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Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit

Written by Eli Katz on Sunday, October 24 2010 and posted in Reviews

Eli takes a look at the follow up to the critically acclaimed The Hunter!

Comic Review Cover

Credits & Solicit Info:

Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit

Darwyn Cooke (w & a & c)

Darwyn Cooke is the Eisner Award-winning writer/artist of such classics as DC: The New Frontier, Selina's Big Score, and last year's smash-hit, The Hunter. Now, Cooke is back and following up the New York Times best-selling Hunter with a heart-pounding sequel: The Outfit.

After evening the score with those who betrayed him, and recovering the money he was cheated out of from the syndicate, Parker is riding high, living in swank hotels and enjoying the finer things in life again. Until, that is, he's fingered by a squealer who rats him out to the Outfit for the price they put on his head... and they find out too late that if you push Parker, it better be all the way into the grave!

Darwyn Cooke is an Eisner- and Emmy-winning creator whose adaptation of Richard Stark's first groundbreaking Parker novel has earned him multiple 2010 Eisner Award nominations!

HC • PC • $24.99 • 160 Pages • 6" x 9


Darwyn Cooke's 2009 graphic novel, THE HUNTER, is without question a masterpiece. The book's highpoint is its 20-page opening sequence: a series of fast, fluid, mostly wordless panels that introduce a protagonist so predatory and conniving that he makes just about every other antihero in comics look genuinely heroic. In these 20 pages, Parker commits several cagey cons to transform himself from a threadbare loser into a well-dressed tough guy. Each page is dazzling, a perfect blend of highly stylized art and stripped-down, no-nonsense storytelling.

Cooke's latest graphic novel, THE OUTFIT, a sequel to THE HUNTER, recaptures the energy of the first graphic novel, but not its ruthless efficiency. The art is as gorgeous, perhaps even more gorgeous, than the original. But in many key scenes, Cooke deviates from typical sequential art and incorporates, instead, a variety of narrative techniques that ultimately distract from the book's action and basic plot. At points, Cooke's graphic novel stops being a graphic novel and becomes a magazine and a newspaper strip. While inventive, this mix of storytelling approaches gives the book a cluttered feel and makes it seem more like a celebration of early 1960s art than a taut, tough crime story. The OUTFIT is fun and, for the most part, enjoyable—a decent sequel, to be sure—but it is too unfocused to be called a masterpiece.

The story picks up where THE HUNTER leaves off. Parker, having taken $45,000 from the Outfit, knows that he has made a number of enemies inside this massive corporate-criminal enterprise. (The bosses of the Outfit are more like Gordon Gekko than they are like Tony Soprano.) To avoid reprisals from this organization, Parker decides to undergo plastic surgery and create a new identity for himself. The surgery is costly and Parker's lifestyle is expensive, and soon he needs more money. With a few old friends, he decides to rob an armored truck loaded with $50,000. Several double crosses take place shortly after the robbery, however, and one of the thieves ends up telling the Outfit about Parker's new face.

A cat-and-mouse game plays out between Parker and the Outfit, with both sides acting as hunter and hunted simultaneously. But, of course, Parker proves that he is the superior strategist. He contacts a number of fellow thugs and gunmen, and asks them to hit the Outfit where it hurts most: its many gambling operations. As he explains, because he and the Outfit are at war, any robberies that occur now will be blamed on him—not on his friends. In quick succession, a number of Outfit businesses are held up and its bottom line starts to suffer.

A large chunk of the graphic novel depicts these attacks on the syndicate, and it's at this point in the book that Cooke starts playing around with narrative conventions. The OUTFIT, like THE HUNTER, is faithfully adapted from the work of novelist Richard Stark. As if to prove this adaption is indeed faithful, Cooke reprints verbatim a full chapter from Stark's novel of the same name and presents it as if it were an article in a pulpy, true-crime magazine. This inclusion of the source material gives a sense of what Stark's original Parker stories are like to readers unfamiliar with this noir series. And it would have been highly effective if Cooke had used this one scene as the only stylistic interruption to the graphic novel.

But after depicting this robbery, Cooke decides to continue the faithful adaptation and depict several more anonymous rip-offs that appear in Stark's novel. He returns to sequential art to illustrate these heists, but each one is done in a different pop art style from the early 1960s. One looks like a slightly demented version of a Hanna Barbera cartoon; another looks like an classic comic strip from a newspaper; a third looks like a series of illustrations from an old how-to guide. On their own, they are fabulously retro and emulate the flat, simple line drawings that dominated cartoons and comics of that era. But they are much too whimsical and cute for this particular story, and they provide a jarring contrast to the violence and sexuality depicted in the rest of the graphic novel. It's wonderful to get a history lesson on graphic design, but art history doesn't belong in a crime book—especially when it undermines the book's tone and focus.

What's more, these robberies aren't very interesting. They all show highly disciplined thieves, carrying out perfectly planned and precisely timed robberies. Nothing goes wrong. The criminals always succeed. And Parker is not involved in any of the thefts. In other words, there is a tremendous lack of suspense in the middle of the graphic novel that kills the fast pace established in the violent, opening scenes. Instead of using unconventional page designs and flashy illustrations to embellish these casino robberies, Cooke should have skipped them entirely and focused on other aspects of Stark's novel. I would have preferred greater attention placed on the many uneasy relationships that Parker has with his twisted friends and equally twisted lovers. Not only would it have made the book more entertaining, but it would have also helped maintain the book's dark vision.

To criticize a comic for failing to be a masterpiece might seem incredibly unfair. And probably it is. But Cooke has demonstrated with THE HUNTER that he is probably the most gifted creator working in comics right now, a guy who can write and illustrate with equal skill. So it's frustrating to see Cooke put out a sequel that would have matched the genius of his original, had he restrained his imagination and concentrated on telling a solid page-turner. THE OUTFIT is good. It might even be the best graphic novel of the year so far.

Too bad it isn't as brilliant as THE HUNTER.

Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit

Review by: Eli Katz

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