thanks again for the kind words about LW&C. I think it's great that, in this crappy market, a ten-dollar book can be the number-one graphic novel every month AND outsell a heck of a lot of "regular" comics. It's nice to see that good comics CAN sell, sometimes.
Thanks for the information, Mike. I'm looking forward to the completion of this landmark comics series.
TONY'S ONLINE TIPS IS BACK!
Here's your latest reminder that I'm launching a new thrice-weekly edition of this column at Norman Barth's PERPETUAL COMICS website. Starting today, and, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday thereafter, you'll find a brand-new TOT at
The new TOT will focus on comic books and related items, but, as was the case with its predecessor--"Tony Isabella's Journal"--it will also feature comics history, entertainment news, political and social commentary, and slices of my fascinating life. I wrote over a thousand "Journal" entries for this World Famous Comics website before cutting back to these weekly CBG reprints-plus. I'm hoping to top that record at Norman's site.
Here are some frequently asked questions
What will happen to this website?
It will continue to present reprints of my CBG columns every Friday, and I'll continue adding new material to said columns. The TIPS message board will also be staying here and, as always, you're welcome to go there to discuss this column, the new TOT columns, my other writing, and pretty much anything else you want to discuss as long as you do so in the civil and friendly manner we strive for at the TIPS board.
Why the move?
Because no one offered me $8 million to write about my years in the White House. Norman didn't offer me $8 million either, but he did make me an acceptable offer.
How can we insure the success of the new TOT?
If you buy comics and other stuff from Norman's website, that makes it possible for him to pay me. In fact, if you buy *enough* stuff from him, we might be able to increase the frequency of the new TOT beyond our current thrice-weekly schedule.
You can also direct your online pals to the new TOT. The more new visitors--potential customers--who visit Perpetual Comics, the greater the chances of this venture's success.
Well, just in case the new TOT *doesn't* succeed--which would be a tragedy of epic proportions--I need my loyal legions of TOT readers to get themselves appointed to the Supreme Court or elected state governors. If I can't make money honestly, I may have to go into politics. Jeepers, Mr. Kent!
My online column for January 19 covered my past associations with CAPTAIN AMERICA, my views of the most recent Captain America comics, and my hopes for the character's future. In that column, I wrote this
I'm hardly the only one thinking about Captain America these days. There have been rumors of an "Ultimate Captain America" book with Mark Millar at the helm. I can't even begin to tell you how much I loathe the idea of a Brit writing Cap, especially the Brit who wrote the obscenity that was DC's SILVER AGE: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA. Suffice to say, I loathe it a lot.
Not surprisingly, I received several e-mails commenting on my "Brit loathing" crack and on the Captain America column in general. First up is DEAN FULLER
I thought I would drop you a line about a specific comic and a general topic you touched upon. My specific complement is about your run on DAREDEVIL. I am re-reading my collection at the moment, and it is reminding me of just what a great scripter you are. The characterization in issue #122 of DD, the Black Widow, and
Nick Fury is as good as any other writer has ever managed. Any memories of those DD stories for you?
The other point is your comment on Brits writing Cap, which I disagree with. Being a Brit myself, I am still a huge fan of Cap, and feel an empathy with the ideals of freedom and justice is far more important than nationalist sentiment. Remember, Britain long had a reputation as the land of the free, and I feel the ideal is valid here or there. Also, would you suggest that a Brit would write a better Captain Britain than Claremont just because he is British?
I hope this has peaked your interest and I would enjoy any continuation of this exchange of views.
Let me start off my saying, Dean, how much I enjoy your posts on the TONY'S TIPS message board. You've sparked some interesting threads there and your efforts are appreciated.
Daredevil. My brief time with DD is covered in the world's longest Tony Isabella interview conducted by Jon Knutson. Look for it in upcoming issues of COMIC BOOK ARTIST and the other wonderful comics magazines from TwoMorrows publishing.
Brits on Cap. Y'know, if the Brit writer were a Neil Gaiman or an Alan Moore, I might well be inclined to withdraw my remark. But, given the tendency of most Brit writers-Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Mark Millar, and Grant Morrison all leap to mind-to portray American heroes, history, and society in extremely negative terms, I'll stand by my personal preference that they not muck with one of my favorite characters, a patriotic icon who represents all that's good and noble about my country.
On the other hand, John Byrne, who, like Chris Claremont, was born in England, writes and draws an outstanding Captain America, so maybe I'll consider amending my comment to: "I can't even begin to tell you how much I loathe the idea of most Brits writing Cap, especially the Brit who wrote the obscenity that was DC's SILVER AGE: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA."
The next e-mail came from NICHOLAS JUZDA
Though I enjoyed much of yesterday's TOT column, and agreed greatly with your sentiments that neither Mark Millar nor Mike Sangiacomo are likely to get Cap right, I was uncomfortable with your statement "I can't even begin to tell how you much I loathe the idea of a Brit writing Cap..."
While I realize that Captain America is a character deeply associated with the United States as a country, he is even more a character associated with the American Dream, and the elements of that dream, such as freedom and prosperity and equality and justice, go beyond nationality. I don't see any reason why being born in Britain would automatically prevent a writer from understanding those things, or being able to convey them in exciting and well-written stories. Some specific British writers might not be suited for the job, but then so are some American ones. That doesn't mean no Brit is.
If it's necessary to give a specific example, John Byrne (born in England and raised in Canada) wrote one of the best Cap tales of the 90s, BATMAN/CAPTAIN AMERICA, and had earlier worked with Roger Stern on some well-received tales.
Xenophobia and isolationism can be part of the American character as well, but I don't think Captain America would want to associate himself with them. I think he'd want whatever writer would best get his message across, regardless of their country of origin.
Thanks for a very thoughtful response, Nicholas. You've given me something to think about.
From DAN LORENZEN
I really enjoyed today's TOT and I found the comments about Frank Robbins interesting. This is just my perspective, but as a kid reading Captain America when Frank took over I absolutely loathed his Cap. So much so that I dropped the book! And I loved Captain America. Maybe it was that his style was so drastically different than his predecessor, whose artwork I loved at the time. I think it was Sal Buscema; my memory's fuzzy. To me, in Frank's Captain America, the way he ran, fought, jumped, everything looked different! Frank definitely had his own style of drawing Cap and company that's for sure. It was just hard for a 12-year-old to come to terms with the change in styles I guess.
The funny thing is despite my misgivings about Frank, when I picked up his and Roy Thomas's INVADERS a little later--I had to have some Cap and it just looked so cool!-- I found his work MUCH more enjoyable there. I guess the reason was that the INVADERS was a "world" he created from scratch, so I could get into his world
more easily. Or maybe it was because I didn't bring my post-Buscema baggage to it, cause it was a fresh experience.
Maybe I would have liked Frank on Cap better if his style meshed better as the artist that proceeded him. Again this was my kid mind speaking, but to me Cap's world WAS Sal's and it was a bit of a shock when Frank took over the book. Maybe sometimes an editor, when bringing in a new artist on a book that has a history to it, should make sure the art blends in well with the previous version. Or just not of fired Sal in the first place!
I hope I don't insult you or any other any Frank Robbins fans because, like I said, I loved his work on THE INVADERS, even though I hated his CAPTAIN AMERICA. And, looking back at a few Robbins Cap stories as an adult, I don't find the art quite as bad as I did as a kid. Strange how a kid's mind works!
I can easily understand how Frank's distinctive artwork might not have resonated with every comics reader. It was the same when he drew Batman and the Shadow at DC. But, from day one, I loved it and, to this day, I relish my memories of working with one of the truly great comics artists. It was a very satisfying collaboration and I learned a lot from the man.
And, to set your mind at ease, Sal Buscema wasn't really fired from CAPTAIN AMERICA. I might be a little shaky on the timeline, but I believe he was needed on INCREDIBLE HULK, MARVEL TEAM-UP, and other titles at the time. Because he was so fast and so good, one of the best storytellers in the business, Sal was often called upon to bail Marvel out when other artists were running behind schedule or when late writers necessitated emergency fill-ins.
I'll be back next week with more stuff. In the meantime, use the handy link above to attend the launch of the new TONY'S ONLINE TIPS. It wouldn't be a party without you.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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