Nathan Wilson on Richard Stark’s Parker: the Outfit

Posted by on November 17th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

 

 

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Outfit
Darwyn Cooke
IDW Publishing
$24.99; 160 pp.
ISBN: 1600107621

After securing recognition for his Kirby-esque, modern gothic art on Batman the Animated Series in the 1990s and maintaining his time in Gotham City with successful runs alongside writer Ed Brubaker on Detective Comics and Catwoman, and his own Batman: Ego, attained even greater attention for his retro-styled, six-issue mini-series DC: The New Frontier in 2004. Now, the multiple Eisner, Harvey and Shuster Award winner returns to the roman noir atmosphere of Donald Westlake’s crime fiction with the publication of the sequel to 2009’s Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter.

As a direct follow-up to Hunter, Richard Stark’s Parker: The Outfit, despite the beautiful art and design of the book itself which is definitely an eye-catcher on the shelf, will likely only appeal to fans of Cooke’s first outing, as events, characters and plot threads continue in this latest adaptation. Delivering upon the teaser released over the summer as an oversized, stand-alone prelude entitled “The Man With the Getaway Face,” Cooke’s Outfit finds Parker waging his war against crime syndicate boss Arthur Bronson. Where Hunter may have built upon readers’ familiarity with the 1999 film Payback starring Mel Gibson, Outfit is a solitary experience absent similar cinematic references.

Only slightly longer than Hunter, Cooke’s Outfit is innovatively organized and laid out, breaking the the more straightforward style and progression of its predecessor. Darker blue, gray and purple shades grace Outfit as opposed to the often greenish-gray tones of Hunter. While this reinforces the more violent and revenge-driven story, Cooke’s usage does muddy some sequences and render a few others difficult to interpret and comprehend in the flow of action. The khaki and oranges of “The Man With the Getaway Face” would have corresponded nicely with Outfit as a way to distinguish past and present, or perhaps simply as another thematic technique.

 

 

The Outfit is an example of graphic and sequential storytelling at its very best and Cooke repeatedly displays his mastery of story development through his layouts and visuals. Either embracing single splash-page styles taken from his superhero genre origins or incorporating various perspective guides such as the letter on page 24 to connect the reader even more with Parker, Cooke breaks the static nature of panel-to-panel narratives. By far the most disjointing yet powerful example of this is within “Book Three” of the story where Cooke sheds his own identity and transitions into Richard Stark’s voice with the “Crime Confessions Weekly” segment that showcases one of Parker’s celebrated heists at the Club Cockatoo. Mostly text accompanied by single illustrations, Cooke even diverges from his retro style in these interludes to differentiate them further from the larger storyline. Comical exaggeration akin to newspaper-strip funnies alongside some intentionally crudely sketched line art allows Cooke to explore montage as a tool to illustrate not only the passage of time, but also the impact of Parker’s associated crimes against Bronson’s organization.

If there is one deficiency in Outfit it is that while Cooke’s visualizations and storytelling are indeed strong, the story itself is not quite equal to either Hunter or the shorter, excerpted “Man With the Getaway Face.” Cooke has revealed his intentions to adapt the first four Parker novels in order — Hunter, Man With the Getaway Face, Outfit, and The Mourner — as well as later books such as The Score and Slayground. To accomplish this, Cooke eliminated The Mourner due to its non-visual nature and greatly condensed Man with the Getaway Face into the 24-page Outfit prelude to smooth the transition from Hunter to Outfit. Yet, apart from the “Getaway” sequence in Outfit, the quintessentially Parker antics from Hunter that made it such an intriguing read are largely absent in the sequel.

 

 

Regardless, the dialogue in Outfit is also strong and fast, both a testament to Westlake’s original prose and Cooke’s prowess in adapting it into the graphic-novel format. Although noir in comics is often overdone and abused, particularly within mainstream titles, Cooke’s Outfit, much like Hunter, reaffirms his position as a true modern master of the chiaroscuro approach.

 

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One Response to “Nathan Wilson on Richard Stark’s Parker: the Outfit”

  1. […] is a link to my review of Darwyn Cooke’s Parker the Outfit at the Comics […]