There’s a lot to be said for the genesis of a character. Some are conceived from a creative necessity, some owe their origins as homage to those that have come before, and others still are made entirely by accident. But Richard Stark’s Parker is far too singular to claim any such birthright: he was just born on a bridge.

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The way Stark tells the tale, he had always envisioned the idea of a primal sort of character, someone who was more a force of nature than a man of flesh and bone: the kind who could walk across the noisy upper-deck of the George Washington Bridge with an archaic sense of purpose and resolve; the kind of character with the proclivity to satisfy his ‘cool anger’ not with the raw burst of a pistol or a quiet edge of a blade but with the ostentatious capability of his hands. That character was born in 1962 but it should come as no surprise that a figure as potent as Parker doesn’t just disappear from the creative domain with the passage of time. Quite to the contrary, he thrives.

Thanks to a library of some two-dozen novels and cross-overs, and a score of popular film adaptations the multi-hyphenate Parker has percolated consistently for some 50-odd years through the landscape of the artistic medium. But true to this shadowy kind of cultural persistence, Parker has always remained on the fringes of popularity and never truly benefited from a proper adaptation in mainstream media. Until now that is, and you have Darwyn Cooke to thank for that elevation in status.

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The gifted animator, cartoonist, and comic auteur, has taken it upon himself to take Stark’s hard-boiled career criminal and deliver him to the masses and he does so in proper style. It’s fitting, in fact, that Cooke is just about as versatile an artist as Parker is a criminal; the former’s talents as a designer and illustrator lend themselves effortlessly to the murky and bombastic world that the latter navigates so deftly. Cooke’s first graphic novel adaptation of the Parker series appropriately tackles Stark’s own introduction of the anti-hero from his first novel, The Hunter.

The Hunter is among the more popular stories in Parker canon and it’s easy to see why. Adapted for film twice, the story serves not just acquaint us with the main character and his virtues and vices but to give us an unrestricted look into his ecosystem. Parker’s flippant attitude and discreet methodology relevantly juxtapose his loud and dirty world. It’s a world of big cars, skinny ties, and fine women but all that remains secondary to what lies at the heart of The Hunter; there are dark corners that litter the scenic panoramas and long shadows that set against the glittering sting of the neon lights. And that’s possibly the most appealing aspect of it all: at its core it’s a good old-fashioned crime story.

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Don’t be fooled though, The Hunter is no cliché and that’s true right from the first page. Readers are thrown into Parker’s journey in medias res as we find him making his way across the same bridge on which his creator first formed his image; his first words aptly set the tone of the tale as he mercurially tells a Good Samaritan to ‘Go to hell.’ The next eighteen pages feature only one with any dialogue but despite this, Cooke neither lets The Hunter miss a beat nor Parker lose his stride. If anything, this cold open serves as strong testament to Cooke’s prowess as a visual storyteller. His characteristic heavy lines and bold shadows lend solemnity to Parker’s urban odyssey as we watch him silently make his way through the hustling urban diorama that is New York. In the span of fewer than two-dozen pages Parker transforms himself from a bum on a bridge to a dapper gentleman in a tailored suit and just like that—with no over-explanations, no heavy-handed internal monologues or messy verbal clichés—we know everything we need to know about Parker. Perhaps all we’ll ever know: that he’s suave; he’s clever, that he’s capable, and categorical, but most of all, that he’s angry. In short: Parker’s no hero. Nevertheless, Cooke so masterfully captures Parker’s values and principles through the silent, spectral panels of his artwork and purposefully laconic dialogue that readers can’t help but root for him.

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Indeed one of the most striking qualities of The Hunter has to be its visual sensibility. The elegant combination of Cooke’s weighted lines, gaudy angles, and deliberately spartan palette all serve to propel the reader back to the era of the Swinging Sixties with full force; it’s an effective trip through time in both the visual and physical sense. The bold monochromatic stylization combined with sea-water green brushstrokes on tinted, weighted paper, harken back to the classic artwork and style of the era in which the story takes place. It’s the ultimate, palpable, throwback to an epoch of square-jaws and vivacious curves; of glitzy advertisements and sleazy gangsters.

It’s telling then that, novels aside, virtually no other adaptation of Parker has been a period piece; either locales have been modified, ages changed, or eras modernized. Darwyn Cooke seems to have been one of the few with enough artistic savvy to keep Parker firmly planted in time and space. An idea confidently reflected in the pithy dialogue—rife with period slang—that underscores the already gorgeous panel work and framing. Parker’s very much a product of his environment and Cooke knows enough to put that to good use.

On the whole, The Hunter is a graphic novel package that simply oozes with style and bravado. Darwyn Cooke’s presentation is visually and thematically striking. He’s taken the very best of a character that’s been sitting on the sidelines too long and brought him back into the spotlight—or is it back into the shadows? Maybe what’s elevated Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation above any that have preceded it is simply that he’s left the son-a-bitch to himself.

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Just the way Parker prefers.

Richard Stark’s Parker can be purchased at your Local Comic Shop, on Comixology, or from IDW.

Overall Score
95 %

Audacious and sublime, The Hunter is a prime example of an adaptation done right and it only underscores the creative talents of Stark and Cooke.

Story 95%
Writing 95%
Pencils and Inks 95%

About The Author

Kabir Chauhan is self-professed lover of video games, photography, fine films, and Oxford commas. When he isn't indulging in any of that, he enjoys the occasional comic book or two...or three as well as talking about himself in the third person.

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