GRAPHIC NOVEL: Richard Stark’s The Hunter is Vicious, Violent and Hard!

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When Donald E. Westlake created the criminal force of nature he called Parker, he chose to publish it under a pseudonym that was singularly appropriate, Richard Stark. If there’s a single work that could describe Parker, it would be Stark. Richard Stark’s The Hunter is the first book in the series that Westlake wrote, and, until now, he had never allowed an adaptation to use the Parker name. That tells you how highly he regarded the work of Darwyn Cooke on this first adaptation [Cooke hopes to adapt all of the Parker novels to the graphic novel form].

The Hunter introduces Parker in a splash page where the character, seen from behind, tells a guy who has just offered him a ride, to “go to hell.” Other than the driver’s “screw you,” It’s another eleven pages before there’s another word and two more after that before we see Parker’s face. In the space of that thirteen pages, however, we watch Parker preparing to do… something. Something involving false identification. Just through layout, Cooke tells us that Parker is not a nice man and he’s up to something less than civilized.

Once Parker begins narrating, we learn that he’s a career criminal who specializes in a certain type of heist and that his last job went sour so he’s now seeking vengeance – not to mention his share of the score. The story that follows is as hard, violent and nasty as the original novel.

Cooke, who is probably best known for his series of original tales of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, and his original take on the Justice League of America in the graphic novel, The New Frontier, is exactly the right guy to take on the task of adapting The Hunter into the graphic novel format.

His art is hard-edged and lean; he writes precisely what he needs to make his point, and he captures Parker’s deadpan hard man in much the same way Westlake did – by letting him be himself [something that Lee Marvin and Mel Gibson were only able to approximate on film]. Parker is single-minded to a fault. Once he makes up his mind to do something, every single thing he does is in service to that goal.

Unlike those who adapted the character for film, Cooke understands who and what Parker is – and he tells this story with the same kind of single-mindedness that makes Parker the intriguing character that he is. There are no frills here – only the details that move Parker along on his chosen path.

Richard Stark’s The Hunter wasn’t a great novel, but it was a good one – and a great ride. Darwyn Cooke’s Richard Stark’s The Hunter may actual be a great graphic novel. It’s certainly the best adaptation of Parker to any other medium.

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