At the Top of His Game

In 2009, Darwyn Cooke released THE HUNTER, the first of a planned series of graphic-novel adaptations of Richard Stark’s acclaimed series of “Parker” crime novels. It won a whole mess of awards, made the New York Times bestseller list, and was widely considered one of the best books of the year.

Cooke’s second Parker project, THE OUTFIT, was released the following year.

It’s even better.


THE OUTFIT deals with the repercussions of PARKER’s actions in THE HUNTER, as the mob has put a hit on him following his outwitting of them in a previous encounter. After an attempt on his life, Parker decides to convince the mob to leave them alone by hitting them in the only place they’ll pay attention: their wallet.

THE OUTFIT is Darwyn Cooke at the peak of his abilities, bringing his trademark style to the noirish, early ’60s-themed feel of the main narrative, but also branching out into extremely different and varied art styles for the middle chapters of the book, which reveal the details about the various ways the Outfit makes its money, and the heists that Parker and his friends undertake to procure said money.

There’s this faux magazine article, from a true-crime tabloid:


This light pen-and-ink sketch style to detail how the numbers game operates:


And my personal favorite, this UPA-influenced animation style that explains how the Outfit’s money laundering works:


All this visual and storytelling innovation aside, the heart of THE OUTFIT remains Cooke’s understanding of and affinity for Parker, the series’ protagonist, an all-business criminal and thief who has no desire to inflict violence for its own sake, but certainly will not shy away from it if needed to complete the job.

Also easily overlooked in the shadow of Cooke’s gorgeous art is his growing ability as a writer. Adapting such famous and beloved novels to comics is a tricky proposition. Cooke seems to know just what to cut, and more important, what not to cut from Stark’s prose in order to streamline the books down to the necessary length required for the comics form. And even when Cooke makes changes to the plot itself, as he does here with a significant detail in the book’s climax, it’s done with an eye toward the essential truth of the character, and having read both the original and Cooke’s version, I have to admit that Cooke’s altered version rings truer.

THE OUTFIT is an exceptionally entertaining thriller, told by an artist at the top of his game. Highly recommended.

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