Parker Book 2: The Outfit. Perfection. Cold, violent, perfection.
Graphic novel adaptation by Darwyn Cooke, based on the novels of Donald Westlake/ Richard Stark.
Total, absolute, pure, wonderful noir escapism – this second Parker graphic novel from Darwyn Cooke builds on everything he did in the first volume (The Hunter – reviewed here), where he grabbed the very essence of Richard Stark’s Parker stories – squeezed every last bit of brutal, action packed, very cool stylish noir and faithfully adapted it into comics.
This Parker series of graphic novels is well on it’s way to being considered amongst the finest hard boiled crime comics ever committed to the page.
The Hunter saw Parker; a smart but uncompromisingly vicious career criminal return following a violent betrayal by his partners in a heist. They’d left him for dead and over the course of the book he tracks them down to exact cold, brutal and murderous revenge.
When the mob / The Outfit protects one of them, Parker finds himself at odds with this very moneyed and very organised bit of organised crime in Parker’s world of the 50s.
And that’s about where we begin in The Outfit. After the events of The Hunter Parker figured he’d managed to broker some kind of truce with the Outfit. But, even after buying himself a completely new face, Parker finds himself on the receiving end of an attempted Outfit hit. And it’s then he decides that if the Outfit wont going to leave him alone, then maybe it’s time to take the play to The Outfit itself.
(Parker’s new face unveiled – so simple, yet so utterly beautiful – I found myself entranced by simple things such as the perfection of that extending mirror – absolute wonder – from Parker: The Outfit by Darwyn Cooke, published by IDW)
Once Parker decides to take on The Outfit we’re treated to a perfect crime caper tale. Parker’s audacity knows no bounds, he decides the best way to truly hit back at the Outfit and ensure his continued safety is to destabilise the whole operation by calling in favours from fellow independents and asking them to hit Outfit operations in one, hugely damaging, highly focused crime wave.
He’s the perfect organiser, coordinating multiple attacks on the Outfit, hitting them hard and fast, and hitting them deep, turning the tables on the boss of the Outfit who wants him dead, all the time manoeuvring and manipulating events to ensure his safety, negotiating with the man who’ll assume the reins of power once Parker takes out the current boss. Parker’s cold, calculated, obsessive cunning is breathtaking to watch unfold.
(Cold, calculating, brutal Parker. Although Cooke, like Stark lets us think of him as cool and breathtakingly good at what he does, they never let us forget he’s just another cruel killer, who’ll do most anything to save his own skin. From Parker: The Outfit by Darwyn Cooke, published by IDW.)
It’s a classic noir crime thriller. And Cooke does everything exactly right in it. Cooke never allows his portrayal of Parker to become heroic. You might admire Parker’s efficiency and his sheer chutpah but there’s no chance to forget just how cold, how calculating, how dangerous a killer we’re dealing with. Parker is a man who looks after noone but himself and lets nothing and noone stand in his way. Taking every last bit of brilliance in Stark’s words and playing them out over the course of possibly the best graphic novel you’ll see this year.
Personally I enjoyed it more than The Hunter, but that’s possibly because it does what I really love in crime caper movies – the middle act extended setup sequence. That part of a novel/comic/film where the setup becomes hugely important, and is minutely detailed for the viewer/reader. Often montaged, always beloved. In The Outfit there’s a beautifully done extended sequence where Cooke recounts for us a selection of the jobs Parker’s associates are pulling on The Outfit. If he’d have done these simply in the style of the rest of the book they’d have been lovely, but Cooke really pulls out all the stops with this one and each new heist is told in a new style – illustrated prose pulp magazine, gag digest 50s cartooning and more. It’s beautiful, and incredible to see Cooke having so much sheer fun doing these books.
(Just two examples of the many different styles Cooke uses so effectively in Parker: The Outfit.)
Cooke’s art, presented here in the same black, white and blue used so efficiently and effectively in The Hunter, is simply stunning. There are so many beautiful pages, so much invention in his art, that it’s quite breathtaking. It’s incredibly rare for me to be equally impressed by writing and art, since usually the execution of one far outweighs the other. But with Cooke’s Parker books it’s absolutely equal and each book demands multiple readings to fully absorb just how great a noir crime story he’s telling and just how great the accompanying artwork is.
The multiple stylistic switches could have come off as a silly bit of showboating in the hands of someone less accomplished, but here they, and so many other moments, just leap from the page, evidence of an artist at the height of his skill and having the time of his life. Cooke’s work previously may have been impressive, but with Parker, it seems he’s finally found the one thing he’s always hankered to do. And it shows on every wonderful page. The ultimate compliment is that Cooke’s beginning to approach Eisner in some of his page designs and his storytelling is simply perfection.
(A last, beautiful look at a page from Darwyn Cooke’s Parker; The Outfit, published by IDW)
Parker: The Outfit is almost bound to feature in a lot of best of 2010 lists – it’s definitely in the running for mine. Promise me you’ll ask Santa for this one.