#206 - Point Blank
There’s a difference between being able to draw and being able to weave a narrative out of images. Pick up any cape comic and often you’ll find that the visuals are unable to carry the story on its own, serving merely as talking heads for a wall of speech bubbles, using boring angles from which to portray the action. Or it’s so heavily photoreferenced that all sense of movement and intensity of facial expressions are non-existent. Pretty pictures but visually unstimulating.
Comics are so much more than placing dialogue bubbles with words. The images shouldn’t only be a vehicle for the dialogue but also be able to tell a story on its own, and Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke is a good example of that. Maybe I’m cheating comparing a graphic novel with some cape stuff but Cooke’s DC stuff is worth checking out as well - together with Brubaker he probably made the best Catwoman we’ve had in recent years (also people like JH Williams III and Jim Steranko proved that experimentation isn’t only limited to graphic novels!)
A bit of background: Darwyn Cooke is a comic book writer and artist, having worked on The Spirit, Catwoman and DC: The New Frontier (which is what the animated movie Justice League: A New Frontier is based on). He adapted The Hunter, a novel in the Parker series written by Richard Stark. Hence the confusing name.
Anyway, observe how Cooke sets the milieu and characterizes Parker with very little words:
It takes 20 pages for us to finally see the face of our main character. Cooke intentionally chose angles that would hide Parker’s identity yet still remain interesting. We follow Parker around as he walks around 60s-era New York - I’ve left out a lot of pages but you can guess the time period from the cars and fashion. He cuts a frightening picture as he stomps down the avenue, head lowered and arms stiffly protruding on each side.
When we are finally treated to his identity we see a man with a deep scowl, with dark rings around his eyes and his mouth set firmly in a menacing snarl, looking both angrily at himself and at the viewer.
Parker is clearly a man on a mission: he’s a crook that wants his money back and enact revenge on the people who betrayed him. One of these people is his wife, whom he visits one night after downing a bottle of vodka:
This is the first interaction we see between Parker and another, identified character, and it sets the tone for future dialogue that takes place. The violence against this woman isn’t glorified as it is in Sanctuary, and throughout the story it’s clear that we’re not supposed to sympathize or cheer Parker on - he is a troubled man, consumed by revenge, attempting to solve everything with violence, angry that he still has feelings for his wife.
I don’t want to give too much of the story away so let me move on: Cooke’s storytelling and his art go hand-in-hand, as sequential art is supposed to be, and he understands the potential of comics really well: the timing between panels, the tension and implied action in the white space between frames, fluctuating effortlessly between deliberate stillness and explosive action. Cooke’s drawing style also fits perfectly with the aesthetics of the time, and it’s evident that he is heavily inspired by it.
It feels like I didn’t have a lot to say but really, Cooke’s knowledge of comics speaks for itself. He’s a true artist, and The Hunter is a perfect marriage of beautiful, compelling imagery with gripping storytelling.
Hunter (December 1962): “When a fresh-faced guy in a Chevy offered him a lift, Parker told him to go to hell.”
The Man With the Getaway Face (March 1963): “When the bandages came off, Parker looked in the mirror at a stranger.”
The Outfit (September 1963): “When the woman screamed, Parker awoke and rolled off the bed.”
The Mourner (December 1963): “When the guy with the asthma finally came in from the fire escape, Parker rabbit-punched him and took his gun away.”
The Score (July 1964): “When the bellboy left, Parker went over to the house phone and made his call.”
The Jugger (July 1965): “When the knock came at the door, Parker was just turning to the obituary page.”
The Handle (February 1966): “When the engine stopped, Parker came up on deck for a look around.”
The Seventh (March 1966): “When he didn’t get any answer the second time he knocked, Parker kicked the door in.”
The Rare Coin Score (1967): “Parker spent two weeks on the white sand beach at Biloxi, and on a white sandy bitch named Belle, but he was restless, and one day without thinking about it he checked out and sent a forwarding address to Handy McKay and moved on to New Orleans.”
The Green Eagle Score (1967): “Parker looked in at the beach and there was a guy in a black suit standing there, surrounded by all the bodies in bathing suits.”
The Black Ice Score (1968): “Parker walked into his hotel room, and there was a guy in there going through his suitcase laid out on his bed.”
The Sour Lemon Score (1969): “Parker put the revolver away and looked out the windshield.”
Deadly Edge (1971): “Up here, the music was just a throbbing under the feet, a distant pulse.”
Slayground (1971): “Parker jumped out of the Ford with a gun in one hand and the packet of explosive in the other.”
Plunder Squad (1972): “Hearing the click behind him, Parker threw his glass straight back over his right shoulder, and dove off his chair to the left.”
Butcher’s Moon (1974): “Running toward the light, Parker fired twice over his left shoulder, not caring whether he hit anything or not.”
Comeback (1997): “When the angel opened the door, Parker stepped first past the threshold into the darkness of the cinder block corridor beneath the stage.”
Backflash (1998): “When the car stopped rolling, Parker kicked out the rest of the windshield and crawled through onto the wrinkled hood, Glock first.”
Flashfire (2000): “When the dashboard clock read 2:40, Parker drove out of the drugstore parking lot and across the sunlit road to the convenience store/gas station.”
Firebreak (2001): “When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.”
Breakout (2002) : “When the alarm went off, Parker and Armiston were far to the rear of the warehouse, Armiston with the clipboard, checking off the boxes they’d want.”
Nobody Runs Forever (2004): “When he saw that the one called Harbin was wearing a wire, Parker said, ‘Deal me out a hand,’ and got to his feet.”
Ask the Parrot (2006): “When the helicopter swept northward and lifted out of sight over the top of the hill, Parker stepped away from the tree he’d waited beside and continued his climb.”
Dirty Money (2008): “When the silver Toyota Avalon bumped down the dirt road out of the woods and across the railroad tracks, Parker put the Infiniti into low and stepped out onto the gravel.
Richard’s Stark’s Parker by Darwyn Cooke
Richard Stark’s Parker by Darwyn Cooke. In case anyone needs a good FB/Twitter avatar.
Jersey City 1964, excerpts from Richard Stark’s Parker: The Score, adapted by Darwyn Cooke
Richard Stark’s Parker: Slayground cover by Darwyn Cooke. Coming in December.