In 2009, editor Christopher Conlon compiled a creatively ambitious anthology: He is Legend, published by Gauntlet Press, featured sixteen stories either based upon or inspired by the fiction of horror legend Richard Matheson. The credits are impressive to anyone with a passing knowledge of horror fiction luminaries – Nancy Collins, Ed Gorman, William Nolan, and more – but the major draw was the first published collaboration between Stephen King and his son, bestselling writer Joe Hill. Their story, "Throttle," takes its inspiration from Matheson's powerful novella, Duel, and like Duel, it's a story involving a conflict between big and little vehicles … but that's where the stories diverge. At the center of "Throttle" is a motorcycle gang called The Tribe, and at the center of The Tribe are father-and-son bikers, Vince and Race, sharing an uncomfortable past and trying to escape the aftermath of a horrifying present.
The story is terrific, utilizing stylistic and thematic choices from both King's and Hill's earlier work (there's more than a little Christine and Heart-Shaped Box in "Throttle"), excelling at the delicate balance between family drama and the violent action that throws that drama into stark relief. It's that action that makes "Throttle" ripe for adaptation, and while it was optioned for film before it was even published, it seems obvious from IDW's first "Throttle" issue that comics are the best medium for an adaptation like this.
The very scope of IDW's project is exciting: under the collective title Road Rage, scripter Chris Ryall is adapting "Throttle" and Matheson's original "Duel" in two-part adaptations each. For "Throttle," he pairs with artist Nelson Daniel, whose somewhat blocky character style brings to mind Joe Quesada's art on Daredevil and Humberto Ramos's ongoing Marvel work. The art of "Throttle" is outstanding: working from a palate of desert reds, browns, and blacks, Daniel definitively conveys a sense of place; his deft handling of landscapes – wide and open and lonely – reinforces this. It's not just the desert and the road Daniel has a handle on, though: conversations are kinetic (no bland talking heads here), and there's an overhead shot early on that unnervingly recalls Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, to brilliant effect. Daniel's deliberate choice to use the four-color printing "dots" found in early comic books and strips makes the comic feel timeless.
It's in the action sequences, though, that Daniel's illustrations really shine. King's and Hill's story describes the apocalyptic road-deaths of members of The Tribe in fetishistic detail; this translates terrifically well on the comic page. Heads explode in gushers of blood. Bodies collide with the road in gruesome detail. We catch a snapshot of the first Tribe death moments before it happens: a man suspended in mid-air, screaming at the asphalt rushing toward him. Daniel understands that so much great horror comes from anticipation, and this sequence is a fantastic menacing preface to all the gore that's about to splatter across the pages.
Of course, all of these would be just pretty, gruesome pictures without Chris Ryall's excellent script. Adapting this story was likely tricky; much of it is so visual (and visceral) that there must have been a temptation to skip the nuance preceding the story's bloody conflicts. Ryall avoids this temptation, letting us in on just enough of Vince and Race's troubled backstory and allowing us to care about whether these two are run down in the road. We get snapshots of the other bikers, too – Doc, Peaches, Ellis, and the rest – except for Lemmy (playing the role of Vince's conscience as well as his best friend). This makes sense, given the medium: "Throttle" could draw out over four issues and give us all the idiosyncrasy the prose story allowed, but Ryall knows how adaptation works. He cuts and shapes enough so that we're left with a propulsive story, retaining just the right amount of the story's soul and muscle. We also get a few clever gags for fans of King's and Hill's: the diner The Tribe stops in early on is called Owen's Café – Owen being Stephen King's other son, also a writer; Baby John, one of the bikers, bears an eerie resemblance to Joe Hill … and a young Stephen King.
King's and Hill's comic work are both at impressive stages. Joe Hill's Locke & Key has been nominated for several Eisner awards (with Hill winning Best Writer), and Stephen King's recent work with Scott Snyder's and Rafael Albuquerque's American Vampire earned critical acclaim. The comic-book adaptation of The Stand (by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Mike Perkins) raised the bar for King comic interpretations, and "Throttle" meets that bar, understanding the story enough to breathe new life into this incarnation.
Available February 15th from IDW Comics.
Scripter: Chris Ryall. Art: Nelson Daniel. Lettering: Robbie Robbins.
Read the review of Issue #2!