Why do we love crooks so much?

Darwyn Cooke's graphic adaptation of the first Richard Stark novel, The Hunter.

Darwyn Cooke's graphic adaptation of the first Richard Stark novel, The Hunter.

Actually, I don’t know the answer to that question. Maybe it’s because in a crime novel or movie, the criminal gets to do the things we only fantasize about doing. They seem to know our secret heart. When the killer and the white hat hero meet up for a bit of verbal sparring, the hero tells the criminal that he’s a dead-ender, he’s bound to get caught because he’s an enemy of society, he’s ripping off all the honest folks who get up every morning and take a lunchbox to work and they labor all day for peanuts; then when they get hurt on the job and the boss fires them and their insurance won’t cover their medical bills, that person says, Well, I’ll just have to buckle down and put up with it, instead of going out and robbing a liquor store or going postal down at the factory. The killer replies to the white hat hero: That guy is a sucker. He’s a sucker for getting up early in the morning, for starters, and the rest of his day is a waste and a lie. He’s trying to live up to all these fictional standards and bogus rules.
The killer has a point, doesn’t he? But thank goodness we don’t all think that way. Reading about these picaresque characters and vicariously enjoying their exploits, even rooting for them, is a kind of safety valve for society. The Greeks knew that.
All of which is a prelude to my simple critique of Darwyn Cooke’s new graphic novel adaptation of The Hunter, by Richard Stark (actually the pen name of the late Donald Westlake). Check out Darwyn’s blog.
Donald Westlake invented Parker, the super thief, back in the early sixties, and wrote about him off and on (using the pen name Richard Stark)until his death last year. From the very first book on, Parker, as well as the inimical style Westlake used in the series, was the inspiration for scores of writers and filmmakers and, who knows, maybe a criminal or two. There are numerous web sites devoted to the Stark novels, but my favorite is probably The Violent World of Parker, whose administrator had the good taste to include a link to the interview I did with Westlake a few years ago for the Austin Chronicle. The first Stark novel, The Hunter, was adapted for the film Point Blank. Despite the late year for film noir and the fact that it’s in color, Point Blank is one of the greatest noir films, and one of the best thrillers ever made, too. It’s directed by John Boorman and the stellar cast includes Lee Marvin as Parker. Subsequent editions of The Hunter were titled Point Blank. For the graphic adaptation of the book, however, Darwyn Cooke goes back to the original title and does a tremendous job of recreating the amphetamine rush of the noir hero out for revenge. His wife betrayed him and so did his partner; now Parker wants his money and he goes after the top guys in the Mob to get it. There’s a lot of collateral damage, but you don’t feel any sympathy for the people who get in Parker’s way. The artwork is stunning and the narrative is lean and mean. It’s violent poetry, as primal as the jungle. Buy it now. Oh, but wait, I just learned that the first printing has sold out! Well, like the successful thief, you may have to be crafty and patient to get one.

Leave a Reply