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: Parker Series
(Click to go to the release post)Writer(s)
: Darwyn Cooke
(Click to see other books from this writer released on this site)Review source
: Andrew Wheeler
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) " The Hunter is an impeccable retelling of a great noir novel... "Review
: Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter
Richard Stark’s Parker novels come out of a particular period in literary history: the heyday of the disposable paperback for men.Paperbacks had appeared in their modern form just before WWII, and servicemen got used to carrying small paper bound books in whatever pockets they could jama book into. The boom continued through the postwar years, with a flood of short thrillers, detective stories, and soft-core porn – all to stave off boredom for a man waiting for dinner time on a business trip in some hick town,or hanging out at the PX on his army base, or riding the street car home atnight.More info
The Hunter was published in 1962, at the height of that boom – a good decade before the ‘70staught publishers that women were even more dependable consumers of paperbacks,and the long shift to romances and their ilk began. At first glance, Stark’s hero is right out of the mold of the great hard-boiled Mikes (Hammer & Shayne) – tough, violent, single-minded, implacable. But Parker was less emotional than the usual hard-boiled hero – cold where they were hot, calculating where they were impetuous. Parker could kill when he had to – and he did it quite a bit – but he never killed for fun, or just because he could. As the Parker novels went on he avoided killing as much as he could, simply because deaths attract more attention than he wanted.
Hard-boiled heroes came from both sides of the law – Mike Shayne and Mike Hammer were detectives, but there were plenty of law-breakers before Parker, from writers like David Goodis and Jim Thompson. They usually weren’t series characters, though: Parker’s amoralism went beyond his own actions to his world, and his stories told how a master criminal could get away with it – if he was smart and tough enough.
The Hunter started off with Parker in a bad situation, and showed him working, step by careful violent step, to get back his equilibrium and go back to his previous life after a double-cross left him near death, penniless, and on the wrong side of the continent. It’s never that simple to go back, though – even for someone as willing to do whatever it takes as Parker is – and his actions in this book reverberated for several novels afterward.
And so the Parker novels went on for a decade after The Hunter, with one or more a year, and even spawned a shorter spin-off series about Alan Grofield, an actor/criminal associate of Parker’s. But then they stopped with 1974’s <span style="font-style: italic;">Butcher’s Moon and the Richard Stark name wasn’t seen in bookstores for a quarter-century. (Of course, Stark was openly known by then as a pseudonym for Donald E. Westlake, whose career – occasionally with work as gritty as Stark’s, such as his Oscar-nominated screenplay for </span><em>The Grifters and the great black comedy </span><em>The Ax, but usually in a lighter vein, as with his novels about the unfortunate criminal Dortmunder – was continuing strongly throughout that time.)
Stark and Parker came back about a decade ago, after twenty-three years away, with 1997’s Comeback, and Parker hadn’t lost a step – or gained an ounce of compassion. (And that’s just as it should be.) Seven more novels followed before Westlake’s unexpected death last New Year’s Eve ended the Parker series forever.
But even the modern Parker novels take place in a world more like the ‘60s than the Internet Age – Parker doesn’t use cellphones, and he’s still mostly stealing payroll from armored cars or knocking over banks. His world isn’t frozen, precisely, but it is anchored in the ‘50s and early ‘60s – when men always wore suits and women always wore dresses, and both knew exactly how they should and shouldn’t act. Westlake set his new novels in depressed old industrial towns off the backroads of the northeast, places that would feel left behind, to keep Parker from being an anachronism, and it generally worked – the new novels were as tough, as smart, and as successful as the previous string, though the new books had a much stronger through-line, with one novel usually leading right into the next without a break.
Now we do have something like a new Parker book, since Darwyn Cooke has adapted that first Parker novel into graphic form, turning two hundred pages of novel into a hundred and forty pages of comics. (Well, isn’t a picture worth a thousand words? Then, at an average of four panels to the page, Cooke clearly blows past the novel’s eighty-thousand-or-so words.) And his instinct was to keep The Hunter in its period, to explicitly make it a historical story set in 1962, and that was exactly the right instinct, since it’s a story of its time, full of people with the sensibilities of the era and the criminal organizations to match.
It was the right decision, because doing it otherwise would have caused more problems, and entailed large changes to the story…but it does give The Hunter a faintly quaint air. 1962 was a long time ago, and the way people lived and thought then is getting to be foreign to us now – and that works against the toughness and casual violence of Parker. We see this story through the lens of time, and know that this world has been gone for a long time – longer, even, than many of its readers have been alive.
Cooke’s style is distancing as well, all blue washes and borderless panels – it looks like something from 1962, the storyboards for a TV show that Texaco refused to back or sketches for an ad campaign that never came off. Giving this story pictures dates it much more strongly than leaving it purely in words. It’s a very appropriate style for the story, and it seamlessly brings back the world of 1962 in all of its details…but that’s the unfortunate problem. Parker should never feel quaint, should never look like the last remnant of a previous age – but he does, here.
Don’t get me wrong: Cooke’s The Hunter is an impeccable retelling of a great noir novel, and Cooke handles the violence very well, while still avoiding seventy years of comic-book “fight scene” clichés. He does everything right, but the end product is inevitably distance and dated, like a museum piece rather than something vital and new. I don’t know if The Hunter could have been adapted in a way that wouldn’t leave it feeling like a flashy classic car – wonderful and dangerous in its day, but unthreatening now – so this could be a pitfall that never could have been avoided. And The Hunter does read like a great noir graphic novel from 1962, if such a thing could have been created at the time. It just doesn’t feel like something new in 2009.
Darwyn Cooke writer, artist, pencilerPublisher
Richard Stark // Donald E. Westlake writer
Scott Dunbier editor
Published by IDW Publishing, 2009.