Thursday, May 15, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #134: Slayground by Stark & Cooke

You could easily think that I have nothing left to say about Richard Stark's great heister Parker, or about the graphic novels that Darwyn Cooke is making out of that series. I spent last October reading all twenty-eight Stark books, and writing extensively about them here. And I've reviewed the first three Cooke adaptations, as well: The Hunter, which I enjoyed but worried was too much of a period piece, and then The Outfit and The Score, which, each and together, drove that fear entirely away. But I might have a few words left in me, the way that Parker is always up for one more score.

Cooke's gotten to Richard Stark's Parker: Slayground now, the tour de force from the late end of the first run of Parker books in the '60s and early '70s, and he hits it with all cylinders firing and three previous books of Parker behind him. He only has to make a few small changes to Stark's novel -- the unnamed city is Buffalo, to make it someplace, and the criminal leading the first attack is crime boss Lozini's actual son, rather than his designated heir and son-substitute. But he doesn't have to change much: Slayground already has the unities of a Greek play, set in one place in just over one day, ringed in by water and fence and barbed wire.

As in the novel, Parker hits an armored car with two other men one cold morning, and the three are fleeing through the snowy outskirts of town. The driver is skittish and hotheaded, the car crashes. Parker is the only one left conscious, so he flees with the money. And the only place to hide is an amusement park: Fun Land, closed down for the winter. It's only bad luck that a couple of mobsters are paying off a couple of cops in the parking lot at the time, and that they instantly connect Parker to the armored car heist.

So they call in some more mobsters, to flush out Parker that evening once their police partners are free and the chase has died down. But that gives Parker time to prepare: plant weapons, lay traps, familiarize himself with the layout. They'll be a lot of shooting and mayhem and violence before Parker finally gets free of Fun Land, but you don't doubt he'll do it.

Cooke turns Stark's muscular prose into sequences of mostly wordless panels, with some narration (mostly picked up straight from Stark) to set scenes and driven tension. He gives Fun Land a tremendous sense of place -- down to the souvenir fold-out map in the middle of the book -- and grounds Parker's battles there in a landscape we can grasp and understand immediately. His action scenes are as kinetic as ever, and the scenes of Parker preparing the ground for that action are colder and more precise than ever: this is even more taut and sublimely nasty than The Score was. This graphic novel is the quintessential visual representation of Parker: it's difficult to even imagine anything more true to his essence.

Cooke also includes a short adaptation of the ending of the Parker novel The Seventh at the end -- he covers the bulk of the book in a two-page prologue, and then devotes another nine pages to the denouement of that novel. I could wish that he saved that book for a full-scale graphic novel, but this short piece captures the essence so well there's no point: it's a perfect little Parker story as it is.

More Parker graphic novels are promised -- I have my hopes for Plunder Squad, or even Deadly Edge, but I suspect Butcher's Moon will be next, to follow up Slayground. Whichever Parker story he picks, Stark's creation is in the best possible hands with Darwyn Cooke.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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