From what I can tell of writer Donald Westlake, he seems to have been an interesting guy. He wrote under the pseudonym Richard Stark, and created the hard-boiled character Parker, a no-holds-barred kind of crook who always has a plan and always gets the better of his enemies. He’s licensed out a couple of his books (the most recent adaptation being the Mel Gibson movie Payback), but never allowed those adaptations to actually use the name “Parker.”
Darwyn Cooke has begun the process of adapting some of Westlake’s novels, beginning with The Hunter in 2009 (the book on with Payback was based) and continuing in 2010’s The Outfit, which I wasn’t able to pick up until recently. The Hunter was by far my favorite OGN of 2009 … did The Outfit follow suit?
In The Outfit, Parker is living life high off of a job he’s done (in the prequel The Man with the Getaway Face, also contained in these pages), except that one of his men rats him out to The Outfit (the big criminal organization) and they go after Parker. Except that, if you don’t actually kill Parker, he gets revenge ten-fold, and he starts staking his claim and planning the biggest string of robberies in Outfit history, taking out anyone along the way who holds him back.
Parker isn’t a good guy. Let’s be honest – in the first book, he punches a woman, and he makes a living off of killing people and robbing things. He’s got a set of morals (he doesn’t kill any innocents), but he’s the perfect kind of anti-hero. Murky morals and a sense of justice that’s spelled r-e-v-e-n-g-e. He’s the ultimate badass, and the type of character you just love to read about. It’s said that Westlake envisioned Jack Palance when he created the character, if that’s any indication.
From what I’ve read, Darwyn Cooke’s The Hunter did really well, and with good reason. It’s a dynamite book that belongs in every comic reader’s collection. This follow-up, The Outfit, does start out a little sloppy – Cooke tries to actually adapt two books here, The Man with the Getaway Face and The Outfit, and the former gets a small part of the book, primarily to set up the events of the rest of the book. Still, it almost all happens TOO fast, and it’s a lot to take in at the very beginning of the book. Still, once things take a moment to breathe, the book gains its stride and is one of the most unique reading experiences I’ve had in a long time. I mean, sure, we’ve seen some experimental work in modern comics (like Infinite Vacation’s live-action panels), but Cooke truly tries a ton of different ideas in this one book – there’s a section entirely in prose, another in a style that looks like Monopoly drawings, and those are all part of a section of the book done in entirely different styles, all by the same guy. It’s hard to believe that Cooke did this entire thing himself – the styles vary wildly, but they all fit in really well with the overall story. It’s an amazing thing to behold, really.
Despite its rocky start, The Outfit would have walked way with OGN of the year had I read it in 2010. It’s a hefty read, and something you’re liable to read over and over, just to see how effective it all is, and to marvel at the experimentation Cooke does – he’s a master of his craft, and The Outfit is definitely a masterpiece. Highly, HIGHLY recommended.