Adapted and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke
I haven’t read the original novel but I have seen the film adaptations (Point Blank, Payback), so I can’t verify the authenticity of the job that Darwyn Cooke does of adapting Parker into graphic novel format (apart from reading the plot synopsis on Wikipedia, but that doesn’t really count). However, even I can tell the apparent authenticity of the feeling, the atmosphere, the respect for the source material that Cooke infuses this story with that make for a perfect adaptation to the comic book page.
Cooke’s art is exactly how I imagine the style for this book set in New York and Chicago in 1962 – his art style has that noirish vibe but with a cartoony edge that bridges the novel and the films (his pencils seemed similarly appropriate, although with a little cleaner and clean-cut edge to it, in the pages of The New Frontier, about DC superheroes in the Silver Age), where period detail looks genuine, people dress in suits and don’t look out of place, cars are big and streets are mean.
The story starts with some fine visual storytelling: 12 pages of dialogue-free, narrative-free panels that introduce the reader to our protagonist, Parker. It’s a masterclass in the art of portraying story in the comic book form, providing the reader with the setting and the character without words. This could have been a one-off, a bit of pizzazz that can’t be maintained, but the high quality of sequential narrative is there throughout the book, which is an impressive achievement.
If you’ve seen the films, you know the basic story: Parker is out for revenge after the successful heist he organised led to betrayal and he was left for dead; now, Parker is going through his connections to find the man who betrayed him, a man who is now under the protection of the Outfit (a nationwide organised crime syndicate) after he bought his way in with the money from the heist. And Parker isn’t taking any prisoners … I presume that this adaptation is true to the novel because it provides much more detail and information than the films, which have to eliminate the flavour in order to stick to the plot. Whereas John Boorman went for an almost hallucinatory visual style and Brian Helgeland (or rather the replacement with the rewritten script and a voice-over narration) had a more comedic feel, this feels like how it must have been when people first read the Donald Westlake novel (under the Richard Stark pseudonym) – a raw experience of a genuine career criminal who is very professional and doesn’t care about anybody. Parker is not a nice guy, and you don’t feel much empathy for him past the fact that he was double-crossed and left for dead. The gritty details from the novel have been transferred to this book, making for a more satisfactory realisation of the original story.
The pages make it apparent that this was a labour of love for Cooke – you can tell how much he enjoyed the novels and wants to do the best job possible, to do justice to the material and the author. It’s a fantastic job, even if you can’t enjoy the attitude towards women in the book, which is representative of the genre and the time the story is set, and the fact that various innocent women die in the book. It’s a brutal story – death is a violent and horrific event, even in Cooke’s animation style – a pure revenge quest for a vessel of single-minded wrath in the persona of the cool-headed Parker; however, it is clear to see why the character had such an appeal and why there were so many more Parker stories (Westlake wrote 23 more novels) and why filmmakers were so keen to adapt it to the silver screen. This is a great graphic novel, and I’m looking forward to reading the next instalments in the Cooke adaptations.