Saturday, July 23, 2016

"Parker: The Hunter"

The Hunter is the first in a series of books by Donald Westlake (writing as Richard Stark), featuring the exploits of Parker, a laconic, unrepentant criminal. The novel’s plot seems
straightforward enough – a double-crossed man wants his money, his wife, and his revenge – although the plot jumps from present to past, filling in details leading up to the novel’s beginning while hurtling toward its violent conclusion.

The Hunter was adapted as a graphic novel by Darwyn Cooke, whose background included Batman: The Animated Series and The New Frontier for DC Comics. Cooke remained faithful to Westlake/Stark’s plot, admirably illustrating some of the novel's more “abstract” moments. Of course, there are slight differences as the story segues from prose to the comics medium.

The Hunter by Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake)
University of Chicago Press edition (2008)
Originally published in 1962 by Pocket Books.

Parker arrives in New York. Short of cash and patience, he connives his way into a bank account and promptly bounces checks all over town. He hocks his gathered loot for quick cash, and then gets down to the business of tracking Mal Resnick, the man who left him for dead.

And so begins The Hunter and the odyssey of Parker through the seedy underbelly and perfumed boudoirs of Manhattan. First, he locates Lynn, his estranged wife who betrayed him. She lives comfortably in a posh apartment paid for by Mal Resnick, the greasy mastermind who contrived the arms deal that went awry.

Lynn is remorseful ... Resnick, we learn in flashback, forced Lynn to betray Parker under the threat of death. Though he nets one-hundred percent of the cash, his victory is as hollow as Lynn’s response to his touch. His debt to the Outfit repaid, and his standing returned, Resnick provides for her – through a different courier each month, keeping her at arms length.

While searching for Resnick, Parker confronts Lynn, the courier, the middle man Stegman, the madam of an escort service, and various other lowlifes. A used-car dealership serves as a front, and Parker must seek out his prey in what is essentially a criminal’s coop.

Learning of Parker's return through the grapevine, Resnick goes into hiding with a variety of beautiful hookers to distract him. He reaches out through telephone and telegram, spreading the word to be watchful for his nemesis. Having repaid a debt to The Outfit, using Parker's money, Resnick fears losing his position almost as much as he fears losing his life.

Parker’s background fills in gradually, seen through the eyes and reactions of others. The first thing that becomes painfully apparent is that everyone fears Parker.
“His hands, swinging curve-fingered at his sides, looked like they were molded of brown clay by a sculptor who thought big and liked veins. His hair was brown and dry and dead, blowing around his head like a poor toupee about to fly loose. His face was a chipped chunk of concrete, with eyes of flawed onyx. His mouth was a quick stroke, bloodless. His suit coat fluttered behind him, and his arms swung easily as he walked.”
The prose is lean, and the momentum rarely lets up. It’s a style befitting Parker, a character who rarely reflects on the past, unless it’s connected to his quest for revenge. Theft is his line of work, and murder is an occupational hazard – like real-life criminals, he lives in the moment with regard only for himself.

Parker’s laconic, snarling presence predates Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name (in A Fistful of Dollars) by two years -- the public’s love affair with the anti-hero had begun. Most of Parker’s thoughts and feelings can be summarized by a glare or a tightening of the jaw. Perhaps it’s the lead character’s lack of spiritual depth that makes him an ideal character for a graphic novel or motion picture.

The Hunter (adapted by Darwyn Cooke),
IDW Publishing (2009)

Comic books (a.k.a graphic novels) are a visual medium, and as the years fall off the calendar, they become increasingly visual. Influenced by outside media, more comics have demonstrated “decompressed” story-telling – the use of multiple issues to tell a story which could have been told in one or two. Video games, television, music-video style action films, and endless hours of millions of web-pages have contributed to the erosion of vocabulary. Every comic book writer’s dream of breaking into Hollywood doesn’t help.

Publishers emphasize the “cinematic” quality of comics, the use of visuals over “verbose” dialogue and narration. The end result is usually a cheap comic making an obvious pitch to be the Next Big Thing in the local multiplex theaters. Therefore, it’s refreshing when a major talent uses the graphic novel medium to introduce hardboiled material like The Hunter to a new generation of readers.

Darwyn Cooke is one of the few professionals in comic books, these days, that can walk the tightrope between narrative and visuals. There are moments in The Hunter (IDW Publishing, 2009) which are cinematic – like the best visual moments in Will Eisner’s The Spirit – but Cooke approaches Westlake/Stark’s prose as a challenge rather than a nuisance. After establishing the graphic novel’s setting as “New York City 1962” with a double-page Manhattan skyline, Cooke starts the proverbial ball rolling with Parker on the George Washington Bridge.

Cooke uses nineteen pages of visual narrative, practically devoid of any words, to recap Parker’s Chapter One escapades -- The diner, the bank, the amassing of loot and then cash. Beginning with Chapter Two, when he confronts his duplicitous ex-wife, entire passages of dialogue and narrative are lifted from Westlake’s prose.
“You ought to kill me,” she said hopelessly.“Maybe I will.”
Her head sagged down toward her chest. Her voice was almost inaudible. “I keep taking pills,” she murmured. “Every night. If I don’t take the pills, I don’t sleep. I think about you.”
“And how I’m coming for you?”
“No, and how you’re dead. And I wish it was me.”
“Take too many pills,” he suggested. 

As with any adaptation, changes will arise from one medium to another. Some dialogue is truncated, while other passages are tossed off the lifeboat. Certain long blocks of narrative are quoted faithfully, but Cooke employs visual devices to supplement the scene. While the prose describes Resnick’s hijacking plan, Cooke illustrates it with a map of North America, dotted with motion lines, scrawled notes, and cigarette butts.

In reading the graphic novel one week after the Stark paperback, the only major difference I noticed was in the story’s conclusion. Frustrated in his grab for the loot, Parker confronts the Top Man for the New York branch of “The Outfit.” There ensues yet another struggle, a cat-and-mouse game with the Mob as his opponent, before a drop point is pre-determined in Brooklyn, NY.

Darwyn Cooke brings the graphic novel – and Parker’s journey – to a violent, successful conclusion. But Donald Westlake novel's includes an epilogue that cold-cocks both the reader and Parker. I’ve read my share of hardboiled fiction, and I didn’t see this ending coming. The graphic novel successfully adapts the source material more faithfully than Parker fans have any right to expect. Darwyn Cooke has done for The Hunter, with sequential art, what John Houston did for The Maltese Falcon in cinema.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Illegal Time Immigration!

Click here to purchase "Highway J" by Charles Eric Maine in Pulp Adventures #21

The more things change, as the saying goes, the more they stay the same. Illegal immigration into the United States of America is the topic that may decide our next presidential election. Concerns over immigration arose in the 1940s, as people fled from Nazi Germany, seeking a better life in America. But what about concerns over illegal immigration in the future?

That's the twist in "Highway J" by Charles Eric Maine in Pulp Adventures #21-- when scientists harness the power of time travel, a mass exodus begins, much to the chagrin of people living in better times. Has your world been devastated by disease or nuclear war? No problem! Just fire up your way-back machine (or way-forward machine) and leave behind those pandemics.

Of course, world leaders in the 24th Century raise the same concerns -- lacks of resources and jobs, limited living space, immigrants carrying diseases, antiquated customs and refusing to assimilate into society. The solution is an invisible motion barrier -- a time wall -- that stops people in their time-streaming tracks. Soon, the very inventor of time travel finds himself on trial for crime against humanity.

"Highway J" features a good dollop of "rubber science," but it is an imaginative fiction story that remains timeless (no pun intended), just as unchecked immigration the world over will remain of paramount concern.

Click here to purchase "Highway J" by Charles Eric Maine in Pulp Adventures #21

Launching the blog ...

Bold Venture Press has been publishing new and classic pulp fiction for over two years, and we're branching out into new genres. Our humble website was two half-hearted pages, with several broken links. Now Bold Venture has over fifty titles in print, and we're expanding the line-up with three new additional titles every month.

So, we herewith launch our official Bold Venture Press blog, so we can keep everyone abreast of our new releases, and our observations on the pop culture landscape.