Review by Ian Keogh
Richard Matheson’s short story Duel was a massive formative influence on Stephen King, and was the first film made by Steven Spielberg. The patronage of those two giants of popular culture should be enough to pique the interest in the tale of Mann’s nightmare trip to San Francisco tailgated by a vengeful trucker, and according to King’s introduction based on a true experience and exaggerated for dramatic purposes.
So popular is the tale that it spawned a homage anthology, to which Joe Hill and King contributed The Tribe, completing a story they’d begun during drives through Maine during Hill’s childhood. That and Matheson’s original are both adapted for this slim paperback, each occupying two chapters, Chris Ryall handling the transfer from prose to illustrations. To those unfamiliar with Duel, it consists of a motorist on a lonely road driving for his life as massive truck bears down on him with evil intent.
Hill and King’s story focuses on a gang of bikers missing a lot of money stolen by one of their former members, and dissent in the ranks about how this ought to be handled after one corpse has already resulted. As the discussion becomes heated a bottle is thrown against a truck just pulling out from a diner.
The casting of Lemmy from Motorhead is novel, and artist Nelson Daniel in some ways has a trickier job than the original writers in attempting to transplant a story about movement into a static art form. He succeeds. Both truck and bikers live and move on the road, and if there’s some slight exaggeration for dramatic purposes with the truck leaping off the road, well that’s okay. Ryall’s adaptation of the plot works well, as it’s not one requiring concealment, just the cranking up of tension, and that occurs all the way to a sting in the tail. Very satisfying.
We then move to the main course, and Mann, immortalised by Dennis Weaver in his Plymouth sedan. Artist Rafa Garres makes the wise choice to recast Mann, and Ryall remains faithful to the original dialogue while ensuring it’s not overly verbose for a comic adaptation. The way Garres illustrates has the look of etching about it, with thick black lines emphasising the power of the truck as it thunders down the highway. He creates a claustrophobic atmosphere for much of the adaptation by closing the viewpoints in, making it seems as if everything’s confined within the panels, straining to burst loose. It completely contrasts Daniel’s approach on the opening strip, but is equally effective.
If you’ve loved Duel as a story or film that should transfer to Road Rage.