Richard Stark’s Parker is the kind of anti-hero that America isn’t meant to create anymore, let alone enjoy. A cold hearted killer with the will to do the kind of things that most flinch at. A less social, more driven version of Dexter, without the morals, his sex drive mixed up with a violent streak and a drive that is genuinely frightening. And star of a series of novels under the pen name for Donald E. Westlake, and adapted through some odd filters into movies such as Point Blank and Payback, Stark never let any adaptations use the name of the character, Parker. until now.
Darwyn Cooke has taken the first Parker novel Hunter and adapted it for comics. And what an adaption. Given the length of this original hardcover, it necessarily loses certain aspects of the book, character and plot, but maintains, even emphasises the themes and tones of the novel, often in a quite remarkable and surprising fashion. For the biggest chunk of the first chapter is almost wordless, everything conveyed by circumstance and pitch-perfect storytelling. We learn so much about the main character without even seeing his face until he himself sees it. And repeated rereading brings out new details thanks to the non linear narrative.
I’ve enjoyed Darwyn Cooke’s work immensely before and while I”ve seen New Yorker, Will Eisner and even Kyle Baker influence before, this is the first time I’ve seen mixing Eddie Campbell in there, especially in his approach to lettering. It’s such an engaging combination of storytelling skills that delights and disgusts repeatedly.
Darwyn’s approach is an incredibly intelligent one, giving us just enough information, but no more, to work things out for ourselves, or to fill in certain gaps as we read on, but also allowing us to add our own motivations, character readings and narrative understanding – rather than a flaw, this is a deliberate act to draw us into the world that Darwyn creates, setting up signposts for us. Literally in fact, the use of billboards and signs to label and illustrate the city is spectacular and make this the landscape as much a character as Parker with probably more to say.
This is a dark misanthropist vision where men and women die without meaning. This is the first of four planned adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker novels by Cooke. The next one will be a long time coming.
The Hunter will be published by IDW for July 22nd 2009 in time for San Diego Comic Con.