“He hated her. He hated her and loved her and he’d never felt either emotion for anyone before. Never love, never hate, never for anyone.”
-The Hunter, Richard Stark
I loved Illustrated Classics when I was a kid. My elementary school had tons of them ranging from Treasure Island-to-at least a dozen adaptations of various books of the bible. (Remember, folks, this was the late 70’s-early 80’s and I went to a small, conservative rural school of about two-hundred.) I was a comic book kid; my love of reading straight text didn’t really start to blossom until I was around eleven, and pretty much the only way my mom could get me to read was if the book was illustrated and the main character was either Batman, Spiderman, or the Hulk. But my parents weren’t around while I was at school, and since we had library period on a daily basis, I chugged my way through the illustrated classics and ended up loving them, even though I wished the Silver Surfer would make a guest appearance in Moby Dick to warn Captain Ahab that Galactus was making his way to earth.
I’m sure Darwyn Cooke, the artist behind the graphic adaptations of Richard Stark’s (née Donald Westlake) Parker novels, is getting a little sick of hearing the comparisons that his adaptations are the hardboiled crime equivalent of the Illustrated Classics; but, simply put, they are, and denying the connection is pointless.
In case you’ve never read The Hunter—which, if you haven’t, you’re missing out. The Hunter (along with The Friends of Eddie Coyle By George V. Higgins) defined hardboiled crime fiction for multiple generations of writers—is the first book in Stark’s long running series featuring the original hardpan, Parker, the plot is straight forward: Parker gets screwed over and left for dead in a double cross after a heist by his wife, Lyn, and his partner, Mal. Parker survives the double cross and then comes looking for Lyn, Mal, and his end of the heist money. Needless to say, Parker leaves a long string of bodies in his wake.
The comic version of The Hunter—unlike the long string of mediocre film adaptations of the book—is a word-for-word adaptation of the novel. So does this mean you shouldn’t read the comic if you’ve already read the novel? No, not in the least. Cooke’s illustrations add a whole new element to Stark’s morally ambiguous, hard driving prose. Each panel is rendered in monochromatic blues and blacks, giving the comic an almost cubist feel. He draws Parker with an all consuming coldness and rage; his past emotional connections to his victims are null and void, all that matters is Parker’s money.
Fans of Ed Brubaker’s ‘Criminal’ and Brian Azzarello’s ‘100 Bullets’ are going to find a lot to love about The Hunter, because without Stark and Parker, neither of the comics would exist. Simply put, The Hunter is a must own for fans of Stark and crime comics.