Monday, October 25, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 264 (10/25) -- Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit by Darwyn Cooke

You have to get beyond an origin story to see whether a character really has legs...though comics often is obsessed with retelling that origin again and again, perhaps out of an inability to think up any other stories. Richard Stark's great criminal character, Parker -- no second name will be given, or is necessary -- doesn't have that much of an origin to begin with, having sprung full-formed onto the page, but such a beginning as he had was in Stark's novel The Hunter, and was adapted by Darwyn Cooke into an excellent graphic novel of the same name last year. (I reviewed it for ComicMix then, and was impressed, though I was concerned that the slick early '60s setting could tend to make Parker look quaint and rob him of his power -- it wasn't that I thought Cooke did anything wrong, just that I wanted to be sure that Parker was kept as cold and dangerous as he really is.)

Cooke's adapations of Stark continue in Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit, which adapts parts of the second and third novels in the series, The Man with the Getaway Face and The Outfit. And -- not to give away the ending or anything -- it's even better than Cooke's The Hunter; getting beyond the origin (even if this book supplies, as Stark's second novel did, something of a second origin for Parker) invigorates Cooke and he stretches himself to excellent effect during the middle heist scenes.

The Hunter ended with Parker having brokered a truce with the Outfit -- organized crime, as buttoned-down, hierarchical, and serious as every other multi-million-dollar operation in late '50s America -- or so he thought. The Outfit opens a year later, and Parker has, out of his driving instinct for self-preservation, gotten himself a completely new face, at great cost. Only two men could connect the new face to old Parker, and one of them is dead -- or so he thinks. But then Parker survives a clumsy hit attempt, which clearly leads back to the Outfit, and he realizes that he needs a more permanent solution to his problem.

So Parker decides to do two things: first, to get the Outfit angry, by hitting it himself and getting as many of his friends (other independent criminals) to hit the Outfit as many times and ways as possible. And, second, to knock off the current head of the Outfit after brokering a contingent peace treaty with the man who would succeed him. The Outfit then follows the pattern of most of the best Parker novels: a situation is set up, and then we get to watch it followed through.

The various capers taken on by Parker's associates bring out Cooke's ambitiousness and playfulness; the middle of the novels sees a few of these, in quick succession, each presented in a different style (illustrated magazine article, pseudo-UPA cartoon, etc.) appropriate to the time. The rest of the book is equally accomplished -- Cooke works in two color (black and blue) to create deep, moody, noir-ish shadows and uses quick successions of borderless panels to show quick action. The Hunter was excellent, but The Outfit is even better -- moving swiftly from scene to scene, dropping into silent action sequences seamlessly and then bouncing back to heavily narrated scenes to give the flavor of Stark's writing and Parker's thinking, and turning two separate novels into one cohesive graphic story. Parker may be a creature of his time and place, but so was the Sean Connery James Bond -- and neither one is soft, or to be taken lightly, because of it.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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