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Review: _Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter_, adapted by Darwyn Cooke
Bar Harbor
Well-told, extremely dark crime story.

I've been hearing for a long time how great a writer Donald Westlake was (Richard Stark is a pseudonym). I've only read a few of his things myself, but I enjoyed them and had a vague notion of seeking out more of his work. I could say almost exactly the same about the comics writer/artist Darwyn Cooke. So when I heard that Cooke was doing a graphic novel adaptation of a well-known Westlake book, it seemed like a good opportunity to see more of each of their work.

Having not read the original, I can't speak to the qualities of adaptation. But in itself this is a damn fine graphic novel. Cooke alternates between dialogue, wordless action sequences, and illustrated chunks of text, keeping a good pace variance throughout. Cooke's distinctive drawing style is rooted in the late 50s / early 60s; since the novel was written (and set in) 1962, style and setting are a good match.

It begins with a long sequence which is mostly from Parker's PoV, and has very sparse dialogue. We see his actions, and how people react to him, but we don't see his face until page 20. But by that time, we *know* who he is. He's big and handsome, but too scary to stay attractive for long. He's a highly-skilled criminal. He's down on his luck -- but he won't stay that way long, and it'll be bad news for anyone who gets in his way.

In the last review I wrote, I mentioned how you can have an unsympathetic protagonist, and still have a good story. Case in point. Parker is decidedly *not* a nice guy. He's criminal, violent, abusive, callous, and a mass murderer. Yet he manages to maintain audience sympathy by a few key qualities:
1) He's out for revenge against people who legitimately wronged him.
2) He's supremely competent at what he does.
3) He (eventually) goes up against enemies who are sufficiently dangerous that he becomes an underdog, even with his hyper-competence.

This is a dark and violent book. It's printed in black and blue, and drawn in a stylized manner, so you don't see much blood of any color. But you see a lot of terrified faces, and more than a few dead ones. The violence isn't as over-the-top as, say, Sin City, but it is all the more effective for its plausibility. If you can't handle this degree of violence in your fiction, steer clear.

This book is not just violent, it's morally bleak as well. In one particularly disturbing incident, Parker accidentally kills an innocent bystander. He feels bad about it, not because he has any empathy, but because accidents reflect poorly on his competence. Of course, she was only innocent by presumption. The world Parker moves in doesn't seem to contain any actual innocence. Every character we meet is corrupt in one way or another. To some extent, this counterbalances the violence; many of the victims 'deserve' what they get. As one character remarks about a colleague's death: "He was no great loss to humanity."

This novel did well enough in prose to spawn several sequels (though I should emphasize that is quite complete in itself). The graphic novel may do likewise; there's a teaser in the back suggesting another Parker GN adaptation will arrive next year. I'll be there.
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