“The knife fell, and then the guy fell.” [Parker: The Score]

January 12th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Chris Ryall revealed the first preview for Darwyn Cooke’s 2012 adaptation of Richard Starker’s The Score the other day. As expected, it’s a great image, well in line with the other novels Cooke has done thus far. The Score is a good novel. Not my favorite–if I had to rank them, it’d probably go 1) The Hunter 2) The Outfit and 3) Butcher’s Moon–but it definitely rates. The hook alone makes it worth reading, really. “Parker gets a posse up and robs an entire town. And then things start exploding.

This is a book with lots of Alan Grofield, too. Grofield is easily the best supporting character in these novels. He’s a thespian slash thief, and each of his interests informs the other. He pulls heists to keep his theater going, and he tends to think of his jobs as being excerpts from exciting films. He’s suave, but he’s all about his business. He’s not unlike Lupin III or Gambit in certain ways, to be honest, which is probably part of the attraction. He really enjoys acting and stealing, and that makes him an incredibly enjoyable character to read. There’s this great bit in Butcher’s Moon where he takes up with this librarian who thinks she’s too big for the town she’s in that’s just wonderful, a sublime mix of Grofield being able to spot a type, adjust to that type, and then lose interest as soon as he gets focused on the actual job at hand. He’s a romantic, but he knows how and when to turn it off.

Here’s a couple of bits from that chapter in Butcher’s Moon:

“Very nice library you have here,” Grofield said.

The girl walking through the stacks ahead of him turned her head to twinkle over her shoulder in his direction. “Well, thank you,” she said, as though he’d told her she had good legs, which she had.

They went through a section of reading tables, all unoccupied. “You don’t seem to get much of a business,” he said. She gave a dramatic sigh and an elaborate shrug. “I suppose it’s all you can expect from a town like this,” she said.

Oh ho, thought Grofield, one of those. Self-image: a rose growing on a dungheap. A rose worth plucking? “What other attractions are there in a town like this?” he asked.

“Hardly anything. Here we are.” A small alcove held a battered microfilm reader on a table, with a wooden chair in front of it. Smiling at it, Grofield said, “Elegant. Very nice.”

She smiled broadly in appreciation, and he knew she knew they were artistic soulmates. “You should see the room with the LPs,” she said.

“Should I?”

“It’s ghastly.”

He looked at her, unsure for just a second, but her expression told him she hadn’t after all been suggesting a quiet corner in which they could bump about together. The idea, in fact, hadn’t occurred to her; she was really a very simple straightforward girl, appropriate to the town and the library.

The girl was on the lookout for him, and came tripping out from behind the main desk as he was going by. She gave violent hand signals to attract his attention, and when he stopped she hurried over and whispered, “It turns out I’m free tonight after all.”

She’d broken her date; headache, no doubt. Feeling vaguely sorry for the young man, and both irritated and guilty toward the girl, Grofield said, “That’s wonderful.”

It was Tucker who got me to finally pick up Butcher’s Moon. I read something like thirteen Parker novels in a shot a couple years ago, so I’d been on a bit of a break, but his review got me back on the horse. I had no idea that Slayground got a sequel, and I love that book. It was my #3 before I read Butcher’s Moon.

University of Chicago Press is continuing their Richard Stark reprint series with three Grofield novels in April. In order: The Damsel, The Dame, and The Blackbird. I’m looking forward to reading them.

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The Man With the Giveaway Face

April 5th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

The Outfit is the latest volume of Darwyn Cooke’s ongoing adaptation of Donald Westlake/Richard Stark’s series of books starring Parker. Last year’s The Hunter made most of the Best Of lists. We did a podcast on it, I reviewed it, and Tucker Stone tells you exactly why you should read it. If you haven’t read it… get with it, mayne, it’s only sixteen bucks. Skip the Siege and Brightest Day tie-ins, they’ll be there when you get back.

The Man With the Getaway Face is a prelude to The Outfit. It’s the first chapter of the novel, a story complete unto itself, and is a great lead-in to what’s sure to be a great work. Westlake and Cooke are masters at what they do and IDW knows how to package a book. October feels far away, but Cooke’s adaptation of The Man With the Getaway Face has me convinced that The Outfit will be just as good, if not better, than The Hunter.

Here’s an excerpt from The Outfit, which is one of my most favorite bits of writing. You can see this scene with Robert Duvall in the Parker role, playing a man named Macklin, in 1973’s The Outfit, but I think the book still wins out for sheer poetry.

The receptionist knew that no one was supposed to come behind the desk. If anyone tried to without permission, she was to push the button on the floor under her desk. But this time she didn’t even think of the button. She reached, instead, for the package. Suddenly, the mailman grabbed her wrist, yanked her from the chair, and hurled her into a corner. She landed heavily on her side, knocking her head against the wall. When she looked up dazed, the mailman had an automatic trained on her. “Can you scream louder than this gun?” he said in a low voice.

She stared at the gun. She couldn’t have screamed if she’d wanted to. She couldn’t even breathe.

The outer door opened and the four men came in, two carrying shotguns, and two machine guns. The girl couldn’t believe it, it was like something in the movies. Gangsters carried machine guns back in 1930. There was no such thing as a machine gun in real life. Machine guns and Walt Disney mice, all make-believe.

The mailman put his gun away under his coat, and removed the mailbag from his shoulder. He took cord from the mail sack and tied the receptionist’s hands and feet. She gaped at him unbelievingly as he tightened the knots. They were in the wrong office, she thought. It might be a television show shooting scenes on location, they must have wanted the office next door and these men had come into the wrong place. It must be a mistake.

The mailman gagged her with a spare handkerchief as one of the other men brought the two musical instrument cases and two briefcases in from the outside hall. The mailman took the briefcases. The men with the machine guns led the way. They all walked down the inner hall and stopped at the door next to the book-keeping room. The mailman opened the door, and all five of them boiled into the room.

This was the room where the alarm buzzer would have rung if the receptionist had remembered to ring it. Four men in brown uniforms wearing pistols and Sam Browne belts, were sitting at a table playing poker. They jumped up when the door burst open, then they all froze. They believed in machine guns.

The Man With the Getaway Face is the only look you’ll get at The Outfit until its release in October.

Except… I have two extra copies of the The Man With the Getaway Face oversized preview. So, who wants them? Who is ready to work for them? Here are the terms. You need to give me answers to one of the three prompts below this paragraph. Use your real name when you answer, not your pseudonym. Make sure your email address is legit, too. And please be from the United States– overseas shipping is pricey.

1) What is your favorite scene from a book Darwyn Cooke drew, wrote, or created on his own? Why is it your favorite?
2) What is your favorite scene from a crime comic, movie, or novel, and why? Make sure to tell me the title, author, and actors involved, depending on the medium.
3) Tell me why you liked The Hunter.

Sound good? Hit the comments, let’s get it going.

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Portfolio Review: Darwyn Cooke

September 15th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Darwyn Cooke, cartoonist.

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Hunting for The Hunter

July 15th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I’m a huge Darwyn Cooke fan, and a big Richard Stark fan, and I was going to read and review The Hunter today. Except Amazon is sold out and I can’t get a copy until apparently August 10th.

So, yeah, don’t hold your breath on that one. I’d still kill a man for this dang book, but I guess I’ll have to wait.

If you see it, buy it. I’m positive it’s gonna be good.

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Lone Wolf and Cub Interlude: Real Men

July 12th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Batman doesn’t care about sex.

I mean, sure, he’ll have sex sometimes. He’s had a series of short-lived relationships, the most popular of which involve an easy escape hatch. Benefit of dating criminals, right? It’s pretty clear to me that he doesn’t care about sex. He’s got a mission, he’s been trained, and guess what! Sex is entirely beside the point. He’ll do it when he has to, but you won’t see Bruce at a bar talking to Bonita Applebum.

Parker is the star of more than a few of Richard Stark’s novels. He’s a no-nonsense thief and strong-arm, very expert in planning and even better at putting a stop to any funny business. If you cross Parker, he’ll lean you before you even get a chance to think about what you just did. He enjoy sex, but only at specific times. If he’s on the job, or planning a job, he’s got no drive at all. After, though, he can spend several days horizontal. His drive slowly fades away after that, until he’s practically a monk in the run-up to the next job.

Ogami Itto? Don’t even. I’m six volumes in, and I don’t think he’s had sex for pleasure once. He’s done it to save someone’s life, and to grease some wheels, but never because he chatted someone up. It’s entirely possible that he’s just respecting his dead wife’s memory, but it’s much more likely that it’s because he’s walking the path of the assassin and has no time for physical pleasure.

All three of these guys are focused, motivated, driven, and paragons of self control. They all approach sex on their own terms, blatantly ignore it when they feel like it, but are still considered virile. It’s definitely fair to say that they are all generally portrayed as Real Men, even across cultural barriers. Ogami is a hop from Parker, who is in turn a skip from Batman, who is himself a jump from Ogami. They have very similar characterizations, despite having some fairly irreconcilable differences between them. Ogami murders for a living, Parker isn’t opposed to slapping a woman around if it’ll help a heist, and Batman is a manchild who sates his desire for justice by beating up criminals.

Together, I think that these three say something pretty interesting about what it means to be a man. They all fit the basic stereotype of a Real Man. They’re physically attractive, be it in a pretty boy sort of way or a more rugged manner. They’re physically capable, able to demolish most men with a single move, be it a punch, gunshot, or swing of a sword. They’re intelligent enough to create complicated plans that always come off perfectly, human error aside. They’re witty enough to be able to think on their feet when a situation goes south and to come out on top. They aren’t afraid to use violence when the time comes, either. That sounds like a Real Man, doesn’t it?

The sex thing is what makes it interesting. Virility is tied up in violence and physical strength, and all three of these guys have it in spades. Ogami kills dudes by the baker’s dozen, Parker is a machine, and Batman is a highly trained non-lethal ninja. When they do have sex, it’s never shown as “making love.” It’s something fast, primal, rough, and vaguely taboo. There’s a thrill to it, particularly when it comes to Batman and Parker. Parker is only interested after he re-establishes his manhood by making a lot of money and breaking a few heads. Batman’s biggest flame is Catwoman, the object of many a late-night chase and cowled makeout session. To borrow a line, they keep the masks on because it’s better that way. Ogami himself only indulges, or lowers, himself in sex when it fits into his quest. The first time he has sex in volume 1, it’s to show exactly how little he cares for the samurai customs of the day. In fact, he proves his manhood by rejecting the traditional notion of it.

I think it comes down to control. Men are supposed to be in control of themselves, their emotions, and the situation at all times. What better way to show this control than to refuse sex, one of the most primal needs of human beings? Ogami treats most women he encounters, and definitely the prostitutes, with something approaching contempt. They, like anyone else, are beneath his notice. It seems like every Parker novel has him refusing the advances of an appropriately attractive and willing woman until he decides he wants to bother with her. Batman’s celibacy is practically a superpower, considering that a couple of his villains are outright seductresses and the rest are openly sexy/sexual.

This occurred to me after finishing one of Stark’s Parker novels, one in which Stark has Parker question his sexual habits. It got me thinking, and I soon realized that Ogami Itto was similar in execution, if not in tone. It all really clicked into place once Batman came into the picture, and I realized that it was more of a trend than I’d expected.

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