Wednesday, January 5, 2011

#3 for 2010

Parker: The Outfit
by Darwyn Cooke

2010 was, apparently, the year of the digital download in the comic book world. A number of technological breakthroughs, several new downloading options and a greater public acceptance towards paying for digital comics all made the option more feasible than ever.

This is all fantastic news for those who enjoy their comics in this way, but didn’t mean anything to me, because I just don’t enjoy reading any comics on any kind of screen, and still have a powerful lust for beautifully put-together books.

While those in charge of design at Marvel and DC occasionally produce comics of breathtaking beauty, they are also capable of some real abominations. I just finished reading a hardcover collection of Invincible Iron Man volume IV and it took me days and days to get through the bloody thing because it’s got such a godawful cover. It’s a fuzzy, raw image of an apparently dead Tony Stark lying still, his head towards the bottom of the page.

It’s saturated in dull reds, yellows and browns, and it makes the comic look boring and not worth picking up. The astonishing thing is that it shows off the original covers from the monthly series, and they’re gorgeous. Which is unsurprising, since Rian Hughes is involved. Whoever made the decision to go for this cover over Hughes’ efforts does not know what they are doing.

Darwyn Cooke knows what he is doing, and it took days to get through his latest Parker book – for all the right reasons.

These books are dense and beautiful and experimental and charming. Cooke has spent his life buried eyebrow deep in art design, and his experienced and talented eye takes in everything, from the endpapers and palette choices to the lettering and his own unshakable art style.

Parker: The Outfit is the most beautiful book I bought all year, and it was a pleasure to just look at the thing, without even taking in any of the story. I spent 20 minutes just looking at the cover and dust jacket and soaking up the buzz. That sexy early-sixties cool vibe it exudes is invigorating.

The beauty isn’t just skin deep – the brilliance of this whole package is that all that style swims on an ocean of substance. It’s a strong story, full of grim undertones and hollow revenge, set in a world where nobody gets any second chances and vicious violence is everywhere.

As adaptations of Westlake’s rock solid Parker novels, Cooke’s retelling keeps the original author’s voice intact, while still maintaining his own. His love for the source material slaps the reader around the skull on every page and he fortunately manages to contain his adoration without letting it stifle his own contributions.

Cooke maintains this deceptively tricky balancing act with his own enthusiasm. He creates comics with all the vigour of somebody who genuinely loves what they are doing, on every level. This is Cooke at his most inventive and experimental – he can barely contain himself.

The stylistic shifts in the individual heists show this better than anything else. They don’t always work – the prose section slows things right down just as the story needs to start buzzing along – but they are more successful than not, adding to the charm and attractiveness of the whole thing.

There isn’t enough beauty in the world – and a comic that manages to look this good, especially when its main characters have such ugly, souls adds just a little bit more.

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