Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke

My book review this time around is for The Hunter, which we’ll be discussing at the next meeting of Graphic Content, the library’s graphic novel discussion group. This means we’ve got several copies of the book sitting at the Circulation Desk, so come grab one if my review makes it sound interesting. Love it or hate it, we’d love to hear your opinion when we meet at 7:00 p.m. on June 12.

The Hunter opens with twenty nearly wordless pages in which the main character, Parker, walks into New York City dirty, worn, and broke. Through a quick succession of thefts and scams he gets food, cash, new clothes, a hotel room, and a bottle of vodka. With impressively minimal effort, Parker has secured everything he needs for his immediate comfort. At the same time, and in the same slick fashion, writer/artist Darwyn Cooke has shown us everything we need to know about the character: he’s cold, confident, highly skilled, and angry. It’s a pitch-perfect introduction and you can see the whole thing on the publisher’s website.

As the book progresses, we learn that Parker was a very successful thief until his wife and one of his partners double-crossed him and left him for dead. After some recuperation, Parker has come for his revenge. His goals and simple: he wants to kill his wife and his partner and get his money back. Unfortunately, the partner has become involved with a national crime syndicate and Parker soon finds himself waging a one-man war against overwhelming odds.

Before I go any further, I feel the need to spend a little time unpacking the history of this book, since the plot is bound to sound familiar to a lot of readers. The original novel was written in 1962 by Richard Stark, a pseudonym of prolific and much-celebrated mystery author Donald Westlake. Westlake followed The Hunter with 23 more Parker novels. It’s been adapted into three movies: Point Blank (1967), Full Contact (1993), and Payback (1999).

It’s easy to see why this novel and character have been so popular. Parker is much too cold and calculating to be sympathetic, but there’s something very compelling about his ruthless and efficient pursuit of what his personal code defines as justice. His appeal is like that of a shark; however abhorrent his goals and methods may be, it’s hard not to respect his effortless competency. Parker may not have as much fun as Danny Ocean, but, like Ocean’s Eleven, The Hunter exploits the joy we find in watching a bad guy stick it to a bigger bad guy.

Clearly, Cooke can’t take any credit for the creation of Parker but he shows a very clear understanding of the character’s appeal and how to convey it to the reader. A lot of that comes from the art. Cooke’s known for throwback 60s Modernist style, so this project is right in his wheelhouse. The clothes, cars, and architecture are all straight out of a Mad Men episode. Cooke restricts himself to just two colors, black and gunmetal blue, which plays right into both the cold tone and retro feel of the book.

Cooke followed The Hunter with 2010’s The Outfit, which brought more of a fun caper-movie feel. A third book, The Score, is due out at the end of the month. If you’re crime and mystery reader who’s curious about comics and graphic novels, The Hunter’s a great place to start. Cooke’s art is really clear and easy to follow and the story doesn’t require you to know a bunch of obscure facts about some guy who runs around in long underwear and a mask.

~ Andrew, Adult Services

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