Saturday, 16 November 2013

Richard Stark's Parker: Slayground by Darwyn Cooke Review

Parker, Grofield and one other guy rob an armoured car in the middle of winter and drive off with the cash. However the new guy is a bit of a nervous driver and winds up crashing the car on the ice, killing himself and badly injuring Grofield. Parker, hearing police in the distance, grabs the loot and makes a run for it, hiding out in a nearby amusement park that’s closed for the season. And then realises that some crooked cops accepting a payoff from the mob have witnessed his escape into the park and, listening to dispatch, put two and two together and decide to go in there, kill Parker, and keep the cash for themselves. Parker must set as many deathtraps in the park as he can to escape with his life.

This is the fourth comic book adaptation Darwyn Cooke has done of Richard Stark/Donald Westlake’s Parker books and the first where I was a bit bored reading it. The other books - The Hunter, The Outfit, The Score - all had complex plots involving multiple stages and double-crosses, and so on, whereas Slayground has a very basic premise of a cat and mouse that never goes beyond that. Parker sets deathtraps, mobsters/crooked cops wander into the traps, we move on to the next one, repeat.

This is fine if you want to read a book like that and I feel like I should like this more seeing as this book really made me realise Parker is basically Frank Castle, and I love the Punisher - Slayground has the flavour of the best kind of Punisher stories where Frank’s up against the odds and has to MacGyver his way out. I think partly why I wasn’t as enamoured was because I read the original Slayground novel a few months ago so I knew what to expect going in. To be fair, this is both a very faithful adaptation of the source material and also works better as a comic than a novel - Stark’s laborious descriptions of Parker setting traps are replaced by Cooke’s silent panels as Parker swiftly sets a trap in a few panels, then moves on to the next, and so on; we get past the chaff and to the action a lot faster.

But the predictability of it as everything goes right and Parker defeats the bad guys and the repetitive nature of the story as one person stumbles into a trap after another made for a fairly shallow read. There’s no sense that Parker’s in any real danger that he can’t handle and Cooke’s faithfulness to the source material only shows up Stark’s minimal story.

Cooke’s ‘60s-styled art remains as superb as ever and he knows where to put the camera, so to speak, so we get some dynamic angles, great use of shadow and light, and a strong sense of motion when we need it.

Also included is a short story, The Seventh, which has Parker pursuing a thief who’s stolen money/double-crossed him as he chases him onto a construction site. Again, it’s very predictable storytelling and feels rote and one-dimensional.

I usually enjoy Cooke’s Parker adaptations and while I didn’t hate Slayground, I also didn’t love it and found myself pushing through it to get it over with rather than savouring the experience. Slayground is ok but Cooke’s other Parker books are much better. 

Parker: Slayground

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