March 24, 2011

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Richard Stark's Parker Book Two The Outfit

Written by Richard Stark
Adapted by Darywn Cooke
IDW

Parker is back on the town, and he's looking to get back on top of his game. He's got a new face but old friends, and soon, old scores to settle. The Outfit still holds a grudge, but they're about to learn that you just don't mess with Parker. He's got a better squeeze play than the Mets, but he's up against the 27 Yankees. Can this irresistible force break down the immovable object? The only thing we know for sure is that the results are likely to be quick, bloody, and violent.

After reading this adaptation, I'm hooked on the Parker series, to the point that I am going to seek out some of the originals. This story is perfectly plotted from beginning to end, as long as you accept the fact that Parker, not unlike Batman, just won't lose, no matter how badly the deck is stacked against him. (Since I am a fan of Batman, this is not a problem for me.) Though he's not always the focus of this story, Parker looms large on every page, completely taking the Outfit apart by hitting them where it hurts--in their soft underbelly.

I absolutely love the strategy Parker uses here. He's got limited friends, but they're smart as hell, and itching to take a piece out of an overconfident operation. This would be awesome enough to read as a text piece, but Cooke pulls out all the stops, even going so far as to ape several different 1950s/1960s illustration styles to vary the way each Parker-inspired heist looks for the reader. If you're any fan of older comics, you're in for a visual treat here, trying to decipher which styles Cooke apes in the second half of the book.

This is on top of the usual visual quality of Cooke's adaptations. As with the Hunter, Cooke varies his pages, using full adaptations in some places and basically illustrating the novel in others. It's a choice that I think works well here, because sometimes the book would get too unwieldy if Cooke opted to illustrate everything. Similarly, while still cool, an illustrated novel just wouldn't capture the magic or allow Cooke to do things like the illustrative homages, because he'd be cramped by the need to have text on every page.

I could keep going on about the way this book looks (it's easily one of the best designed works I've read, perhaps even better than the first adaptation), but I don't want to ruin too much for those who haven't read the book yet. (And please be aware that if you haven't read this yet, don't let the violence stop you--it's worth a few appalling scenes to wallow in the quality of the story and the art.) Suffice it to say that Cooke is a true student of Eisner, Ditko, and Miller, using shadow and spacing as a character to set the mood. Whether it's off-kilter camera angles or terror-filled close ups, Cooke has just the right visual for each beat in the story.

Those who read my first Parker review know that I was a bit uncomfortable with Parker as a character. He's our protagonist, and he's unlikable, without any shred of dignity or nobility. (You can even root for Dr. Doom now and again, after all.) Maybe I'm just getting used to him, or maybe it's just that Stark writes just about the perfect story here, because this time around, my issues were minimal. I know at least some of that is the violence towards women is toned down a bit here, which is a good thing. So is the random harming of people who don't deserve it. Parker is still a gigantic (fill in your favorite curse word here), but the people he's harming are people who wronged him first, or who have a hand in harming others. He's a ruthless Robin Hood here, only his band of Merry Men aren't planning on sharing with the poor.

Put simply, Parker Book Two is even better than Book One, and that's saying something. If you liked the first one even a little bit, get this book as soon as you can. If you were turned off by the character, try again. I think you'll be hooked. And if you haven't read any of Cooke's Parker books...what the heck are you waiting for? Dive in as quickly as possible, and see why just about everyone is singing the praises of these adaptations. I'm betting that in no time at all, you'll be joining the chorus.