As anyone who saw the misfiring movie Parker can attest, adapting the crime novels Donald Westlake wrote under the pseudonym Richard Stark is no easy task. But as he showed with his previous graphic novel adaptations of Stark’s Parker books, writer/artist Darwyn Cooke has a real sense of what makes the character, and his misadventures, so unique and engaging. One that serves well for him in Richard Stark’s Parker: Book Four: Slayground (IDW Publishing), the latest illustrated take on Stark’s master thief.
Based on the 1971 book of the same name — the fourteenth book Stark wrote about Parker — Slayground has the master criminal going all Die Hard/Home Alone when an armored car heist goes awry and he’s forced to hide out in a closed amusement park beset upon by gangsters who want the money for themselves.
As with his previous adaptations — 2009’s The Hunter, 2010’s The Outfit (both of which were later collected as Parker: The Martini Edition), and 2012’s The Score — Cooke does condense the 183 page novel down a bit, but still manages to largely keep Stark’s original prose intact, both in terms of what happens and who says what.
Cooke also takes a similarly stark approach to the visuals (no pun intended). Besides employing an art style that recalls the jazz flyers and cocktail scene of the ’60s, he also uses a limited and muted color palette of white, black, and blue-ish gray.
The thing is, by condensing Stark’s original novel — which Cooke does here by cutting to the chase — Slayground, even more than its predecessors, work best if you’ve already read the original novel or are planning to (which is why Slayground is also not as good as its predecessors). It’s not like a Cliff’s Notes version or anything, nor is it a superficial take on the book, but it’s not a complete adaptation. Which, of course, might be Cooke’s intent; to not replace Stark’s novel in your reading list but as a companion piece for those who’ve already read the original novel. (Which may be why IDW have announced plans to publish hardcover editions of Stark’s novels, in order, with some color illustrations thrown in for good measure.)
If so, this take on Slayground is quite good, as it not only presents this enticing tale with equally inviting visuals, but does so in a way that befits the visually-oriented medium of the graphic novel. After all, a picture of a guy standing there, trying to figure out how he’s going to get out of this mess, isn’t going to be interesting for long, no matter how talented the artist.
That said, I’m kind of glad Cooke decided not to expand upon Slayground by incorporating elements from 1969’s The Blackbird, a companion novel Stark wrote about what happened to Parker’s accomplice in the armored car heist, Alan Grofield. Which is not to say The Blackbird isn’t worthy of being adapted by Cooke, quite the contrary, more that it has such a different tone that its story wouldn’t have worked mixed well Parker’s in a single telling.
Along with Slayground, this collection also includes a quickie take on 1966’s The Seventh, the seventh Parker novel. Originally included in the aforementioned Martini Edition, this eight page story of another heist gone wrong only covers the end of the original story (the bulk of it is summarized as a “Prologue”). But while this short take really doesn’t do this story justice, it still has the same great art style, albeit with orange instead of the blue-ish gray.
Even with The Seventh bit not holding up its end of the bargain, though, Slayground is still a worthy addition to Cooke’s series of Parker adaptations. And while it’s not the best of Cooke’s adaptations, much like Stark’s original novels, even when Cook’s take on Parker isn’t at its best, it’s still does him good by bringing the novel’s vivid prose to life with some visual flair.