Book of the Month
What did the
Size: 160 pages
If you know anything about heist capers, you know this is going to go wrong right from the get go. And that is what’s great about it.
Richard Stark’s Parker: The Score is the third in the series adapted and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke, and published by IDW. The first two books, The Hunter and The Outfit, were both Books of the Month also, and one was our Book of the Year in 2009. So, at this point, you might be wondering what there is left to say about these books, and if Darwyn has anything new to bring to the table.
There’s no doubt that a huge hunk of the credit for these books goes to Donald Westlake (Richard Stark) for writing them in the first place. He created something so enduring and primal that people have been talking about Parker for an astonishing number of years, and keep going back to the character in different versions across different media, and Cooke’s version is just one of them. But at the same time, what a version it is. In creating and continuing the character, what the cartoonist has done is highlight in stark relief how Parker is, how good comics can be, and finally, just how good Darwyn Cooke is.
The Parker books are all about the setup. In this one, Parker, still flush from the last heist is relaxing high and dry, but he gets the itch, and finds himself in a new situation with new people, and they’re going to rob an entire town. Right from the start, Parker knows something’s not right, and if we’ve learned nothing else from heist capers, when you get a bad feeling, you need to walk. Parker should be smarter than that, but he’s just a guy in the end, albeit a very tough guy with giant hands, and guys do stupid things very often despite their best judgement. As always, the magnificence of the story is in the telling, and the craft, and the way in which we see how human fault and error is at the heart of the failure of all great plans. It’s that touch of humanity and pathos that makes the story great, as opposed to just watching bad guys be really good at being bad guys.
The triumph of this version of the story is Darwyn Cooke’s craft. With each volume, the storytelling becomes smoother and more effortless, while at the same time, it doesn’t get boring. There are new techniques brought to the fore, for both introducing characters, and showing the steps of the heist, and even showing how many firearms were purchased. In The Outfit, these were impressive, but they stood out in their newness, where in The Score, it all just flows together smoothly, as both reader and cartoonist get accustomed to the tools being used.
At the same time, the whole series is imbued by a style that is unlike anything else out there. Clearly the creator has a reverence for the styles of the time period where the story takes place, and you’d be hard pressed to find another cartoonist out there who could do the era such justice. Everything about the book exudes the fictional coolness of a certain segment of the 60s, from the designs on the inside covers, to the clothing worn by the characters.
Speaking of characters, there are a bunch of them in this book. There are many more than in previous versions. Eagle eyed readers might even recognize some of Parker’s crew as cartoon versions of folks from comics, who all just happen to look exactly the types of people who would be in a heist crew in the 60s, oddly enough. Regardless, because of the expressive style of the work, all the characters are distinct from one another, not just in their immediate design, but their expressions and body language. Cooke builds each of them up using a relative few shapes and each one is their own person. They’re so well done that even though a lot of the story takes place in black ski masks, we still know who we’re looking at because of the shape of the heads, and the look of the eyes.
Not since Tale of Sand earlier this year have I read a piece of comic book work that so jazzed me about the medium. I couldn’t put it down, and I wanted more when it was over. There’s just something to me about a cartoonist laying everything aside, and just drawing the book. There’s no color other than the yellow/orange tone used to add depth. There’s just page and ink by the time this think gets to press, and that rawness matches the intensity of the characters in the story. Every line and shape in this book has a purpose, and they all describe beauty or ugliness with more directness than any other medium can project. Every page is balanced. Reading through the book is effortless, and you glide through the story, like one of those giant cars from the period that seem to float on white walled tires, and floating suspension, the smell of stale cigarettes imbued into the pages. You know Parker is going to come out OK, but you need to know how, and you need to know soon. It’s all that matters. Getting to the end is paramount, and once you’re there, you realize what just happened, and you want to take the journey again, and go back through the pages and see not just that it worked, but figure out why it worked so well. You can’t always put your finger on it, but you know it’s there.
You don’t need to have read the books that came before this one, but to miss any of the three is the real crime. Just like its predecessors, The Score is a wonderful little package of a hardcover book that contains some of the best comics being produced today. If you’ve read the others, or anything by Darwyn Cooke, you know that, but if you haven’t, it’s time to get on with it, and listen to your instincts.
Now all three of us have written one.