Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Richard Stark's Parker: the Score review

Parker: the Score is the third book in a series of comic adaptations of Richard’s Stark’s crime novels by Canadian born Darwyn Cooke. I’m very impressed. Nearly 500 pages of comics and Cooke’s barely had a slip up. As always, when talking about plot elements and the overall execution of the book I refer to Cooke. Having not read any of the Parker novels I have no idea how much is taken from the series of novels. I imagine it’s a lot but I mean no disrespect when omitting Stark’s name from my comments and reviews. It’s something I’ll have to address by reading a few of the novels.

We meet up with Parker while he’s on a beach. He hasn’t done a job in six months. He’s not low on cash but boredom has settled in. There is a man who wants to organize a heist but he’s new to the game and needs help. This man, Edgars, presents his job to Parker and some of his friends (we’ve met two of them in The Outfit). Edgars plans to rob a town called Copper Canyon. While describing the job to the other thieves it becomes clear to them and clear to the reader that Edgars plans quite literally to rob the whole town. Parker’s friend, Grofield, is immediately intrigued. It takes Parker a bit longer but boredom and an exciting job leads him to decide to take the risk on this job.

The straightforward plot, Parker and 11 other men plan and execute a job, becomes much more intriguing because Parker breaks his own rules: 1) do not work a job that requires more than four or five people because it becomes too complicated and therefore too risky, 2) if a job is too risky, cut your losses and walk away. We know he should walk away and we know there will be a negative outcome for Parker and his crew because he didn’t walk about but just like our anti-hero, we’re hooked. We’re glad he decided to take charge and plan the robbery. It’s refreshing that we’re reading about Parker dealing with a job for an entire book. So far we’ve read about him dealing primarily with the outcome of past jobs that have gone wrong. This time we’re along for the ride and we get to see the planning and the execution.

Cooke experimented with style and storytelling in The Outfit and experiments a bit this time around as well. Grofield’s scenes are intercut with his strange imaginings he has comparing the heist to a group of soldiers undertaking a missing in a World War II setting. It works well, both visually as well as device to quickly show us what kind of person Grofield is. He’s obviously very good at his job, he really likes it but he’s arrogant and takes unnecessary risks. He lacks focus compared to many of the other thieves.

The accent colour this time around is orange. This seems like a strange choice at first but it makes sense. It is strange because it’s not a dark colour. Crime comics and even police procedure comics tend to have a darker colour palette. I’m thinking specifically of Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips and Gotham Central by Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker. Orange isn’t dark at all. I can’t help but think that Cooke had the gas station explosion in mind while choosing the accent colour for The Score. The impact of that page would have been lessened by the use of. The explosion in question was done using only the off-white colour of the page and the orange. There is no black at all and it looks the explosion is happening right in front of our eyes.

Unlike the previous two adaptations, there are no flashbacks in The Score. The book concentrates on showing us the thieves at work and Cooke wisely gives things room to breathe. The book is not as dense as the previous two but it doesn’t feel slight because of it because Cooke tells it so clearly, so efficiently. Cooke keeps in mind that this is a very big undertaken and treats it as such. Also, because this is crime fiction we can expect something to go wrong. I knew something was going to happen but I couldn’t figure it out. I shouldn’t feel too bad though, Parker didn’t see it either. My only complaint for The Score is that the problems that arise are resolved rather quickly.

Not only that but it’s a huge undertaking and it’s nice to see Parker working with a large crew. Not only that, but it wouldn’t be good crime fiction unless something goes wrong and part of the fun is trying to figure out what will go wrong. I’m not spoiling anything in saying the Copper Canyon job goes as wrong as it possibly could have gone. It’s a riveting how Cooke made it happen.

One of the many reasons this is a great comic is the portrayal of the crew of thieves. Every single one of them have a way of dealing with the life they’ve chosen, they all have rules. Not everybody agrees with how things are done but everything body at least pretends to go along with it for the sake of the payoff. Parker is still the star of his own series but Grofield gives him a run for his money.

Once again Cooke delivers and excellent crime comic. He doesn’t depend on the two previous books, instead he builds on it. Three books in and the Parker series still feels fresh. The stories are riveting, Cooke’s art is excellent and even when he’s not pulling off flashy storytelling tricks he’s telling a solid and entertaining story. We’re told at the end of the book that there will be a fourth Parker comic in 2013 and I can’t wait. 

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