Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Richard Stark’s Parker: the Hunter review

This little book is a comic adaptation of a novel from Richard Stark’s Parker series adapted by Darwyn Cooke and published by IDW Publishing. The Hunter was the first Parker book that was published and it makes sense that Cooke starts with this novel. The story is pretty simple, Parker a professional burglar has been double-crossed and he’s out for revenge. It’s a story we’ve all read before but this story has some neat little twists, a great ‘60s look, excellent pacing and art by Cooke. In short, it’s superbly executed. It’s important that I mention I’ve never read any of the novels in the Parker series and this might reflect in my review.

Since I’ve mentioned the plot is something we’ve seen before, it's now time to point out that it’s Cooke's storytelling that makes this a story worth reading. For starters, the comic is not really in colour but it’s far from black and white. There is black ink, white space and a blue-grey hues or shading all printed on a soft yellow coloured paper. The use of the blue-grey hues and the yellow paper really add to the tone and age of the story. The use of the hues and yellow paper fit very well with Cooke’s economical art style. It’s refreshing to see an artist limit himself in the techniques that he can use on a given project, especially when the end product is so nice to look at.

The use of the blue-grey hues as the main colour source is rather flat. Again, it works in establishing the look and tone of the book. Digital colouring with the use of gradients would not have been a good choice for this comic. Cooke only starts to use a different colouring style from the end of the third chapter until the end of the book. There is still flat blue-grey hues being used but in combination with some interesting brush strokes. Most, if not all, of the single and double page spreads also use the brush stroke look. It adds some nice texture and it also works with the story. From the beginning of the fourth and final chapter Parker mentions how he’s caught up in the momentum of his own revenge and it’s starting to show in the art. As if Cooke is also caught up in the momentum of the storytelling and he’s shading is looser. I like it a lot.

Cooke lettered the book by hand. It’s noticeably hand lettered if you take the time to pay attention to the few discrepancies in the lettering. It’s a good look for the book. It feels like an older font and the fact that the comic is hand lettered as opposed to digitally lettered adds to that effect that this is a period piece. I don’t like the way Cooke designed his letter “Y”. Not because it’s unpleasing to the eye but it’s not always functional following other letters. For example, the word “guy” was difficult to read in his chosen font. It’s distracting when I actually have to think what letter I’m seeing. It didn’t often jump out at me while reading but it caught my eye enough times for me to consider it a hindrance.

Cooke uses benday dots (or is it called screens now? I’m not sure) in flashback sequences in an interesting way. They are used for the blue-grey tone and they often trace the silhouette of the characters. It works because it distances the reader from the events just slightly. Because the flashbacks have a different look from other parts of the book while still sharing the same self-imposed limitations in the art (primarily the colours) we can easily tell the events in those sequences happen at a different time than the rest. It’s a neat trick that works well on its own and with the rest of the book.

Cooke is also very good at telling and showing us what kind of man Parker is. Parker is a bully. He uses his overall size and strength (specifically that of his hands) to get what he wants. He's not particularly big other than his hands but he's strong. He's not particularly tall either. There is a panel of him and Rose when he first walks into her apartment and he's half a foot taller than her at the most. Now unless she's a really tall woman, I don't think Parker can be considered a very tall man. He also has quite a bit of brains and some good luck but it’s nice to read about a character who has certain advantages but also has to struggle to do what he's trying to do. The beginning of the books, has him using his brain more than his muscles and the way Cooke tells the story, with many silent pages, it’s nothing short of brilliant.

There are many interesting elements about Parker that make him an interesting character. He doesn’t necessarily like violence but he’ll do what he has to do to reach his goal. There is also a sexual element to what he does. Parker seems to reward himself for completing job by allowing himself to have sex once he’s done. I chose to say allowing himself because he's clearly attracted to the woman in the beauty salon but tells himself to ignore that physical attraction and that there will be time for such things later. He forces himself to stay focus and rewards that focus by letting loose at a later time. Parker also has no problem hitting or doing other violent things to women. This demonstrates once again that he is very goal oriented. I can’t help but think that Cooke is also very focused with his work adapting The Hunter. It makes me wonder if he’ll let loose somehow with the next volume (edit: he did!).

One a final note, the size and subject of the book makes me think this is what the Vertigo Crimes line of hardcovers could and probably should have been. There were some good books in that line but none come as close to what Darwyn Cooke has given us with the first Parker adaptation. I hear the second comic, Parker: the Outfit, is even better. 

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