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Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter
Adapted and Illustrated by Darwyn Cooke
Published by IDW
Review by Troy Brownfield
You all know Darwyn Cooke. How could you not know Darwyn Cooke? The Eisner-winning, Emmy-nominated writer and artist has been turning out stellar work for years. And chances are, you either know of Richard Stark (the most well-known pseudonym of Donald E. Westlake, who wrote under several names to great acclaim), his amoral character Parker, or the film versions of the first Parker novel, The Hunter (none of which, Point Blank, Payback, or Hong Kong’s Full Contact, use the Parker name). Knowing some or all of those things, then you might know what you can expect here.
Forget that. Darwyn Cooke’s take on The Hunter will likely surpass your expectations. The first adaptation to officially use the Parker name, The Hunter, bursts off of the page, capturing the tone, the feel, the attitude of Stark/Westlake’s prose. Much of the success here is owed to Cooke’s uncanny ability to translate entire eras from history to the page; his 1962 New York City is a well-mapped wonder.
Much will be said in reviews and future analysis about the outstanding opening sequence. Save for a tiny bit of narration and two lines of dialogue, several pages go by before we get some much as a glimpse of Parker’s face. Cooke takes his time establishes the setting, time period, and disposition of the main character simply by using smart, fluid layouts. His decision to go with understated blue tones instead of full-color or black-and-white is an interesting one, and it pays out huge artistic dividends. It helps seal the pulpy, aged quality of the narrative, as if this were a look at a tourist brochure of the underside of NYC, a vacation guide gone horribly wrong.
Parker knows all about horribly wrong. Betrayed by partners in crime both business and romantic, and believed dead, he’s come back to settle the score. Really, that’s all you need to know. Parker’s a shark, constantly moving through an ocean of betrayal and murder. If he has redeeming qualities, they aren’t on display. And really, that’s part of the kick. Much like its modern cousin, The Shield, The Hunter makes you root for a protagonist that you wouldn’t necessarily want to see succeed in real life.
I suppose it’s sort of easy to heap superlatives on Cooke. His track record is so strong and his fans are loyal. Nevertheless, this is really triumphant work. Knowing that it’s only the first of a series of Parker adaptations by the writer/artist makes it even better. I also appreciated the design of the book: hardcover with jacket, trim size that’s not too dissimilar to, say, a standard prose novel. The package actually seems to give a bit of weight, of importance, to the enterprise.
The Hunter is a rare achievement. It’s entertaining, it’s amazingly well-crafted, and it’s well worth your money and time. Without a doubt, this is one of the best, and most important, graphic novels of 2009.