Darwyn Cooke’s Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter

September 18th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

There are three books all comics readers should be forced to read this year, at gunpoint if necessary. One is David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp. It’s the kind of book you read a couple times, discuss with your friends, and dig into to figure out what it really means. The second is Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto. Pluto re-contextualizes a children’s character for an adult audience and creates a compelling work that inspires complicated emotional reactions and rewards careful reading. The third is Darwyn Cooke’s Parker: The Hunter, which presents a classic revenge tale in a new format and is just an all-around great read.

Richard Stark’s The Hunter is a classic novel and an almost archetypal revenge tale. Man is wronged by his partner and his woman, has his money stolen, and is on a quest to get it back, no matter the consequences. The titular hunter is Parker, no other name given, and he is, almost to a fault, a professional crook.

Cooke’s adaptation a word for word transplant of the novel into comic form, nor the rote adaptation of a work you’d see other companies hack out to secure a quick buck. Cooke took the book, examined what worked as a novel, figured out what would work as a comic, and, well, he did it and he succeeded.

There are two two-page spreads in The Hunter, which are roughly 80 pages away from each other. The first of two two-page spreads opens the book with an overhead shot of a city, with “New York City 1962” stamped on top of it. The second spread is inevitable, something we all knew was coming and eager to see. Parker finally locates and gets a chance to get his hands on Mal, who has literally been caught sleeping.

thehunter_02That first spread is a starter’s pistol, as the next 80-some pages build up directly to the second spread. We see Parker’s long walk into the city and solvency, a largely wordless sequence save for a couple of muttered insults. While the wordlessness is nice, the real thing to pay attention to is Parker’s reaction to society.

He blends in very well. People, innocent people, offer him rides, give him blushing looks, and proposition him. He’s large and imposing, but he isn’t immediately identified as trouble. He’s enticing. Parker’s reaction to all this, though, is contempt at every turn. He tells the man who offers him a ride to “go to hell,” he walks down the middle of the bridge, he hops a subway turnstile, and he bums a smoke off a cute waitress before blowing the smoke in her face and leaving. Parker’s an outlaw. He’s got no place in proper society, and he doesn’t want one. He knows that he can take what he wants and, with proper planning, get away with it.

When the words come back, Parker’s reintroduction to the world is over and he’s all business from there on out. There’s little to no emotion to be found, and Cooke’s art reflects that. He doesn’t break from a strict grid for action shots or cool poses. It just hits, one after the other- bam-bam-bam.

When the grid finally breaks, it’s due to a change in the story. Parker’s flashback of his betrayal forces the words and the art into separate boxes, giving both room to breath and stretch their legs. They snap back to the grid soon after, though, and the story proceeds apace.

The first spread comes before books one and two. Book one is Parker’s reintroduction, while book two features the last days of the traitor, Mal. The second spread is the last image in book two, and it’s Parker coming through the window for Mal’s throat.

While the first two books were far from actionless, the second spread sets the stage for the rest of the book. Parker is within spitting distance of his target, and from here on out there is only going to be violence and death. Book three is the chase, and culminates in the end of Mal Resnick.

TheHunter_01Mal’s death, despite being a big deal, is treated as economically as the rest of the book. There’s no grand struggle, no promises, nothing. There is just a man and his big hands wrapped around the throat of the man who wronged him. Cooke is telling a story first and foremost, and everything is subject to that. Dialogue is to the point, the art enhances what’s going on. Characters act through facial expressions and body language. When Parker twists the filter off a cigarette, that’s character. When he slouches on a couch to sleep and awakes from his nightmare, you can see the malice in his pose.

Even the art style is economical. Black, white (though really an off-white/cream, due to the paper), and brushed green are the only colors you’ll find in Parker: The Hunter. Nothing stands in the way of the story that Cooke is telling. The limited palette gives the book a different feel than your normal black and white affair. It feels murky, not in a muddled art sense, but in the sense of a tale that’s nice and grimy. It’s dirty and thick, with some panels colored in completely and others decorated by splashes of green.

I think part of why I love The Hunter so much is because it doesn’t mess around at all. Each page is packed with info, whether there are words on it or not, and the grid is only broken for very specific reasons. The fact that it’s in a grid makes it very easy to read, but it also gives it an inevitable feel. The book moves along at a rapid pace, building up momentum toward Parker’s revenge like a snowball rolling down a hill, and you can’t escape from it any more than Mal can.

Parker: The Hunter is a page turner. You start it and you burn through it, and you’re left feeling satisfied and thirsty for more. The art and the story came together in a way that resulted in an excellent adaptation that’s extremely faithful, but still different enough to stand on its own. I read over a dozen of Stark’s Parker novels in the month or two leading up to Parker: The Hunter’s release, but this book still felt as fresh as a new Caddy. This is how you do an adaptation.

Three books: Asterios Polyp, Pluto, and Parker: The Hunter. As far as I’m concerned, Best of the Year is a three-way tie.

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She’s Just Not That Into You, Denny Colt

September 17th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I didn’t really care about The Spirit before Darwyn Cooke came along. I knew of the character, and I’d read Dark Horse’s excellent Eisner/Miller, but I never had any interest in the character or the comic. Really, about all I knew is that everyone loved it, it was a classic, that it’d influenced a handful of writers and artists I enjoyed, and that Ebony White was shameful.

I finally gave the character a chance when Cooke’s run began. Darwyn Cooke, J. Bone, and Dave Stewart on colors is really the kind of creative team you shouldn’t turn down at all. So, I got over myself and finally dipped into Eisner’s character… and I wasn’t disappointed.

Cooke hits the ground running in the first issue, providing only a hint at The Spirit’s origin. Barring that page, the rest of the issue is essentially a series of chase scenes and fights. The Spirit has to rescue a kidnapped TV reporter while simultaneously evading her kidnappers and surviving Ginger Coffee’s idea of journalism.

This version of The Spirit feels old-school without being old. DC has been trying to bring back the olden glory days of their universe by bringing back Supergirl, Hal Jordan, and Barry Allen, but the stories just feel overwrought and hollow. With The Spirit, though, it just feels classic. You’ve got a hero (clean-shaven, lantern-jawed, virtuous), a damsel in distress, an angry ally/mentor, and a kid sidekick with a smart mouth.

I think what sold me on it in the end, though, was the last panel. The Spirit #1 ends with a joke, in the comic book-equivalent of a sitcom freeze frame. And that’s good. That’s the mythical “fun comic” that everyone’s been looking for and talking about. Open on action, throw in some adventure, end on a laugh. The hero spends 21 out of 22 pages being heroic, and the last panel is a joke at his expense. It reminds me of old cartoons, but with 2009% less cornball behavior.

The Spirit #1 is a fair indicator of the rest of Cooke’s run. The remaining issues dip into melancholy, slapstick humor, weirdness, action, and adventure in varying amounts, but it’s all here in microcosm. Cooke gives us the hero, but having a generic hero can get a little boring, so he throws a little sauce into the mix. Yeah, The Spirit is a good hero, and sometimes troubled, but you know what? He likes life. He has fun.

And Ebony White is dope.


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How I Learned to Love The Cat

September 16th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Before The Hunter came out, Selina’s Big Score was my favorite Darwyn Cooke book. I’ve liked Catwoman for years, but for no good reason. It wasn’t the spandex, because I got over “ooh, hot girl comics!” pretty quickly. It definitely wasn’t the character, as I only really liked her in Miller and Mazzucchelli’s Year One before I read SBC.

I think what it was that made Selina’s Big Score work so much for me was the tone. SBC is this dark, inky, noir-y heist tale. There’s no costumes, not really. It’s just about a woman who needs a big score, the team she gathers to make it work, and the troubles she runs into. More than anything, though, it’s glamourous. The cover promises the kind of heist tale that features fast chases, pretty people, and action, like the finest of ’70s crime cinema.

The insides more than deliver. Characters are introduced by text on black panels, a technique I’ve always loved when I’ve seen it in movies. The graphic novel is divided up into four separate books, making for easy chapter and story breaks.

The first chapter, Selina, sets the stage for the book. Selina had money, but lost it, and now she needs it back. The second chapter, Stark, focuses on the muscle. The third chapter, Slam, gives us the down low on the man chasing Selina. The fourth chapter, Score, gives us the heist itself.

The writing is sharp and fast-paced. Old friends and new enemies are introduced with aplomb, leaving you just enough to get going, but not so much that you can’t apply a bit of imagination into the mix. Cooke doesn’t overload on the first person captions, either. Slam’s section is appropriately hardboiled, Stark’s is cynical and, well, stark, and Selina’s is borderline hopeful. Rather than being a crutch, or another way to show the tortured existence of these heroes as they buckle under several tons of angst, the captions come across as genuine character builders.

Selina’s Big Score crawls across genres, too. Slam’s the tired avenger, the very picture of the good man alone in a hard world. Stark is Parker– impatient, amoral, skilled at violence, and professional to a fault. Chantel is a blaxploitation figure, a good girl in a bad situation, and uses her sass as a defensive mechanism. Jeff is your ’90s action movie criminal, seemingly all flash and recklessness, but with a surprisingly solid core. And Selina? She’s the ever-present femme fatale, but put into a position where she’s the focus, rather than a sidekick or villain.

Cooke mines several decades of American cinema to create the comic book heist story to end all comic book heist stories. It gives Selina Kyle the Year One treatment. It redefines her for a new era, re-contextualizes her as a character, and provides a focus that I feel like wasn’t there before. Pre-SBC, to me, Catwoman was another sexpot in spandex, all cat puns and tortured Jim Balent poses, clothes strategically torn. After? She’s viable, interesting, and has a movie-ready story that puts a lot of other books to shame.

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Portfolio Review: Darwyn Cooke

September 15th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Darwyn Cooke, cartoonist.

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Fourcast! 16: The Hunter

September 14th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Because YOU demanded it! David and Esther talk about Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of Richard Stark’s The Hunter, which was published (and recently reprinted) by IDW Publishing. We talk about the book, its plot, its titular character, the adaptation itself, and a number of other things before finally closing out on a bit about graphic novels careful listeners may have heard before…

Short and sweet this week, because I’ve got a dentist’s appointment in three hours! However, keep an eye on the site over the next three or four days, as this isn’t the only Darwyn Cooke-centric thing due up! Assuming I don’t die at the dentist’s spot, anyway.

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