Sunday, December 11, 2011

Parker: The Outfit

It's library time again. Jim's raved about Darwyn Cooke's adaptations of Richard Stark's Paker books for years, so this HC on the library's graphic novel shelves was an easy try-out. Right from opening the book, it captured my interest. Donald Westlake (real name of Richard Stark) has a little bit on the fly leaf that provides a very interesting insight on how the character of Parker came to be. I read the fly leaf prior to reading the story, so Westlake's story about having taken the wrong train and walking across the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey to New York left me wondering just what kind of character this Parker would be.

He's even better than Westlake leads on. He's not exactly amoral, but he's pretty close. More accurately, he's operating in a different moral code, and he's not alone. There's an entire network of criminals who operate under this code. The Outfit is about what happens when a powerful person in the scheme of this world decides to violate that code.

Set in 1963, it runs all along the east coast in telling the story. Parker has just recovered from plastic surgery to alter his face so no one will recognize him. (This was a fairly often used device in days gone by, but such plastic surgery is rather near impossible. It's far too extensive work to entirely alter a person's appearance to make him unrecognizable, especially with the surgery available in 1963. That kind of work is more likely to leave a patient dead, which, admittedly, will totally alter his appearance, but isn't quite what he had in mind.)

So, another guy has stumbled onto Parker being in Miami and, thinking it necessary to save his own skin, puts out a hit on Parker. It's also at the behest of the head of a criminal syndicate known as the Outfit. Parker works back from the attempted killer, to the guy who put out the hit, on up the chain. He soon realizes that the head of the Outfit is the root cause of his problem.

Bringing in other criminal freelancers such as himself, he sets about to cause maximum financial damage to the Outfit and also clears with the second in command of the Outfit, once the financial hits are coming, that the death of the leader would not be viewed adversely.

There are quite a few thrusts and parries in this contest, but Parker is clearly operating from a superior playbook. Some of the best moments in the story come in summarizing the various jobs pulled on the Outfit. One is told as an article in a publication called Crime Confessions Weekly. The others are vignettes, possibly also in the same "publication", each starting out "The way it works is this:" Each then explains how the Outfit runs a certain enterprise and how Parker and his co-horts use their knowledge of that to steal large sums of money. Parker isn't involved in most of the actual jobs. He's behind their happening, though. Jobs go down in Del Mar, Queens, Manhattan, and so on.

Arthur Benson, the Outfit leader who's made the mistake of starting this war with Parker, is hiding out in Buffalo at a mansion he bought for his wife. Despite this and an ostensible security detail, getting to him is rather easy. Parker accomplishes his goal and provides a cut of the take to the Outfit's second in command, whether he wanted it or not.

Now, Westlake is owed huge amounts of credit for the feel if this book and the turns the story takes, as well as how swiftly and econimically the characters are developed, but Cooke's contribution shouldn't be given short shrift, either. He does the entire art work in black and white with a blue/grey color being used to give it tone. It's like Frank Miller's use of black and white with the dash of red or yellow in Sin City, except it's not. It's not so dark, so heavy with the use of the black, as Miller. And Cooke's style is more in line with animation (not surprisingly) than Miller. The self limitation to one dull color, along with the line work, really evokes the early '60s, especially the Rat Pack and heist movies of the era.

Best insignificant moment? The fact that the second in command of the Outfit, Karns, appears to live in the house that the spies were using as a base to leave the US in North by Northwest. I can't recall if Karns is supposed to live next door to Mt Rushmore, but it's the same house. If a sleek, stylish movie is going to be referenced for this book, that's the one to use. It would be a great one-two to read Parker: The Outfit and then watch North by Northwest. No beer or wine, with that, though. Strictly bourbon or whiskey.

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