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It Would be Criminal to Miss Darwyn Cooke’s Parker Adaptations
By Chad Derdowski
March 09, 2011
Comicscape takes a look into Richard Stark’s Parker novels.
Beginning in 1962 and continuing over a span of 45 years, fans of hard-boiled crime fiction were treated to the lively dialogue, well-rounded characters and ingenious plots of Richard Stark’s Parker novels. Stark was a pseudonym of one Donald Westlake, who died in 2008 at age 75, just before seeing his first Parker novel, The Hunter, adapted into graphic novel form by the incomparable Darwyn Cooke. Though Westlake never got to see one of his most famous creations enter the world of sequential art, we’ll be eternally grateful that we were given the opportunity, and we hope to convince you today that you too should check out these amazing works.
Now, up until a couple of years ago, the only thing we liked hard boiled were our eggs. It wasn’t something we were opposed to; we just weren’t as informed as we should be on topics like noir and pulp fiction. Of course, when we hear that Darwyn Cooke has a new project underway, one that’s very near and dear to his heart, we tend to listen. And believe us, there has never been a more perfect creator for a story like this. Cooke’s nostalgic, art-deco influenced style is a perfect fit for vintage storytelling such as this. With a total of four Parker adaptations planned, we can honestly say these are the stories Darwyn Cooke was born to illustrate.
Leaving much of Westlake/Stark’s source material untouched, Cooke has described his process as “… to simply edit the existing novel to remove visually descriptive passages and any narrative that can be expressed through pictures.” Long story short, what you’re getting is as close to the original novel as you can possibly get in comic form and definitely a lot closer than either of the film adaptations we’ve seen in the past. Oh yeah, and speaking of film adaptations (1967’s Point Blank and 1999’s Payback) – neither of them referred to the character as Parker; his name was changed at Westlake’s request. But the Cooke novels? They’re the first adaptations of Westlake’s work that bear the Parker name, which should tell you how much respect Westlake has for the work. ‘Cause they’re that damn good.
So anyway, at this point you might be thinking “Dude, I don’t even know who this Westlake guy is, let alone what this Parker character is all about. Care to fill me in?” And you’re in luck, because we do.
Parker is a career criminal with pretty much no redeeming qualities; at least, not the kind you and I would think of as redeeming. He is cold, methodical, efficient, professional and practical, especially when committing a crime. He’s big and square-jawed and looks like he’s carved out of granite. He’s the type of guy who will do whatever it takes to get whatever he wants, even murder. And what he wants, in general, is to relax and take it easy as much as possible. In order to do this, he regularly finds it necessary to assemble a team of criminals to take part in some sort of crazy and meticulously-planned heist. And of course, something always goes wrong, often due to bad luck but usually due to greed or incompetence on the part of one of his partners.
The first Parker novel, the Hunter, involves one such heist gone wrong and Parker’s attempts to get revenge on his betrayers. Slowly and methodically, he kills them and when the mob protects one of them, Parker doesn’t flinch. He takes on the whole damn mob. That’s how badass this dude is! And it’s not a matter of wanting it all; he just wants what is rightfully his, not a penny more or less. So maybe that is one redeeming quality… perseverance and dedication to see a job through to its end. Can you fault a guy who just wants a dishonest days’ pay for a dishonest days’ work? Okay, maybe you shouldn’t answer that one. Just remember how badass Parker is and go with that.
Any of you who’ve read The New Frontier already know how awesome Darwyn Cooke is. And if you haven’t read The New Frontier, you should be ashamed. Seriously, it’s one of the most amazing works we’ve seen in recent years. Depicting the end of the Golden Age and the beginning of the Silver, The New Frontier is a love letter to DC’s roots. And as much as we love it, we kinda love Cooke’s work on the Parker books just a little bit more. Like we said, this is the project Darwyn Cooke was born to work on. Two-tone art, tiki bars and violent confrontations pepper the impossibly stylish Manhattan of the 1960’s. Cooke’s art is vivid, yet restrained and packs a punch that’s just as solid as one that you might receive from one of the story’s criminal protagonists.
So what are you waiting for? Do you need more convincing? Did we fail to mention the fact that these hardcover novels look beautiful on your shelf, weigh in at around 150 pages and are worth every penny of their $25 price tag? Because they are, and then some. Beautiful stories about very ugly activities written by one of the masters of the crime genre and illustrated by one of the masters of sequential art. If any of this sounds up your alley, you absolutely can’t go wrong by picking these books up.