by Darwyn Cooke (Writer/Artist) from a novel by Richard Stark.
They may be few and far between, but it is always a pleasure to see a new volume of Parker being released by IDW. With Darwyn Cooke faithfully adapting Donald Westlake’s stories as graphic novels, these books have always shown a certain classy, yet ugly way to look at crimes and how they are prepared. With The Hunter, The Score and The Outfit all being really good, there was no doubt that we’d get something of quality. However, is it comparable in quality to the previous books, or does it actually dips a bit in quality this time around?
Fortunately for the fans, this one is as solid as the other books done by Cooke, albeit it is a bit different than the previous ones. While each of them had of course their own twists and their unique tale, this one deviates quite a bit from the norm with its premise. While the other books usually dealt with a particular caper being planned with its share of problems along the way in the execution or with the crew Parker has to deal with, this one instead starts right when said caped is all said and done.
Dealing with the aftermath of a score and an escape that turned sour, the book mostly revolves around the titular protagonist, with no one really working with him or sharing the spotlight. The premise being simple enough, Parker flees into an amusement park and then sees that he is trapped there. Needing to get away with the loot and in good condition, the criminal proceeds to prepare for every eventuality as he booby-traps the whole place in order to defend himself from those that would come in there and take him dead or alive.
With this relatively simple setup, Darwyn Cooke manage to make the most of it, as the adaptation of this story is full of twists and turns, pushing with a lot of actions and narration, as close to everything that happens here is entertaining enough. The plans Parker run down are as interesting as the way it unravels, with a good element of the unknown pushing for a certain anticipation with each pages.
Where it excels is in its pacing, as the first half of the book creates a rather impressive amount of tension, as the way Parker sees his situation manage to build up a lot of expectations for the second half. From his plans, his preparations and how he perceive just how dangerous this is, this put a good sense of context for the character that makes it exciting to see how everything could turn sour.
The second half, of course, is shock full of twists as the way Parker not only needs to improvise, but also scrape through many ordeals makes for a rather action-packed story that also acts as a thriller. Despite some of the more violent scenes, there’s always a certain suspense going on about just what Parker will need to do in order to survive this and how it could get worse.
Still, while the story is rather excellent, it’s how Darwyn Cooke choose to present this little story that makes it incredibly worthwhile, with his illustrations being relatively simple, yet incredibly effective nonetheless. His compositions, while relatively simple, are perhaps the best way to represent what a graphic novel is, as he is able to push forth plenty of pages where he aptly combine texts and images in ways that complement each other without meshing together, creating the effect of a novel. Adding this to double-page spreads that use the same technique combined with a good load of pages with nothing but panels and no text, Cooke is able to push for the right atmosphere on each pages, making the book look solid in a lot of ways.
One of these ways is in the panel-to-panel flow, as in many pages, Cook is able to simulate motion and progression of events in a way that feel not only natural, but also gorgeous. There are quite a high number of times where the artist puts a succession of panels with the same backgrounds, only changing some details like the characters position or emotion, creating a great sensation of progression that push the littlest details in order to enhance them.
This also works with the scenery and the backgrounds, which are especially nice to look at. There is a certain mix between pages with a good economy of space and others that are full of elements and smaller details, yet there is always a good balance between too few elements and too much, making each pages look rather calculated in order not to be inconsistent or chaotic. Switching from concentrating on very precise elements like a light-switch or a radio to whole pages dedicated to the scenery of the park, there is never anything seemingly redundant in the whole book, with Cooke playing with different angles and different ways to interpret elements previously established.
Some bonus points are also to be awarded to Cooke for the foldout map of the amusement park included in the book. Not only does it feature a rather realistic depiction of the whole area Parker is in, it also contributes very well with the story flow and to the narrative as well, which makes this bonus something really worthwhile and not just an amusing anecdote.
Something else that could be disregarded, yet is rather beautiful to see is the colorization. While the color work in each Parker book is absurdly simple, consisting usually of black, white and another color specific to the book, this one use its own color very well. With light blue being the color of choice this time around, Cooke present the cold temperature of his story rather well, as the whole thing happens during winter time, but he also uses it in order to bring a certain diversity and a point of focus to other elements of importance. It can sometimes looks a bit like a flight of fancy, yet the way he is able to put details in the sky, in the water and on some elements like mirrors in his story, Cooke use this unique color in smart way, showing once more that simplicity can be a choice of aesthetics that work.
The Conclusion: Fans of the series as well as those unfamiliar with the adventures of the rather intelligent rogue that is Parker shall find quite a lot to love in this iteration. How it ranks against the other volumes is subjective to the readers, but there’s no doubt that is a very well-crafted book with terrific pacing and absolutely gorgeous art. Heavily recommended.
-Hugo Robberts Larivière