If crime might be called a product of the human condition, then the crime story would invariably serve as its reflection.
This may very well explain why there has long been an incalculable fascination to be had with the perceived romanticism of thievery and law-breaking. So much so, in fact, that it has been ingrained into the very fabric of culture and for virtually as long as narrative has existed: from the antiquated myths of Prometheus to the folk songs of Jesse James to yellow-paged detective novels and elaborate heist films.
To understand the nature of criminality then—or more accurately, the nature of a criminal—is perhaps a means to solidify an understanding of morality and ourselves. If not, then at the very least, it proves to be an excellent sort of character study; to be able to abscond the everyday and assume a lifestyle free of the confines of the mundane or the simplified assumptions of right and wrong; to be—even momentarily—beyond the rules and thus a part of the extraordinary.
Given the blatant cultural love affair imagination and art seems to share with criminality, it should be small surprise then, to find that this attraction should extend to creative domain of comic books and graphic fiction. Yet despite the ubiquity with which crime stories permeate in comics irrespective of core genres, few—if any—characters can measure up to one of the most under appreciated and unflappable career-criminals to ever grace the page: Parker. And few stories—let alone sequels—stand as strong as The Outfit.
The second in a superb series of graphic novels dedicated to Richard Stark’s complex, laconic, and wintry creation, The Outfit serves as a rare direct-sequel story that brings a second helping of pulp and noir to the table as readers will once again find themselves reunited with the smooth-and-suave Parker as he outwits, hustles, and two-times, his treacherous way across the coastal seascapes and chiseled blacktop roadways of 1960s America.
While it may sound as though writer-artist Darwyn Cooke has brought more of the same to his second go at tackling Stark’s ideologically-confounding anti-hero, readers will be pleasantly surprised to find that Parker has received a bit of a facelift since faithful readers last saw his shadowy glower inked across a panel.
Figurative and literally.
The Outfit greets readers–in sultry Miami, circa 1963—a year and some change following the events of The Hunter—and while the things seem to have changed for Parker, they’ve also interestingly remained the same. Which is perhaps the most captivating, compelling concept related to allure that Parker offers: he’s very much a static character; an individual caught up in the havoc and swirl of his chaotic lifestyle and world. Eternally cool in an all too flammable world, if there is a hurricane tracking across the panoramas of The Outfit, Parker is the eye of that proverbial storm. Out for revenge and to end the onslaught against him, yes, he may have changed his name and face, but the ties that bind Parker to his ecosphere—his familiar allegiances, enemies, targets, and modus operandi—all serve to testify to the idea that the character is more than a simple rebel; Parker is an attitude; an instinct.
And Darwyn Cooke knows it.
So much so that the same instinctive approach that Parker carries like a switchblade, the master creator and cartoonist extends to beautiful artwork that sprawls across the retrograde pages of The Outfit. Cooke continues to use heavy lines and deep shadows to practically paint in the colourful backdrops, outlooks, and even the advertisements that litter the panels. But even Cooke knows when to change things up with a distinctive shift into the color palette, offering readers the feeling that Parker were submerged in the eternal gloom of a dark night.
But the visual sensibility of change extends well beyond colour choice and Cooke’s delicately crafted follow-up wisely opts for a change of story-telling pace as he extends to readers multiple opportunities to feel as though they were almost tangibly part of the slick world of hustles and cons that the shady characters are so comfortably inhabit. Part guide, part instruction manual, and part advertisement, Cooke interludes sections of Spartan dialogue and silent panel-work in The Outfit with operative explanations that not only serve almost as editorial interludes to explain events creatively amid the backdrop of on-going action, but to present exposition in what proves to be one of the more inventive choices included in an all-too familiar genus.
Despite the cultural familiarity with the crime story however, The Outfit remains grippingly fresh. A stoic and solid alternative, in fact, to the mediocre and clichéd story lines that readers both casual and devout might see coming from many miles out. Cooke, Parker, and The Outfit then, seem to form a successful kind of creative triumvirate; a wholly devious combination of noir-ish sensibility, lawlessness, and subtlety that suggest to prove that the crime story still has something to say, so long as it holds our attention.
Perhaps there’s something ideologically appealing to discover in that there are those that are willing to bend, break, or retool the rules to suit their needs; that for some—fictional or otherwise—the rules don’t necessarily apply. That some stand by their own coda or swear by their own bible; personal morals that stand face first against the prescribed commandments that are expected form us each.
That for some, attitude is everything.
A worthy follow up, The Outfit is a welcome adaptation of remarkable literary character.