Friday, May 26, 2017

PARKER: THE SCORE & PARKER: SLAYGROUND

Last week I spent most of my time talking a bit about the Parker character, but I paid little mind to Darwyn Cooke's artwork. This time I plan to correct that. But first, we'll have a quick rundown of the plots of both THE SCORE and SLAYGROUND.

THE SCORE is a tale of Parker and a dozen associates taking on a job to rob an entire small mining town in the middle of the night. And, much as I stated previously that I liked the prior Parker stories for their showcasing our anti-hero doing everything right and accomplishing his goals without a hitch, I also really like the fact that THE SCORE throws a major wrench into the operation in a twist I don't really want to reveal here, sending Parker and company into a panicked retreat before their operation can be successfully completed. Where the previous stories showed us a cool, capable Parker executing his plans flawlessly, this one gives us a Parker who must improvise in order to save his skin.

Both approaches suit the character very well, and it should be noted that even when everything is going wrong, the plan crumbing around him, Parker takes it all in stride and remains as calm as ever. I guess I should amend what I said last week (and elaborated upon this past Sunday): I like seeing ultra-competent characters do everything right, but I also like when said ultra-competents are forced to wing it and do so in as unruffled a fashion as possible. I think really, what I don't like are panicky characters who dig themselves into deeper holes when they find themselves in a tight spot. To quote one John "Hannibal" Smith, I suppose you might just say that I love it when a plan comes together.

SLAYGROUND takes the tack of tossing another wrench into Parker's plans, but the complication occurs at the story's outset. Parker and two associates knock over an armored car, but their getaway is thwarted and only Parker escapes, into a Disneyland-esque amusement park where he must outwit the local mob in order to make his ultimate getaway. With this story, following that initial foul-up, we're back to the cool, collected Parker who manages to rig the entire park in his favor, leading to an immensely satisfying sequence where everything goes exactly as planned with gangsters dying left and right at Parker's hands.

All of the Parker books are period pieces, with Cooke setting them during the era in which they were originally published, right down to the year in most cases. THE HUNTER takes place in 1962, THE OUTFIT in 1963, THE SCORE in '64, and SLAYGROUND in 1969 (this is the only one whose setting date is different from the publication year -- the SLAYGROUND novel was released in 1971). And Cooke draws the heck out of the sixties, too. The styles, architecture, vehicles, and even the signage all evoke the aesthetic of MAD MEN, which in my opinion is never a bad thing.

On the other hand, I'm less enamored with some of Cooke's figures. They often seem a bit too rough and sketchy for a finished work. Cooke demonstrates that he can draw wonderfully rendered characters even in his sparse style, so why so many of his characters look underdrawn is a mystery. I mean clearly it's an artistic choice, but it's just not one I find particularly appealing.

Then there are the colors -- I didn't realize going in that all these stories are drawn in black and white with only one highlight color used in each book. THE HUNTER is sort of an aqua-blue, THE OUTFIT is bright blue, THE SCORE is yellow, and SLAYGROUND is gray. Once you get used to the colors, everything looks fine -- but, having seen some of Cooke's other work here and there, I had expected these stories to be full color, perhaps in watercolor fashion as seen on the covers. And while the colors Cooke uses do come across in that style, going into the first book, I found the monochrome look a bit jarring. That said, it only takes a few pages to get past that feeling, and then you begin to believe the stories would look wrong if they weren't colored this way!

As with all of the prior books, SLAYGROUND concludes with a teaser telling us that "Parker will return in 2015". This obviously didn't happen, though Cooke was still alive at that point. Presumably other factors prevented the release of his next adaptation, whatever it might have been. Unfortunately, that teaser now stands as a reminder that this version of Parker -- Darwyn Cooke's version, apparently the only adaptation fully approved by Donald Westlake -- will never return, since Cooke passed away in May of 2016 due to lung cancer. I may not have taken notice of him for much of his career, but having read these stories and seen his style in action, I find myself very saddened over his passing, and interested in seeking out more of his work.

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