Fresh Meat: Richard Stark’s Parker: Slayground by Darwyn Cooke

Parker:Slayground, from Richard Stark's novel graphically adapted by Darwyn CookeParker: Slayground by writer and artist Darwyn Cooke continues his award-winning graphic adaptations of the Parker series of hardboiled crime novels by Richard Stark (available December 24, 2013).

I will freely admit that I haven’t read nearly enough of either author involved in this excellent graphic novel adaptation, though I have been a big fan of what I’ve experienced of both. Richard Stark (pseudonym of the late, great Donald E. Westlake) was responsible for the original prose versions chronicling the adventures of master thief Parker, a ruthless, but not entirely immoral anti-hero whose main concern is the big score. Darwyn Cooke is an artist I’ve admired since his work on the amoral anti-heroes of X-Force, extending, of course, to his stint on Catwoman with Ed Brubaker. I can’t think of anyone better suited to adapting Parker for the graphic novel milieu, and I can’t think of a better book in the series for this purpose than Slayground.

Set primarily in an amusement park that’s been closed for the winter, Slayground follows Parker and his sometime partner, Grofield, as they’re leaving the scene of their latest successful heist. Unfortunately for our seasoned pros, their rookie driver rather spectacularly flips over their escape vehicle, knocking out himself and Grofield in the process. Ever the professional, Parker leaves his unconscious accomplices for dead and looks about for a hiding place.

The shuttered grounds of Fun Island, the aforementioned amusement park, seem promising, but as he scales the locked gates of the front entrance, he sees that he’s drawn the attention of a pair of cops who are meeting in the otherwise secluded area with several well-dressed men. Worse still, he soon discovers that Fun Island is a dead end, and that there’s no way out besides what’s certain to be the by now well-guarded entrance he came through:

He'd been around the park twice, just to be certain. The entire park was circled by a twelve-foot-wide “stream” crusted with ice. Beyond that was the fence. Ten feet high and topped with two lengths of electrified wire.There were three exits, all shuttered and padlocked for the winter.

Parker stared through the hokey island and ocean mural that repeated endlessly around the property. He had to focus to think clearly — He kept waiting for the entire Buffalo police force to burst through the gate.

The rule was that if you couldn't get away, go to ground.

Imagine his surprise then, when he hears on the radio soon after, that he’s reportedly taken off to an entirely different section of the city with the seventy-three thousand dollar haul he’d just scored. He correctly surmises that the well-dressed men were local mobsters paying off crooked cops, and that they see him as their latest opportunity for profit. With this in mind, he sets out to protect himself, ingeniously setting up the amusement park to his advantage.

The neat thing about Slayground, though, is that it doesn’t present just Parker’s point of view: the comparatively worse guys get their say, too. In this instance, we have the designs of mobster Benito Lozini, whose plans would be flawless if it weren’t for the fact that he’s up against the wily Parker. Upon encountering a minor hitch in his schemes, he quickly recovers:

So the cops couldn't get back until after ten o'clock. That was okay. Benito Lozini was a patient man. He wanted the cops there when they went in, so he'd wait until after ten o'clock. Soon, the boys started to arrive. Benito understood how to manage his men. He knew the delay would make them restless and cranky. He sent Jimmy out for pizza and beer. They spent the time playing poker and swapping stories. At ten the night watchman arrived and he sent two boys over to take him out of the picture. They put him on ice in the broom closet. Finally, O'Hara and Dunstan got back and they all made their way to the gate. Benito was certain the cops were worth the wait. Whoever this guy in the park was, he was just a thief. If he realized he was covered he'd have to give himself up.

The tense build-up only heightens the excitement of the clash on Fun Island, which doesn’t go quite as either side planned: as the title hints, there are fatalities, and not the ones you might expect.

Darwyn Cooke’s black-and-white illustrations perfectly capture the suspense and brutal action of the story, and his slightly throwback style is well suited to the 1969 setting and kitschy amusement park decor. As a bonus, this volume also contains a very brisk, ochre-tinged adaptation of Stark’s The 7th.

While I wouldn’t consider this graphic novel a full replacement for reading and appreciating the original, I do think it complements the source material very nicely. It also does a great job of introducing Parker to people who don’t have a lot of time to read, or people who prefer a visual/artistic accompaniment to their stories. As a fan of both graphic novels and crime fiction, I think this book makes a great case for expanding the readership of both, as two excellent storytellers come together for a final product that burnishes the reputations of all involved.

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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.

Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.

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