Book of the Month
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Size: 160 pages
To say that Darwyn Cooke's work on adapting the Parker series of books from Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) has been a success would be an understatement. The first book, Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter was critically acclaimed, and even earned our Book of the Year award for 2009. It would also be an understatement to say that the anticipation for the second volume, Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit, had built up to a frenzy this year. Earlier this year when we got a sample of the new volume with the short story, The Man With the Getaway Face, everyone I know was drooling waiting for more. Well, the wait is over now that Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit premiered earlier this month at the New York Comic Con and the first question that everyone asked was, "Has Darwyn Cooke done it again?"
I'm happy to report that after reading Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit, I can say without a doubt that not only has Darwyn Cooke done it again, but he may have even done it better.
With Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit, Cooke continues his masterful adaptation of the source material of the Parker novels. I'm not the first person to make the comparison of what Cooke is doing to what Peter Jackson did with the Lord of the Rings movies, and that's because it's quite accurate. Like Jackson taking the nearly impossible task of Tolkien's novels and converting them for film, Cooke has made the choice to step back from the original Parker novels and in his approach to adapt it to graphic novel format has made decisions to serve the story best in the format he works in. It would have been easy to make a straight adaptation of each story and illustrate it and pass it off as a graphic novel, but Cooke and his respect and reverence for the source material is clear in his approach to not just stop there. Instead, Cooke has absorbed the material and processed what would make the best decisions for his adaptation here. Specifically in this case in Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit, we're actually getting a merging of two of the original Parker stories, The Man With The Getaway Face and The Outfit. Now purists may object, but like how Jackson moved elements of the Lord of the Rings stories around to suit the film versions, Cooke's decision to merge these stories works seamlessly, giving us the progression of story that we need in order to travel with Parker on his journey for revenge. The sign of a great adaptation in this manner is that when after reading the story, along with whatever changes have been made, you can't imagine the story being told in any other way and that's exactly what happened here.
The story picks up as Parker is with a dame in a hotel room in Miami Beach, after the events of the first book, Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter, and someone tries to kill him. After getting the better of his would be assassin, we learn about how Parker was able to get plastic surgery to have a new face and how he got to Miami Beach. We also get to the bottom of who wanted Parker killed and then book is off and running. The events of the rest of the book detail Parker's unrelenting mission to take out The Outfit, the larger crime organization that has a a vendetta against Parker. A vendetta Parker doesn't even acknowledge as he simply wants to be left alone. We find out very quickly that the worst thing The Outfit could have done was piss off Parker as the rest of the book outlines his plan for revenge and climbing his way to the person responsible for wanting him killed.
I don't want to get further into any of the details of the story and events of the book because I don't want to ruin the experience for you. A reading experience that is as much suspenseful as it is fun. Every page unfolds events and plans and actions that will leave you marveling. Parker is by no means a good guy. He's a thief and a killer, and yet you find yourself rooting for him as his plans unfold. I'm not quite sure how that works, but I know that I fell for it hook, line and sinker, being completely unable to put the book down once the momentum picked up and ended up reading the entire book in one sitting. I want you to have that same experience.
I had some hesitancy when I got my hands on Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit, as I wondered how could Cooke top his work with last year's book? Sure this is the same character and same source material, and I thought I would have a good idea of what to expect with this new volume. As the book started, I was happy to see I was right that Cooke was continuing the style established in the first series, but then it got to the halfway point and I realized something. I realized that, "Oh wow. He turned it up a notch."
You see, the middle portion of the book outlines several capers and heists that Parker and his friends execute as they lash out at The Outfit, in an effort to hit them where it hurts, their wallets. What Cooke did with this section was completely mind blowing. We are exposed to the specifics of each caper in a completely different style. The first heist is explained in wonderful detail in a prose piece, pulled from the pages of a pulpy magazine Crime Confessions Weekly, which reminds us that not only is Cooke an amazing artist, but a talented designer. This is followed up by the next heist, told in a cartoony style. The third caper also explained in a cartoony style, but totally unique from the previous story. Finally we get the last heist (and my favorite) in a completely different illustrated style that mixes cartooning and the designed layout of the first prose story. These four interludes in the middle of the book immediately have stood out as my favorite moments both for the stories they tell as much as the manner in which Cooke tells them. Seeing behind the curtain of the heists is part of what makes these crime books so much fun, and each one of these crimes were so elegantly planned and unique in their own right, that learning about them was a joy to read. But it's the change in style and tone that Cooke introduces that gives the story a welcomed pause. Moving away from the established illustrated style, which at times can be intense and suspenseful, Cooke injects a little bit of fun into the book which lets the reader take a momentary diversion before the action ratchets up for the final act of the book and the ultimate climax of the story. It's this mastery of the graphic novel format and willingness to take risks that have established Darwyn Cooke as a visionary and not just giving us uninspired adaptations of the source material. His ability to take the details of the source material and adapt them in a way to deliver the story in a way that only sequential story telling can, is what separates this work from the rest of the pack.
The biggest thing I take away from reading Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit, is the combination of passion and mastery of one's craft. Every page oozes with Cooke's blood, sweat and tears as it's clear an apparent how important this work is to him. While passion is a key ingredient, skill is also necessary when creating a great work, and with every new book that is released, Cooke reminds us that has emerged as one of the greatest talents that comic books and graphic novels have produced. His work over the past 10 years has been some of the most imaginative and inspired and Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit is the latest work to top that list, eclipsing even the greatness of the first volume, Parker: The Hunter. I cannot wait to see what's to come with the next volume. 2012 cannot come fast enough.
Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit is the latest example of the greatness that can come from the graphic novel format. Darwyn Cooke is doing us a service by providing such an amazing and excellent work that is easy to hand to any reader, comics fan or not, to see how sequential storytelling can deliver a fulfilling and entertaining read. Cooke's adaptation of the Parker novels will go on to be one of the great works of our time and become a must read for any crime genre fan or any fan of comics, period. If you're not reading these books, you're missing out on history being made right in front of you. Don't make that mistake. Get on board and get lost in the world of Parker, because there is no better guide to that world than Darwyn Cooke.
No, thank YOU Mr. Cooke
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