by Darwyn Cooke
Bloody hell, this is good.
Darwyn Cooke has taken Richard Stark’s hard boiled criminal novel and perfectly distilled it’s elements into possibly the best crime graphic novel you’ll have read for a long time. The art’s exceptional, as you may have expected from Cooke. But this beats anything he’s done up to this point. Gone are the nostalgic renderings of books like New Frontier, he even goes past his previous best of his glorious Spirit tales. This is Cooke’s artistic idea honed to a fine point and executed with incredible, minimalist noir style across the page. It’s a truly beautiful book.
Richard Stark was the pseudonym for Donald E Westlake. You’ve probably seen one of his Parker tales without even realising it was a Parker tale since Westlake never allowed Parker’s name to be used in the adaptations of his work. Point Blank with lee Marvin – that was Parker. Payback with Mel Gibson – Parker. But tellingly, with Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation Westlake finally gave his permission. Sadly Westlake died in 2008 never knowing what a marvellous job Darwyn Cooke was to make of Parker.
This is real hard boiled noir. Parker is the epitome of the cold hearted bastard. Betrayed on an arms deal by his woman and his partners in crime, he’s left for dead. But he makes his way back, single minded and bent on revenge against those who’ve wronged him and stolen his ill gotten gains. I’m not going to give any of the plot away – it’s one of those books you really need to read and me blowing the story would only spoil it for you. And in truth, it’s hardly revolutionary storytelling. You’ve seen the plot many, many times over. Indeed, if you’ve watched either movie you’ll recognise elements of them here, particularly in Point Blank. But the plot is almost incidental to Parker. It’s an inexorable march towards revenge and retribution, with Parker leaving a trail of dead bodies in his wake, cold, heartless, driven and utterly amoral. Pure hard boiled stuff.
(Parker gets himself together, ready to take back what he considers rightfully his. Darwyn Cooke’s artwork just perfectly encapsulating the sheer will for revenge of the man. From The Hunter.)
Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation must have ditched huge amounts of the source material to have condensed a book into 140 pages, but you won’t notice, such is the perfection of storytelling that Cooke pulls off here. It’s split into four books, each incredibly impressive in it’s own way. There’s a preview of the first few pages at the IDW site and it will give you some idea of just how good Parker is. Those first 20 pages, almost wordless, with Parker making his way back into New York, regaining his life, getting himself ready for the job at hand are quite brilliant examples of how to tell a story on a comics page. After that the tale is told of betrayals and revenge, with Parker single-mindedly working his way through those who have wronged him, stopping at nothing to extract revenge and recover the ill gotten gains he considers rightfully his. If I had to pick a moment though it would be the almost heartstopping scene where Parker finally tracks down the cause of all his ills:
(“That’s when he saw Parker coming through the bedroom window”. Chilling storytelling from Cooke in Parker: The Hunter.)
The one thing that did jar slightly is that cover. Compared with some of the stellar artwork inside the book it’s actually not that good. A minor quibble perhaps. Because once you get inside the art is just sublime; black, white and blue throughout. The purist in me was wondering all the way through what this might have been like in strict noir black and white, but the blue adds something extra, something quite wonderful.
It’s July and this may well be the book of the year. A must for anyone with a penchant for Chandler-esque heroes and hard boiled storytelling. The great news is that this is just the first of four planned Parker graphic novels by Cooke. Book 2 is out in 2010 – I’ve no idea when, but I’ll be eagerly awaiting it. Something this near perfect will no doubt be worth the wait.
Parker: The Hunter is released on July 22nd. A real must buy.