When it was first announced that Darwyn Cooke's first major project after "DC: The New Frontier" would be a graphic novel adaptation of Richard Stark's "Parker" novels, some fans might have been left confused by the choice. Why, after crafting one of the great modern examinations of DC's Silver Age glory, would Cooke shift his focus to a series of crime/noir novels that had until now only been adapted into films? In a way, that question answers itself. Anyone familiar with Cooke's previous comic work knows that noir has always been present, from his first major work in Batman: Ego, through his reinterpretation of Catwoman. Citing Stark's Parker novels as a major influence, it makes perfect sense that Cooke would use this opportunities provided by his New Frontier success to finally establish the relevance of these novels in a graphic novel format.
Upon first reading it quickly becomes clear that Cooke is enjoying every aspect of this production. The pages initially read like film storyboards, but a closer reading makes evident the methodical and deliberate pacing of the panels. For example, readers don't see Parker's face until page 20, but during that time we do see his cruelty and have an immediate understanding of what this character is all about. Propelling the story's pacing is Cooke's use of space between the panels. While there is no linear deliniation of panel borders, the art never bleeds together. Rather, there are borderless white spaces separating the art. This lends itself well to the book's ease in reading. It's not a book that one has to read closely to appreciate, but if that avenue is taken there are enough artistic elements to satisfy critique.
It would perhaps be too obvious to classify Cooke's art as cinematic, but there might not be a more appropriate description of his work here. It's evident that Cooke is employing his experience as an animator to great effect, but what struck me as an even more successful element is what seems to be his obvious maturation as a storyteller (both through narration and illustration). There are times when Parker's brutality has to be physically shown to move the story forward, but other times when it need only be hinted at. If we saw every murder or every display of cruelty in great detail the reader would tire quickly. Such subtlety is a great reminder that in any kind of art, less truly can be more. Not everything has to be shown to an audience for a work's minutiae to be grasped.
In the case of this book there are no lengthy, overindulgent monologues or tedious dialogues. A character speaks only when necessary, and when it's time to hear a character's backstory, it is presented in a succinct manner. After the technicolor demands of New Frontier, a book like The Hunter seems to allow Cooke the possibility of exercising a greater amount of artistic restraint - not that New Frontier was overdone, or too dense. One could easily argue that it was restraint that ended up being one of the great aspects of that book. But many super hero comics don't typically allow an artist a lot of room to be subtle. With a streamlined cast, a monochromatic color scheme, and a relatively basic plot, it's clear that Cooke is enjoying the opportunity that a smaller story provides.
Working in a monochromatic color scheme (in this case, just one shade of blue), there are certainly limitations that are imposed on an artist. But an artist might also be afforded new alternatives in the process. Regarding the flashback scenes, Cooke cleverly uses an artistic device that is relevant to the time period in which the story takes place (1962). The flashbacks are represented in a pixelated style, which we can imagine as a set of frame-by-frame television images which replay themselves like reruns in Parker's memory. No fancy camera tricks, no smoke or mirrors, just something that makes sense in to a character living in 1962.
In all honesty, Parker: The Hunter isn't all that complicated a tale. But it is that simplicity which has sustained it in numerous genres over the past several decades. In the hands of some artists, a graphic novel adaptation could have easily come across as a set of contrived cliches. But Cooke excels because he takes advantage of the straightforward source material and expounds upon it, not with over-the-top violence or blood-splattered pages, but with subtle, nuanced storytelling. There's a lot more that could be discussed about this work: comparisons between this book and the life and art of Edward Hopper; comparisons between the book, film and graphic novel - but I'll leave all those possibilities to you as individual readers. This book will be released on July 22nd, with the second volume to follow in 2010. While crime/noir is a genre which understandably doesn't appeal to everyone, I hope all kinds of Heroes customers will give this book a try, if for no other reason than to see a true craftsman of the comic industry working at the top of his game on one of his dream projects.