Funnybook Babylon

September 1, 2009

FBBP #110 – Parker without Spiders, Spiders without Parker

The word of the week is “adaptation”, as we take a look at two pieces of media with roots in a different form.

First up, Marvel debuts Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. #1 as a “Motion Comic” on iTunes, over a month before the plain ol’ paper version hits the stands. Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev are an all-star creative team, but can they transfer the magic of their Daredevil run onto your iPod? Will there be Clutch Cargo lips? We tackle these questions and more!

Then, we take a look at IDW and Darwyn Cooke’s Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter, the first in Cooke’s planned series translating Stark’s 1960s crime novels into funnybook form. Not every one on the podcast is in love with The Hunter, but do those flaws lie with the Cooke’s adaptation or the source material? Could Parker just not be made for these times? Or, if the rest of the blogosphere is any gauge, are we objectively wrong?

12 Comments »

  1. There’s a weird beeping in the intro for the podcast. It sounds kinda like the beeping Final Cut makes when the audio isn’t rendered.

    Comment by david brothers — September 1, 2009 @ 1:59 pm

  2. More, now that I’ve finished listening, I’m gonna try to hit some points that I wanted to mention while I’m cheating at work.

    RE: the idealized ’50s- Other than Parker taking place in 1962, both New Frontier and Parker kind of make the same point about the time period in roundabout ways. New Frontier is about a world coming out of darkness and into a new frontier, and yes, there is the Kennedy speech, but there is also John Henry being lynched and then sold out by a young white girl who calls him a nigger, which was a very deliberate choice by Cooke. In NF, the history is rotten. There’s a lot to like, there’s a lot of glam, but once you strip that away, there’s a rotten core. NF is about getting past that core.

    Parker’s subtext is all from Stark, since Parker is about as true of an adaptation as you’ll likely find, but the crime figures, from the mafia bosses to the generic thugs, have adopted the trappings of an american corporation, and have ridden those trappings to the top of the heap. They’ve got a skyscraper, they have secretaries, they look like a real business and they deal in money like a real business, but they are corrupt to the bone. All is not as it seems.

    RE Parker raping the lady- you read it wrong. Here’s the bit from the book:
    “He found scissors in a desk drawer next to an inhaler, snipped off part of her slip and used it for a gag. She had good legs- But not now. After it was over, after Mal was dead, he’d want somebody then.”

    Basically, she’s cute, and he appreciates that, but he’s going to find a woman after the job is done. No implication of rape at all, merely that he has sex when he wants to, because he’s so disciplined.

    RE Parker as supercriminal- He really isn’t. Parker’s good at one thing, and that thing is managing people. He can put the fear of God into somebody, he can knock somebody out, but he can’t pick safe locks/isn’t an expert marksman/can’t drive. He’s good at what he does, but that’s because he’s focused and professional. Stark and Cooke have described him like a plumber or a carpenter. Someone who is good, not the best, but his attention to detail is what makes the difference.

    He doesn’t do anything in the first book that any of us couldn’t, given the motivation and slight training. I mean, he talks tough to a few people, kicks in a couple of doors, slaps a woman, and kills a man. It’s not exactly high science. And he wins, in the end, as Chris said, because they underestimate him. They think he’s some piddly stick-up man, rather than a guy who has been around the block and isn’t interested in going back to jail. Even spotting the marks at the end of the book– you can tell a lot of people’s motivation by looking at them. And if they look fishy, and he’s aware of his precarious position, he’s going to take precautions.

    Not a super criminal at all, just a man who is professional and tries to cover the angles. He’s repeatedly stymied until he gets lucky and forces an ex-friend into telling him where Mal was. In the next book, his cover is blown and he’s forced to run. The next volume of Cooke’s Parker merges the second and third books, the getaway and the get-back, and should have an adaptation of some of the most sublime crime writing ever, all of which is based around men who are experienced in their job doing just what they say they will do. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn’t.

    RE Parker & Women- he’s got money and he isn’t ugly. He isn’t charming, no, but over the course of the series, he finds women who are attracted to danger and money. I don’t see Cary Grant at all. He’s like a craggier Jack Palance, with maybe Lee Marvin’s chin.

    RE Shadowy organization of guys who are very rich- they’re the mob, but a mob who has realized that faux legitimacy is just as good as real legitimacy, if not moreso. They aren’t even close to SPECTRE. They’re just dressed like businessmen, otherwise they’re no different.

    RE Stark’s influence- I can’t speak for Cooke or Brubaker, two guys I know have spoken fondly of Stark, but for me personally, it’s a few things. One is that Parker isn’t an expert at what he does. He makes mistakes and bad decisions, but he’s a pro. He believes in leaving the job done, and done well. He’s got a work ethic, rather than a code of honor. Two is that Parker, as a character, is defined by his actions, not his thoughts. It is what he does that matters, not his inner turmoil. And when he does take a moment to think, it’s about the job. Third is the economy of prose. It’s all very to the point, very little garnish, but still stylish. He can turn a phrase, and turn one without making it look like he’s reaching.

    My Parker stuff is going to go live pretty soon, maybe the end of next week. I’m sure we’ll have more to discuss then.

    Comment by david brothers — September 1, 2009 @ 3:46 pm

  3. The beep is denoting an audio cut, like on a gag reel.

    Comment by Joseph — September 1, 2009 @ 4:03 pm

  4. I’ve only recently finished the original novel, The Hunter, but it sounds like things “go south” for Parker more frequently in subsequent books.

    There’s a subplot in the novel that’s completely ignored in Cooke’s adaptation, which I suspect would have completely addressed the problem a few of y’all have, that Parker isn’t just competent but omni-competent. I read Cooke’s adaptation first and the original novel second, and I didn’t personally mind the omission, but I think it’s a crucial missing piece for the complaint that things come to easily to Parker.

    FBB isn’t the only the site to be lukewarm about the book, as Comics Comics describes the book as “oddly lifeless, a storyboard in the guise of a comic book.”

    About David Brothers’ comment, I wonder if the subtext of organized crime’s veneer of legitimacy explains the art design which Comics Comics derides by writing, “all of Cooke’s places appear to be mid-century modern catalog photos.”

    That might be the point: the entire presentation of the book is VERY 1960’s, down to the binding, and the book might be deliberately hiding its very brutal story in the trappings of high society.

    Comment by Bubba — September 1, 2009 @ 4:29 pm

  5. If it helps, I caught what the beep was at the beginning.

    One more thing, about comparing Parker and (poorly written) Batman, I actually had more of a problem with the omnicompetence in Batman R.I.P. (especially re: Jezebel Jet) than I do here.

    Comment by Bubba — September 1, 2009 @ 4:49 pm

  6. David you said a mouth full, so I’m going to respond to this stuff in several posts.

    RE Parker raping the lady- you read it wrong. Here’s the bit from the book:
    “He found scissors in a desk drawer next to an inhaler, snipped off part of her slip and used it for a gag. She had good legs- But not now. After it was over, after Mal was dead, he’d want somebody then.”

    After talking it out with the rest of the crew , I’m don’t think it was intended to be read that way, but there really isn’t anything in that sentence and the visual drawing that clearly denies that theory. The “Not Now” could be applied to sexual thoughts or sexual acts.

    Parker & Women- he’s got money and he isn’t ugly. He isn’t charming, no, but over the course of the series, he finds women who are attracted to danger and money. I don’t see Cary Grant at all. He’s like a craggier Jack Palance, with maybe Lee Marvin’s chin.

    I’ll personally let this one go as something about the crime fiction genre that bugs me in regards to the treatment of its female characters. He just seems so emotionally disconnected to anything or anyone, I just find it hard to think he loved someone at all or ever. Maybe I’m bringing my own personal feelings about marriage into this, but I usually imagine the non-forced/arranged ones to have some sort of romantic love in them. This may be why I read this wrong.

    The sample text you provided from Richard Stark’s book “The Outfit” was more fun to read than anything I saw drawn in the book by Darwyn Cooke. Cooke has a style that is closer to animation than other comic artists. However, when I imagine Stark’s words in action, it plays better than Cooke’s drawings do. I actually felt some danger in Stark’s words. I never got that from Cooke. I can feel for secretary, I do wonder if she’ll live through this and why the men are here, and if they will succeed. I can’t think of a single character in the book who was threatened by Parker or anyone else that even came close to those words. I never got that tension from Parker.

    It could be Cooke deciding to play up Parker’s hyper competence without explicitly showing that the Outfit undermines him. You read the books, but this wasn’t expressed in the graphic novels. I personally felt the scene where they gauge how legitimate his plan is of having freelancers hit the outfit underscored that he was an unknown but verifiable threat. The last section felt as if the Outfit was sending a considerable force out to get him, but he was just “better” than those guys or that the Outfit itself was not a solid organization to begin with and even the better men were no match for Parker’s skills.

    I’m really only working with the Graphic Novel, so forgive me if I missed things that you picked up within Stark’s Hunter or in later chapters, but I personally went at Cooke’s book as a single piece of writing. I don’t think Cooke successfully conveyed explanations for issues I had that Stark clearly though out. I’m now more interested in reading Stark’s versions and avoiding Cooke, if this is an indication of how much of a disconnect there is between the two works.

    I hate to say this, but after your post I actually feel like Cooke’s “The Hunter” is worse than I thought it originally was.

    Comment by Pedro Tejeda — September 2, 2009 @ 6:55 am

  7. David,

    Thanks for commenting. I look forward to reading your extended discussion of the book on 4th Letter.

    I completely agree with your points about the ‘rape fantasy’. It was clearly a scene that was meant to highlight Parker’s skill at compartmentalization.

    It’s very difficult to review books like the Hunter for the same reason that it’s hard to properly review superhero comics – it’s hard (and sometimes disingenuous) to disregard extraneous facts. I still haven’t read the books that these were adapted from, which makes it very difficult to put the main problem I had with the book – if the book is not a hard-boiled fantasy, the omnicompetence of Parker and the generic, toothless ‘mob’ are really problematic – into context.

    Parker – I don’t think that we see Parker stymied in this book, just minorly inconvenienced. He exhibits little frustration, and we don’t see him chasing down dead-end leads, or anything that would indicate that he’s not in control of the situation. If there was some indication of that, if Cooke portrayed him as an exhausted man at wit’s end seeking revenge, then I would see your point. But I see an inexorable force. We know that Parker will get Mal like we know that the sun will rise. The outcome is never uncertain. He doesn’t just talk tough to some people, he’s able to intimidate almost every other character in the book, some of whom are armed. It would be overstating things to compare Parker to Batman, if only because Batman is typically written as the best fighter, the best detective, the best safecracker, etc. Parker is none of those things. At the same time, the character we see in the Hunter is not just a guy who’s good at his job, but a guy who’s able to see every possible angle. Perhaps I’d feel differently if I had read the original, or the other books in the series. It’s hard to tell.

    The Mob – All of the other issues I had with the Hunter pale in comparison to my problems with the portrayal of the ‘mob’ in this book. If Hunter ended with the death of Mal, I would think of it as a minor, but stylistically impressive book. I found it difficult to believe that anyone in the early 1960’s could get away with (i.e., survive the close of the chapter) the things that Hunter gets away with in book four. I don’t really think that they underestimated him, he was a small-timer. He was a determined and cocksure man, sure, but he was a small-timer. Am I supposed to think that Parker would be capable of (or better yet, that the mob would think that he was capable of) organizing the ‘independents’ for some kind of insurgency against the mob? Really? That reads like something that was written before we all figured out how powerful the mob really was. There’s no way in the world that a tough, determined guy gets that close to anyone close to authority without catching a bullet – and if Cooke wanted to convince me that it was possible, then he should have fleshed that out some more. I think that the organized crime in corporate form theme could be interesting, but I don’t think it was explored at all. This – “the crime figures, from the mafia bosses to the generic thugs, have adopted the trappings of an american corporation, and have ridden those trappings to the top of the heap. They’ve got a skyscraper, they have secretaries, they look like a real business and they deal in money like a real business, but they are corrupt to the bone. All is not as it seems.” – could be interesting, but I just don’t think that it’s there at all, at least in this adaptation.

    I have a number of ugly and intemperate things to say about Cooke’s vision of the 1950’s and the awkward nod to the black experience that was the John Henry subplot, but I must run to the DMV, and I’ve promised myself to be pleasant on the internet. I’ll just say this – the world was not coming out of darkness into a new frontier, for white or black people. I don’t think that there is any real truth in New Frontier, which reflects an adolescent understanding of America and the 1950’s.

    Comment by Jamaal Thomas — September 2, 2009 @ 8:22 am

  8. La Jetee, which Joe mentions during the Spider-Woman segment, is a “photo-roman”.

    Comment by Richard A. — September 3, 2009 @ 12:55 pm

  9. Jamal:

    I hope you don’t mind me popping in-
    Just wanted to say that believe it or not, you and I are in complete agreement regarding the end of New Frontier. The sad, or tragic or infuriating note at the end is that this new age is kind of bullshit. We as readers have enough knowledge of what’s coming for America to know that this is a false moment-between the Kennedy’s(good and bad) and King and X and Kent State and Vietnam and Watergate the face of America was about to get pretty fucking dark.

    The thing was, this was a story about seven imaginary people who will stand above all that horrible shit. It was a story about those people, not America. America was the backdrop, not the story. Because it’s a story about that group of seven, it demanded an ending that showed them moving forward with open hearts. I imagine that if we followed our imaginary group up the timeline to 1973 they’d feel as you do about the whole thing.

    But that would be another book. You’ll be relieved to know that there is currently no plan for a sequel, but you might be heartened by the fact that when I entertained the notion of one, the working title was “JLA: Bay of Pigs”

    Anyway,
    Peace

    Comment by Darwyn — September 9, 2009 @ 7:40 am

  10. Mr. Cooke, 

    I appreciate your response. I think that it’s really important to be precise about one’s argument, no matter the forum, and I don’t think I was. Sorry.   

    Just to clarify – I enjoyed New Frontier as a work of super hero fiction, but I don’t think that it’s portrayal of the postwar era is true. Does that matter? As you imply above, it doesn’t. New Frontier (even at it’s most bleak) shows us a romanticized 1950’s, one that owes more to pop culture and post-Kennedy assasination consensus than history. It’s an idea of the ’50’s that is valid, but one that I think is fundamentally flawed. I think that our memories of an era sometimes obscure the truth, especially in the years since the rise of television (i.e. the ’50’s). To be a little more specific – I think that polarization is a permanent feature of American life and consensus was always an illusion. I think that we (as a society) ‘remember’ more prosperity than ever truly existed. As I’m sure you’re aware, it’s even hard to reconcile all of the contradictory elements of race relations in that era. I guess that’s the core of my disagreement – that I think efforts to artfully sum up a historical era are doomed to failure, no matter how well executed. 

    But even though I’d love to waste everyone’s time by discussing this for five more paragraphs, I must admit that I’m stymied by your central point – that the history is just the backdrop and New Frontier is a book about specific heroes, and the birth of the Silver Age. In that sense, it makes sense for the book to reflect popular conceptions of that era (especially to the degree that they were incorporated in the actual DC Silver Age). 
     
    With that said, I still strongly dispute the validity of the model presented by David in his comment above (triumphalist optimism contrasted with brutal Jim Crow racism) which I think fails to effectively capture the complexity of the era. 

    Thanks for taking the time to respond (if our roles were reversed, I’d likely be less pleasant) and sorry for any offense.   

    Comment by Jamaal Thomas — September 9, 2009 @ 9:53 pm

  11. I find myself torn because I agreed with a lot of the points you four raised in this review of “The Hunter” but I was extremely exasperated with the excessively drawn out, vague, rambling way you conducted yourselves. My attention wandered off several times because you took so long to figure out what you were saying and tried to get your thoughts together while constantly interrupting and talking over each other. Is it too much to ask that you all PREPARE yourselves beforehand? Make some notes, jot down your key points, have some kind of idea of what you want to say? If you can’t do that maybe you should consider editing before you put your podcast online. The tremendous amount of redundancy really tried my patience.

    That said, onto the review. Perhaps the main difficulty here is that Richard Stark’s writing is subtly pushing against your expectations all the time. He writes about the same things as everyone else but he does it from a very different angle, like misdirection almost. So when you try to show visually what he is describing, it inevitably loses most of the ambiguity that makes it different.

    Someone mentioned “Point Blank”, which is not at all faithful to the book, but goes off in a very impressionistic direction instead. It’s a great film, but that isn’t Parker. I guess Boorman did it that way to try and get his own version of the dichotomy that Stark sets up between the characters’ actions and the way he describes them. Maybe the real question is if anybody could succeed in translating the atmosphere of Stark’s novels. MY answer is, no they can’t. It’s not the plots that makes Stark’s novels so original. It’s the point of view. The narration. And that’s the one thing you can’t really carry over.

    I think Cooke fails because his book is a little too romantic, a little too in love with the dramatic. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad book; it just doesn’t get across how Parker is a very different kind of character from, say, James Bond. Parker is not motivated by sex or power like most (anti) heroes. He just wants to get the job done and he plans very carefully to make sure that he can.

    Where the whole “New Frontier” debate comes up, I don’t understand what Jamaal’s problem is. Criticizing NF for failing to “effectively capture the complexity of the era” seems ridiculous to me in a medium where almost nobody has even acknowledged racial politics in the 1950s in a superhero comic, much less responded with a hero who deals with some of those issues. I have to ask Jamaal just how he’d do a better job? You say “I think that polarization is a permanent feature of American life and consensus was always an illusion” – how did you miss the fact that this one of the major themes of “New Frontier”?

    Comment by Shelley C — October 27, 2009 @ 5:24 pm

  12. […] comics is the impetus it offers to revisit a creator’s work. When I first read The Hunter for the podcast I had mixed feelings. I think that my issue with Hunter was something akin to the uncanny valley […]

    Pingback by Funnybook Babylon · Archives · Avenging the Week Pt. 2, How the World Ends — April 16, 2010 @ 4:37 pm

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