Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter

Richard Stark's Parker - The HunterSummary: Darwyn Cooke, the Eisner-Award-winning writer/artist of such classics as DC: The New Frontier, Selina’s Big Score, and The Spirit, now sets his artistic sights on bringing to life one of the true classics of crime fiction: Richard Stark’s Parker. Stark was a pseudonym used by the revered and multi-award-winning author, Donald Westlake.

The Hunter, the first book in the Parker series, is the story of a man who hits New York head-on like a shotgun blast to the chest. Betrayed by the woman he loved and double-crossed by his partner in crime, Parker makes his way cross-country with only one thought burning in his mind to coldly exact his revenge and reclaim what was taken from him!

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The Hunter, by Richard Stark and Darwyn Cooke 8.0

I honestly don’t remember how I first stumbled upon ‘The Hunter’, Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of Richard Stark’s noir classic, but I was taken with it immediately. Thankfully, it was the beginning of a series of graphic novels by Cooke featuring Stark’s iconic criminal, Parker – all of which were better than the last.

But ‘The Hunter’ is the unquestionable classic, and I would later discover that it was adapted three times for the silver screen.

Having recently seen two of them, it was time to revisit Cooke’s rendition.

For those unfamiliar with ‘The Hunter’, it’s the story of Parker, who was left for dead after being double-crossed on a heist, but returns to claim the money owed to him. It’s not about revenge, but about extreme perseverance, as Parker pummels his way up The Outfit’s food chain.

All he wants is what was owed him, his cut: 45K.

Nothing more.

And most certainly nothing less.

‘Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter’ (as it’s titled), is striking right from the onset: short on words and strong on visuals, it fills its initial pages (and many throughout the book) with lots of completely silent pages, with the artwork being the only storytelling device.

The art is black and white and blue (appropriately enough). It’s a superb-looking book that finds Cooke taking on a style that is reminiscent of some graphic designs from the ’50s and ’60s – a style that he frequently adopts and/or adapt. Here it is perfect for the setting (NYC, 1962).

Thankfully, Cooke mixes it up: there are also pages full of exposition that are embellished by art; these help to fill in the gaps and provide much-needed backstory. And, of course, there’s also your average combination of art and dialogue too. It’s a great mix that reads rather breezily.

The storytelling is taut, much like its protagonist. It’s a lean, mean story that doesn’t clean itself up for its readership; these guys are scum and ‘The Hunter’ doesn’t balk at making them so. But Cooke delivers the brutality with class, not gratuitousness, leaving much to the imagination.

What’s interesting about this book is that Parker isn’t likeable (he’s not a hero nor has he many redeeming values), but he makes for an enjoyable character because we get into his head and understand what makes him tick. As a character study, ‘The Hunter’ is really superbly crafted.

It’s very similar to ‘Point Blank‘ and some scenes echo ‘Payback’. The key difference is the backstory, which Cooke spends a lot of time elaborating in flashback. This really fleshes out the book, and I found it interesting just how utterly different it is from the silver screen ones.

Having not read the original Richard Stark novel, I can only assume that Cooke’s lovingly-crafted adaptation is the closest to it. Either way, I am very impressed that he’s managed to create a work that’s not just respectful of its source, but also the context in which it was created.

I can’t fathom a better adaptation.

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