Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Trade Waiting - Parker: The Outfit

Darwyn Cooke is garnering unanimous praise for his Parker graphic adaptations, of which The Outfit is his second. This review will not be any different, but I will aim to shed some light on why exactly this little hardcover is something you absolutely need to own, and read, and love. Hit the jump to hear the gospel.

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Outfit

Written by Darwyn Cooke
Art by Darwyn Cooke

The first Parker book, The Hunter, took great pleasure in hiding the lead’s face for a while before showing it to us in a rest stop bathroom mirror. It was a great moment and it gets repeated, to a degree, in this book but it has a completely new impact. Before, we didn’t know what Parker would look like, now (for those of us who have read the first book) we know exactly what Parker looks like. We’ve spent an entire book with him but now we see a new face. It is revealed in a splash page after he thwarts an attempt on his life in his dark hotel room but we only see it in full light, in a mirror again, after he is removing the bandages from surgery.

Parker has a new face. He’s ready for a new adventure.

I like that Cooke doesn’t completely give Parker a new head, it’s still the same skull and man underneath, he’s just altered. He’s changed, and his life certainly does create changes within, and without, him.

The Outfit is a simple enough tale, if truly boiled down. Parker has a problem with the eponymous group, and he’s taking that problem straight to them. What more do you need? But the devil is in the details.

The first section of this book, Book One, is an adaptation of The Man With The Getaway Face. Cooke handles this job well and it’s just as good as The Hunter. It’s got that similar vibe that makes you feel like you’re reading a really classy cartoon from a swank magazine from your father’s childhood. Except much better. The job in the tale is simple enough, a heist on an armoured van. It goes well, Parker sees the double cross coming and he deals with it in the simple, effective style we expect from him.

This resolution is interesting because it requires violence towards a woman. We see the lady in question run from her totaled car, panic in her eyes and as much wind at her feet as she can manage. The next panel shows Parker, no woman, and his gun going off. It’s an interesting way for this scene to be drawn as it is not gratuitous. In many other instances throughout the book, Parker shoots men at close range and we see that violence, but not in this case. Cooke must be a gentleman at heart and it makes for a dynamic page.

The introductory tale ends with Parker tracking down another problem and executing him with little emotion. That’s just how it goes in Parker’s world, he’s never afraid to do what needs to be done. He then sets up the next tale, and the bulk of this book, by sending letters to all his heisting buddies to start pulling any jobs they can against the Outfit. Cooke shows us the letter, as well as the messy room and dead body on the floor as Parker works hard at his words. It’s yet another good page.

The Outfit is most delicious when Cooke is wallowing in the pure prose of Stark’s original pulp paperbacks. He can make the story hum, that’s for sure. It is Stark’s essence, and most often words, matched with the simple, yet simply intricate, illustrations that make this comic something you don’t normally get. It’s a no brainer for a win, but Cooke already won last time. He obviously wanted to stretch himself on this book and he certainly gets out and tries new tricks.

It starts with a map. Cooke draws Parker’s planned road trip up the east coast and he lays in some text with it. It’s something a little different and it’s about here that Cooke’s adaptation of the novel to the comic page starts to take on a varied tone. It plays with representation and doesn’t just make the book a different format of the story, it turns it into a completely different experience.

Once Parker has laid the ground rules of his new job, we enter Book Three and presentation and experience of the story becomes key. Parker’s friends pull their series of heists and Cooke depicts them each in a different manner. The first one receives a magazine style story, heavy on prose, few illustrations. This is like a text piece, something you’d find in the back of a comic anthology, perhaps. It’s good because it slows the pace and you immerse yourself in the job. You savor the pages and understand every aspect of the job.

The next job is a cartoony representation of a horse track betting heist. Cooke shows us this in wide panels that almost act as infographics. He’s teaching us the system, and how it is taken down. I can only describe this sequence as fun, as well as revelatory. The next job is quite the same as we see a money changeover gig foiled through diversion and confidence.

The final job follows one dime as it enters the numbers racket, goes through multiple hands, and then ends up at the scene of the heist as the racketeers lose everything except a few coins, of which the initial dime is one. That Cooke is able to modify his delivery method, and illustration style, for each heist is a presentation performance of delights. Like watching a great actor change roles to inhabit each scene.

This feels like Cooke having fun. Which means we have fun as well. It’s a masterful set of scenes and probably my highlight for the book.

The final act, Book Four, shows Parker’s violent showdown. It is well executed and a delight to watch, like Peckinpah is on the page conducting some of the action. It’s a great ending and it need not be spoiled here, all you need to know is that Parker does what Parker does best. And what he does is perfect pulp fiction.

I appreciate these Parker books from Cooke because they take some time to read. They can be knocked over in one sitting, or if you don’t always have slabs of consecutive minutes to read like me, you’ll find a week goes by where you constantly want those five minutes to sit down with this book. If you like crime comics then this series is shaping up to be the godfather of them all.

It would seem easy to create a great crime comic from a great crime novel, and while Cooke does have this advantage it certainly is what he does with it that makes these books so special. He interprets the tale and decides how exactly to best deliver it directly into your brain. He makes the middle man that he is possibly the most important part of the whole transaction. This isn’t just slabs of text laid over simple comic panels. This is art, pure and simple, and it elevates everything you read and experience in this tale.

Verdict – Must Read. It almost feels cliché to say this book is a gem. Of course it is, everyone says it is, we all knew it before it even shipped. It’s like The Godfather, it’s got a reputation for a reason, it’s earned it. The Outfit might just be better than The Hunter, it certainly feels like it’s got slightly more Cooke within the pages, but in the end it only makes me want to go back and read the first book again. With two books down, and the third scheduled for 2012, Cooke might just pull off what every artist dreams of, a perfect trilogy. He’s easily on his way so far.

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brandon said...

This was simply one of the best things I've read all year - comic or collection. I never read this original novel so I can't say how it stacks up but its a brilliant read.

I think the best part is how Cooke changes his styles for the heists - especially the Spy vs Spy nature of the men in the same suit. Awesome stuff.

Simon McDonald said...

The Outfit really feels like a Dawryn Cooke production. Not to say The Hunter wasn't - I loved that book too - but Ryan is 100% correct when he says "it’s got slightly more Cooke within the pages."

The Hunter felt very much like a straight forward adaption - a fantastic one, yes, but fairly simple in its execution. Cooke really exercises his creative muscles in The Outfit though; the alternating styles, as Brandon mentioned, are undoubtedly the standout sequences.

Truly a masterpiece.

Jormungand said...

I'm in the midst of reading the 24 Parker novels by Richard Stark. Superb stuff all the way. Can't blame Cooke for wanting to adapt them, but if you like the graphic novels, give the novels a chance, they're very well worth it.

Simon McDonald said...

@ Jormungand - Amen.

fodigg said...

Loved reading this. I loved the art. The fact that some of the original penciling was left in and that most of the shading is done with the color, not with the inking, really makes it stand out at times. I found myself noticing things like pencil lines left in for text in the chat balloons, or how a glass was drawn entirely with color, no pencil and no ink. I don't really notice art details so it was a change for me.

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