Wednesday, August 12, 2009

In Review Of: The Hunter by Cooke and Stark

There are a number of exciting works that are coming out or have just come out begging to be read, and one of the ones that was most anticipated, by me at least, was the adaption by Darwyn Cooke of the Richard Stark noir classic, The Hunter.

(Scanned here is the limited edition San Diego Hardcover, which I thought a nice enough package to splurge on while there, even though i have a history of not always keeping the jackets in the best of condition over the years.)

To brass tacks: The Hunter is an interesting adaption for a character who is exceptionally internal, leading to a tremendous amount of information needing to be communicated in the silences and the pauses, in the calm before the storm of Parker erupting on yet another individual. It is a book with a difficult protagonist to get behind in some ways, and yet terribly easy to in others. As a crook, he's the audience's bad boy identification, the life that we could lead if we all had the balls and savvy to do so, but he doesn't make it easy for the reader: very few of us, with fantasies of ripping people off and living the high life imagine taking a knife and cutting off the face of our ex-wife. its like vaccinated time travel: we don't want to travel back to the middle ages with out knowing that we can't catch the plague, and we want to live our vicarious crime fantasies in a bloodless way. Stark (and i use Westlake's nom de plume here as that is the part of him writing the book, so i feel its appropriate) isn't going to make anything simple about Parker.

Except that there is little difficult to get about the revenge plot. The devil is in the details here, we've seen revenge stories, and what sets them apart from one another, like romantic comedies, is how well all the small stuff plays out. Do we buy the details? The answer, in some places is yes, but not in all places.

Cooke's The Hunter is an admirable effort and a hell of a lot of work, but it doesn't succeed on all levels. There are moments where Cooke's monochromatic pallette is somewhat limited in its ability to convey everything that he's trying to do. An early scene between Parker and Lynn plays perfectly, Cooke moves the camera focal point around, dropping outlines around the softness of Lynn's hair without sacrificing the density of black in Parker's suit as well as his shadowed face. The strength of his physical presence is portrayed powerfully even in the small shots, as is Lynn's vulnerability. Later in the book, however, when the same scene is portrayed twice, from two different vantage points of the naked gangster leaping for his gun as Parker comes in through the window, neither of them has the clarity necessary to make the visual aspect of the scene as powerful as we want it to be, nor as powerful as the story needs it to be.

Oddly, the advertising for The Hunter is less monochromatic than the book itself. I saw the promo poster again today at my LCS, and the blacks were highlighted by reds and oranges, and I fully expected that the book itself would change colors as we went along, but no, all i got were the same muddy dark aqua tones mixed with the black. Its not that it doesn't work but its also not what i was expecting given the way that they advertised it.

I've seen Cooke taken to task on another review for not being able to play down his own "cuteness" with his character design and it is true: all the women in the book pretty much come from his own style of the adorable 50's chick, which may be a minor quibble, but it does pull us out of the graphic nature of the road weary Parker making his way across the country to get his revenge. The waitress on the cafe on page 13 is beyond cute, and I'm not sure that it was until later in the book when Parker and Wanda have their conversation that i thought that a female character broke the mold. Wanda, make no mistake is a hottie, but as the conversation progresses and Parker pushes her for information, does her mask slip and we see her other face: the calculating and scheming side. As an "actress", Wanda needs to move from the soft to the hard, and there has to be a coldness as well as an instinct for self preservation that has to show through.

The set pieces are good, and Cooke doesn't hit us over the head with the details to sell the book. If every chair is an Ames chair, then so what, most of us weren't buying funiture in the 1950's. This is a stylized look at 1962, not a literal look. Cooke's storyboard ability to make us understand the action works particularly well at the finale, when another artist might have botched getting us through the chase sequence. the action is clear and storytelling solid, something that has to happen for us to "buy" the ending.

I find the decision to drop the panel borders through the entire book interesting, just as i was reading some of Bryan Hitch's FF issues, where he does the same thing. As a formalist gesture, I'm not sure that bleeding every panel out into a loose gutter works, just as i'm not sure that you need to heavily border each panel as well. Scott McCloud must be licking his chops to put together another first person essay on the merits of borderless comics. There are moments where I want the eye to not be able to flow into the negative space between the panel, even with how careful Cooke has been with creating a lack of bad tangents through out the entire book. I think that I would want to limit the movement with the borders and bleed off others. (The short subway scene inthe book reminded me of Eisner's subway into to an old Spirit story, with the panel's being jostled back and forth like an out of control "E" train. The openness of the layouts always bothered me, as I was always terribly conscious of the ceiling, the closeness of the wall, the limits of my vision on a subway car. Anytime i draw a subway, i show the ceiling.)

Is it perfect? No. Does Cooke's version of The Hunter kick some butt? yeah, its a solid read. In trying to hit the ball out of the park, however, I think that it falls a little short, but its a hell of a lot of work, and i'll be right there to pick up the next one next year when they release it. For now, it goes on the shelf next to Steranko's Chandler and my Black Lizard crime reissues of The Thin Man and The Long Goodbye.


Jeremy said...

At SDCC, Cooke said that the monochromatic look was an effort to make a book that was similar to something one would see in 1962. He said he tried to keep those design details in even the title page, indicia, etc. Future books will also be monochromatic, but he will try to use colors that fit the books' tone. I think this is a great read by a fantastic artist who stripped down the story telling to what was essential (in a Toth-like fashion). His style is great. I love the way that you don't see Parker's face for some time at the beginning, and then when you do, you know he's a man on a mission. I've never read the original book, but something like that opening scene seems to be unique to the graphic representation. Having said that I love the book and it's a compelling read, it's still an adaptation of a noir/crime book. I look forward to the day that Cooke tells his own story using his own characters. It reminds me of Karasik's and Mazzucchelli's adaptation of City of Glass, which was great. Now we have Asterios Polyp, but that's another post!

Jenifer said...

Love the sketch of Tony.
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