Comic Review: Richard Stark’s Parker: Book One–The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke

Darwyn Cooke's The Hunter

[Note: This review was originally posted at my other site. Its target audience is readers of the books upon which this graphic novel was based. However, since this may well turn out to be the graphic novel of the year, I thought perhaps the music and pop culture fans who drop by this site might also be interested in my fanboy take.]

This writeup is later than intended, so by now you have likely read numerous reviews from comic book people, crime fiction fans, and Parker readers. If you’ve been reading the same reviews I have, they all say the same thing–Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of The Hunter is fantastic.

The reviews are right.

Darwyn Cooke’s The Hunter (The Hunter from here on out) is to Parker readers what The Dark Night is to Batman fans. It’s the adaptation that gets it, the adaptation that takes everything you knew about something you loved in one medium and proves that it can be done in another.

Such an achievement takes time, far beyond the time for the adapter to give the source material however many reads it takes and make his creative choices. To be done right, certain works, especially series works, generally need to percolate through our popular culture for awhile in order for the works’ admirers to be able to say, “This is what it means to us.” It is tapping into that general consensus, far beyond the original version in whatever medium, that makes a truly great adaptation of something that has become much bigger than originally intended.

This is why the Lord of the Rings films were a huge success. Peter Jackson understood what the lovers of the books had in their heads and was able to translate that to film.

Like Peter Jackson, Darwin Cooke gets it. He captures the spirit, traps it in a book, and sells it at your local comic book store.

huntersketch

In The Hunter, Darwyn Cooke stays extraordinarily close to the text of the original novel. That, in part, helps capture the spirit.

Mr. Cooke also, through visual choices and shrewd editing, makes The Hunter even more efficient than the legendarily-efficient original. There is barely a wasted word or frame in the entire 140 pages. That, also, is part of capturing the spirit*.

These things alone would not have been enough to make the comic more than an interesting novelty. Also needed was illustration to match the images in our heads, pacing to match the accelerated-decelerated rhythm of the original, and writing to match the prose of the Master. All are achieved, and one more piece of the spirit is captured.

But it’s finally getting the character right that makes The Hunter a masterful adaptation. Mel Gibson was not Parker. Robert Duvall was not Parker. Even Lee Marvin was not Parker. This is Parker.

A bravura performance, and one that we can hope will expand the audience for the Velvet Underground of crime protagonists**.

Yes, fellow Parker readers, you need this.

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*Also, occasionally to its detriment. If you haven’t read the novel, you will likely have no idea how it is that Lynn ends up naked with Mal prior to her plugging of Parker.

I guess I’ll use this minor criticism to bring up my other two criticisms. First, Parker looks too conventionally handsome, a complaint I’ve read in other reviews and in e-mails and comments here. That’s a matter of interpretation, so I’ll let it slide while noting that the plastic surgery in the next volume presents an opportunity to correct this.

The lax copyediting, on the other hand, is not excusable in a major book that’s been hyped for a year. I hope they fix the errors in the second printing, and are more careful with the next volume.

**I’ll update this when I find the exact quote, but it’s a reference to someone saying that the Velvet Underground may not have sold a whole lot of records, but nearly everyone who bought one founded a band. The influence of Stark and Parker goes far beyond sales figures.

Update: You can see the first twenty pages or so here.

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