Archive for Darwyn Cooke

Holiday Gift Bag: Slayground

I still have plenty of gift recommendations to get through before Christmas. Today, let’s look at Richard Stark’s Parker: Slayground, adapted and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke.


By now, I expect you know the general idea behind this series. Richard Stark was actually a mystery writer named Donald Westlake, and his series of hard-boiled crime novels about a heist artist named Parker has been quite popular for decades. Darwyn Cooke, who creates great retro-pulp comics like “DC: The New Frontier” and the “Spirit” revival from a few years ago, has done several graphic novel adaptations of the Parker novels. And this one is the latest one.

In “Slayground,” Parker’s latest heist has gone sour. He’s made his escape into Fun Island, an amusement park in Buffalo, New York, that’s been closed for the winter. Parker knows some cops saw him climb into the park — but they aren’t coming after him. He quickly deduces that the cops are crooked, and they and a bunch of mafia goons are planning on coming after him, stealing the loot, and killing him to cover up their own crimes.

But it’s a big park. And the longer they wait before they move in after him, the more time they give him to hide and to turn the rides and attractions into deathtraps under his control.

Verdict: Thumbs up. What’s not to love? It’s “Home Alone” with a sociopath in place of Macauley Culkin!

Seriously, I’m gonna go ahead and keep this fairly short. Y’all must know by now how much I love Cooke’s Parker graphic novels. The big difference between this and the previous three is that there’s a lot less heisting, a lot more action, and no gorgeous bombshells getting in Parker’s way.

What’s it got? It’s got fantastic art, a thrilling story, great characters, and the distinct brand of awesomeness we’ve come to expect from the Parker books.

You want more in-depth analysis? Read my previous reviews of the Parker comics. You want it short and simple? This will be a great gift for anyone who loves crime comics, cool, retro artwork, and noir storytelling. Go pick it up.

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Parker Shoots, Parker Scores

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Score

Wow, I had no idea this was coming out ’til I got to the store last week — a brand new Parker graphic novel by Darwyn Cooke. Set me back more than I was expecting, but it was worth every penny.

What do we have here? If you’re new, there was a mystery writer named Donald Westlake, and while writing under his pen-name of Richard Stark, he came up with this guy named Parker, a cold-hearted conscience-free bastard who specializes in heists. He doesn’t like to kill but he’ll do it if he has to — and he sure won’t feel bad about it afterwards. Darwyn Cooke got Westlake’s blessing not long before he died to turn some of the Parker novels into graphic novels, and this is the third in the set.

It’s 1964, and Parker is brought in during the planning stages of a job he has some serious doubts about. It’s being organized by an amateur named Edgars, he thinks the job may need 30 people to pull off, and he wants to rob an entire town — the small mining town of Copper Canyon, North Dakota. Though several of his more trusted associates are interested in it, Parker is inclined to nix the entire job — until he’s convinced that with the right planning, it could actually be possible.

The rest of the book focuses on Parker and his 12-man team of crooks as they make preparations for the heist, then follows them as they effortlessly and perfectly pull the job off. Wait, did I say effortless and perfect? Nope, something big goes wrong, and Parker has to salvage his team and the money so they can all make their escape.

Verdict: Oh, you know it’s a thumbs up.

Let’s talk art. Well, it’s got Darwyn Cooke doing the art, so you know it’s gonna look awesome. An interesting change for this book — instead of the black and blue ink of the previous two novels, this one is done with black ink and orange ink. Does a lot to make the book look hotter and more distant from the city. It does a lot to this story — so much more over-the-top than the previous ones — to make it pop off the page. It’s great art, but we knew that going in, didn’t we?

Writing-wise, there’s lots of good stuff here — good characterization for almost everyone, with several of the bandits getting their own sections of the story all to themselves as we get to learn more about them, why they rob, what they love doing. We get a nice long bit with Grofield, the charismatic, wise-cracking actor, and it’s great fun. We even see some of Parker we never knew about before, particularly the fact that, when dealing with hostages, he drops his cold persona and uses simple psychology to keep people calm and cooperative.

My one complaint was that, for all the planning that got done before the heist, no one ever stopped to consider who Edgars was and why he wanted the town robbed. He admitted at the beginning that it was personal, but once everyone started thinking about that quarter-million-dollar payoff, everyone forgot about that loose end. Of course, if they hadn’t, there wouldn’t have been much of a story, but I may have said too much now, right?

It’s a good book. No, it’s a fantastic book, one that you’re going to absolutely love reading. Go pick it up.

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The Hero Sandwich List of Favorite Comics for 2010

I don’t think I’ve ever tried to do a year-end retrospective list — it’s always too difficult for me to pick out a list of things I enjoyed the most out of 12 whole months. But what the heck, I’m gonna try it today.

This list is strictly listed in alphabetical order. I can’t claim it’s a list of the best comics — I haven’t read all the comics, after all — but it’s the list of the 15 comics that I enjoyed the most.

American Vampire

Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, and Stephen King came together to re-invent the vampire for the rough-and-tumble American West. Outstanding characters, close attention to setting, and rip-snorting horror make this a must-read for anyone who loves non-sparkly bloodsuckers.


The adventures of Stephanie Brown as the newest Batgirl are full of great humor, great action, great dialogue, and great characterizations. This is one of the best superhero comics around.

Batman and Robin

Grant Morrison’s triumphant run of Batman comics had its most epic stretch in these stories of Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne, as well as Alfred, Dr. Hurt, and the Joker. The scale of Morrison’s storytelling here was breathtaking.

Blackest Night

Possibly the most successful crossover storyarc in years, this grabbed readers’ imaginations and didn’t let go for months. Even better than its commercial successes were the overall excellence of the plotline. At its height, there was nothing as good as this story about zombies, power rings, and emotions.


I’m not a fan of the new series, but Garth Ennis’ original Crossed miniseries was the most harrowing, brutal, relentless, depressing, and terrifying horror comic to hit the stands in a long, long time.


This was, without a single doubt, the best comic series of the entire year. Nothing else came close. Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon deserve to win so many awards for this one. If you missed this series in the original run, you should definitely keep your eyes open in the next few months for the trade paperback.

Detective Comics starring Batwoman

Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III didn’t create the character, but they crafted her best stories. While Rucka brilliantly fleshed out her backstory, personality, and supporting cast, Williams took the stories and created some of the year’s most beautiful artwork and design.

Hellboy in Mexico

This story of, well, Hellboy in Mexico was my favorite, but I also loved all of the other collaborations between Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and fantasy artist Richard Corben. These two meshed together creatively in ways that very few creators are able to do, and all of us readers were the beneficiaries.

Joe the Barbarian

Grant Morrison’s fantasy story is both epic and mundane in scale, which is really quite a trick — Joe is in diabetic shock, and he’s hallucinating that his home and toys have turned into a fantasy kingdom. But what if he’s not really hallucinating?

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Outfit

The second chapter of Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of Donald Westlake’s crime fiction is a beautiful tribute to Cooke’s retro-cool art sensibilities and the pure fun of good pulp crime novels.

Power Girl

Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Amanda Conner created the best version of Power Girl ever for a year’s worth of funny, smart, sexy, exciting superhero stories. These creators loved this character, and you can tell that in every story they published about her. I still hope they’ll be able to come back to this title eventually.

Secret Six

Far and away DC’s best team book, Gail Simone has hooked us a bunch of people who are extremely likeable and also completely crazy and prone to trying to kill each other from moment to moment. This shouldn’t work as well as it does, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s colossal fun to read every single month.

Strange Science Fantasy

Scott Morse’s retro-pulp series packed a heck of a lot of audacious fun into six short issues. This was a treat visually, emotionally, intellectually — even on a tactile level, what with the heavy, rough paper it was printed on.

Thor and the Warriors Four

The Power Pack go to Asgard. I didn’t really expect much of it, to be honest, but readers were treated to godlike quantities of humor, excitement, whimsey, and awesomeness, thanks to writer Alex Zalben and artists Gurihiru, and to Colleen Coover’s excellent backup stories.

Tiny Titans

Probably the best all-ages comic out there right now. These comics are smart and funny and cute and just plain fun to read.

Aaaaand that’s what I got. There were plenty of other comics that just barely missed the cut, but these were nevertheless the ones that gave me the most joy when I was reading them.

So farewell, 2010. And hello, rapidly onrushing 2011. Hope you’re a better year for all of us, and I hope we can all look forward to plenty more great comics to come.

Now y’all be safe and have a good time tonight, but call a cab if you need it — I want to make sure all of y’all are here to read me in 2011.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Parker!

Well, what’ve we got here? Looks like it’s the biggest shopping day of the year, and you can look forward to fighting your way through a few thousand people at the malls and the discount stores, wearing the soles off your shoes walking through jam-packed parking lots, and hitting your fellow shoppers with purses and warhammers and car fenders and walruses and whatnot!

“Oh, help me!” I hear you cry. “Help me, Comic Book Blogger Guy! Help me find the perfect gift for family! Also, where did I park my car?”

Well, sounds to me like it’s time to kick off this year’s “Holiday Gift Bag” series — over the next few weeks, I’m going to offer you some ideas and recommendations for holiday gifts you can give the comics fan in your life. So if you’re tired of getting crushed and pushed around at the mall, head on over to your friendly neighborhood comic shop instead!

We’re going to start out with Richard Stark’s Parker: The Outfit, adapted and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke.

You may remember I’ve already reviewed the first volume of this series, “Parker: The Hunter,” and even reviewed the pre-release preview, “The Man with the Getaway Face.” Well, this is finally the second book in Cooke’s “Parker” series, and it’s heckuva good.

To sum things up, this is superstar artist Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of the “Parker” hardboiled crime novels by Donald Westlake (writing as Richard Stark). Our lead character is a guy named Parker, who is a criminal who specializes in pulling heists. He’s a mostly unsympathetic guy — cold, grim, unsmiling, merciless. He doesn’t like to kill people, but he’ll do it if he has to, and he won’t even feel bad about it.

After getting plastic surgery to disguise his appearance, Parker’s living the easy life, but a disgruntled associate has clued the Mob in on where to find him. After taking care of that loose end, Parker ain’t happy about it. He’s tired of the Mob breathing down his neck, and he wants to do two things — take out the syndicate leader who’s got it in for him, and hurt the Mob in their pocketbook so they’ll know to lay off him. So after telling a bunch of his heist-artist pals that they should start robbing some Mob-owned businesses, he sets his sights on Bronson, the head of the East Coast syndicate.

This book is just a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. Ain’t nothing like the thrill of opening a book and finding that it’s all put together with black ink and blue ink on creamy off-white paper. You won’t have to hide this in your back office with all the ratty comic TPBs — this needs to go in the bookshelf at the front of the house, with all the fancy books you want to use to impress people.

If you love hard-boiled crime fiction, this was made for you. Parker’s a hard, mean customer, and I’d guesstimate there are eight different heists pulled off in just 150 pages. That’s a lot of crime, boyo. I also loved the great mix of characters — besides Parker, you’ve got charismatic jokester Grofeld, doomed weasel Skim, Monopoly-hating crime boss Bronson, cheery hooker-turned-motel-owner Madge, thrill-seeking Bett Harlow, and bunches more, some never named. This is good stuff all the way through.

If you’re familiar with Cooke’s art, you know you’re getting good stuff — a lot of influence from the more noir-based Warner Bros. animation, with his own unique twists on the formula. Lots and lots of period detail for the ’60s. Cooke loves the ’50s and ’60s, and he loves period details both small and large. You’ll come out of this feeling like you just read a comic created in the ’60s.

Possibly the coolest part of this book is the section where we learn about all the independent crooks who’ve started knocking over Mob operations — each heist is told in a different format. The first with a pure text tale seemingly ripped out of a sleazy true-crime magazine, another in a simple gag-cartoon style, another looking like it came straight out of an economics text book. It gives Cooke lots of opportunities to show off his artistic and cartooning chops, and it’s way entertaining for the reader besides.

“Richard Stark’s Parker: The Outfit” by Richard Stark and Darwyn Cooke. It’s just 25 bucks. Go pick it up.

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Friday Night Fights: All Choked Up!

Well, okay, I’ve had most of the week off, but now I’m back and ready to really get my nose to the grindstone… and then go right back to the weekend. Huzzah!

So anyway, my week away from blogging sure didn’t mean I didn’t have to deal with all the usual workweek frustrations, and that means it’s definitely time to work some of those irritations away with a little gratuitous violence. In other words, it’s time for… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

This week’s fight comes from August 2009’s Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter, based on the novel by Richard Stark and adapted by Darwyn Cooke, as hard-boiled criminal Parker finally catches up to lowlife sleaze Mal Resnick.

That is not a smile that says “Hey, guys, let’s go get diet sodas and play Pictionary!”

And I couldn’t bring myself to break this next one up into individual panels, so here’s a whole page of Parker strangling Mal to death.

Holy cow, that’s great stuff. I’ve recommended y’all get this before, haven’t I? Well, seriously, y’all go pick this one up.

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Parker Can’t Lose

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter

I’m really, really late to the party at this point. This came out last year, and I delayed getting it because of the $25 price tag. I finally found it somewhere for an extra $10 off and snapped it up. My only regret is that I waited so long to get it — it’s absolutely worth 25 smackers.

If you’ve been living in a hole, this is a comic adaptation of the first of the “Parker” novels by Richard Stark (whose real name was Donald Westlake). All the art is by Darwyn Cooke, who’s best known to comics fans as the guy behind “DC: The New Frontier,” the “Spirit” revival, and lots of other cool, retro projects.

Parker is a criminal. He specializes in heists — he gets a team together, goes in to some place with a lot of money, steals it, then lives in swanky hotels on his ill-gotten cash for a few years ’til it’s time to restock the bank account. But he got double-crossed on the last job, most of his team got killed, his wife got threatened into betraying and shooting him, and he got jailed for vagrancy for several months. Once he makes his escape, he returns to New York as one big, ice-cold bucket of rage, ready to track down his wife and the crook who betrayed him. And he wants his money back, even if he has to take on the Mob to get it.

Parker is an incredibly unsympathetic character — he starts the book jumping subway turnstiles and stiffing waitresses and quickly moves up to forging a drivers license, committing check fraud, assault, encouraging someone to commit suicide, and desecrating a corpse. And he escalates things from there. He’s a rotten piece of work in every way, and I have no idea why he makes such a compelling character, unless we’re just hardwired to sympathize with hardboiled, rage-fueled crooks. Or it could be just that Westlake and Cooke are great storytellers. I’m leaning toward the latter, but we are a pretty psychotic species sometimes.

Let’s talk about art. I’m a fan of Darwyn Cooke — a big, big fan. His part-retro/part-animated-action style is colossally appealing, and he really knows how to tell a story right, how to frame a pose, how to amp up the drama and suspense. He’s got a great eye for period detail.

And here’s the thing I still can’t get over — I read the book, and I remembered it being in color. But it’s not — someone reminded me that it’s all done with black ink, blue ink, and off-white paper. But I still remembered it being in full color. How could I mistake blue ink and black ink for color? That’s how good Darwyn Cooke’s art is.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Late to the party, sure, but I gotta say it. If you ain’t got it, go get it. And there’s more on the way — Cooke’s putting out the second book in the series this summer. Smart money says it’ll be worth the 25 bucks, too.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Space Weather could wreak havoc on Earth technology. SPAAAAAACE WEATHERRRRRR!
  • Ragnell writes a long post about her pick for the only cool prince in Disney’s classic movies.

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Friday Night Fights: Sucker Punch!

Wow, has this seemed like a rougher-than-average week. I’ve been feeling like I needed the weekend to start sometime around Tuesday, so this absolutely feels like it’s long overdue. So let’s get right to it — time to get our weekend started right — with FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes from the second volume of 2005’s DC: The New Frontier by the astonishingly awesome Darwyn Cooke with Dave Stewart. Superman heads out to confront the island-sized monstrosity called the Centre and finds an unwelcoming committee just waiting for him to drop his guard…

I’ve recommended this comic to y’all before — and if you don’t have it, you really, really should go get it. It’s fantastically beautiful all the way through.

Hope y’all have a great weekend, and I’ll see y’all Monday…

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Hex Factor

Jonah Hex #50

I just can’t resist an issue of this comic when Darwyn Cooke is doing the artwork.

Scarred, cynical bounty hunter Jonah Hex is huntin’ down ne’er-do-wells with Tallulah Black, a scarred, one-eyed bounty hunter — and Jonah’s occasional lover. After she gives him the slip the next morning, Jonah is offered a chance to bring in a bunch of new bounties, all at the request of a wealthy oilman. The more he brings in, the more he stands to earn. So he sets off killin’ a bunch of badmen. Meanwhile, Tallulah Black has turned up in a little town called Silver Springs. The sheriff doesn’t trust her, but Tallulah wants to put her past behind her and try to become, if not respectable, at least not a bounty hunter anymore. Elsewhere, the remaining criminals on Jonah’s hit-list confer to figure out a way to get rid of Hex — they decide to invade a small town, run off or kill the residents, and use it as a trap to lure Jonah to his death. The town they pick is Silver Springs.

A few months pass, and we learn that Tallulah’s pregnant with Jonah’s child, she’s building herself a home, and getting along with most of the Silver Springs folks, except for the religious nut who helps run the dress shop. And right about time Tallulah’s ready to give birth, the crooks finally invade Silver Springs, and Abigail, the aforementioned religious nut, slugs Tallulah over the head with a hammer, stabs her with a pair of scissors, and cuts the baby out of her, fleeing on the first train out of town. Jonah shows up in time to save Tallulah, and resolves to go track down Abigail and get the baby back.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good grief, what a thumbs up. It’s a done-in-one story, and it’s more epic than every mega-crossover event you’ll see this year and next. Aside from Darwyn Cooke’s amazingly beautiful artwork (Check out that incredible supersized splash page on page 2!), the storytelling here by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti is absolutely pitch-perfect for everything you’d want from a “Jonah Hex” comic — funny, grim, heartbreaking, terrifying, hard-bitten, and cynical. The dialogue just sings, especially between Tallulah and the sheriff. The last page is just outstanding, without a word being said. Go get it, y’all.

North 40 #6

Sacrifices have been made, and Cthulhu — or something very much like him — is loose in Conover County. Wyatt Hinkle, Amanda Walker, and Sheriff Morgan are in a desperate race to lead the monster-god to water so they can perform a ceremony to banish it. We learn some new insights about some of our players, get one more confrontation with the awful Atterhull clan. But even if the monster can be destroyed, what other threats are ahead for the mystically transformed county residents?

Verdict: Thumbs up. This whole series has been a great big wad of fun. And a nice crisis to finish things off. Even better, they’re still able to add new monsters and freaks into the mix clear up to the end. I sure hope they make this one a continuing series, ’cause I’d love to read more of this stuff.


Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes #18

Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Vision, and the Invisible Woman are investigating worldwide incidents of towns suffering from uncontrollable fits of rage and violence. They visit a small village in England, where Nova and some of his friends are on the trail of a spriggan, an unpleasant kind of faerie. And they’re all joined by the Black Widow, who’s bored and looking for some excitement. Can all these heroes figure out how to work together as a team?

Verdict: Ehh, not bad, but not a completely enthusiastic thumbs up. There are some nice moments here, but I can’t get over the weird composition of this team. They’re calling themselves the Avengers — does that mean there’s not a “Marvel Adventures: Avengers” comic anymore? I was a big fan of that one. Nova and Black Widow really don’t seem like the kinds of characters you’d want on a new “Avengers” squad like this. And it seems strange to see Sue Storm outside of the Fantastic Four — and wearing that green-and-red costume…

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Jonah Hex #33

I really should be a bigger fan of Jonah Hex — he’s got the bad attitude, he’s got the murderous skills, he’s got the truly excellent facial scarring. But he’s just never ended up appealing to me. Still, I had to pick this one up, just because it’s got artwork by Darwyn Cooke, masterful illustrator of “The New Frontier,” “The Spirit,” and more. Anyway, this story takes place up in Canada during a harsh winter, far from the American Southwest where stories about Hex are usually set. We focus on a little boy whose father has just died, leaving the kid trapped in a blizzard and facing a pack of hungry wolves. Hex shows up and dispatches the wolves, but runs afoul of some Mounties who make the mistake of thinking Hex will be easy to kill. People should know better than to make mistakes around Jonah Hex.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Cooke’s artwork is, of course, absolutely gorgeous. It’s worth picking up for that alone, but I’m also pretty fond of the story. Hex saves the kid, but he doesn’t actually care about him at all. He mostly ignores him and even backhands him at one point. But the kid’s a quick learner and picks up a trick or two from the Meanest Gunfighter in the Old West. It’s good fun. Maybe I ought to start picking this one up.


Green Lantern Corps #27

Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner re-open Warriors restaurant on Oa as an intergalactic cop bar. Elsewhere, Morro, the Cryptkeeper of the Green Lanterns, lays Bzzd to rest and then meets another Green Lantern named Saarek who can commune with the dead. And somewhere else, someone is killing the families of Green Lanterns and later actually dumps their eyes on a bunch of rookies in training to demoralize them.

I think I’m going to give this a thumbs down. It seems to be the beginning of a new storyline, but it basically functioned as a placesaver issue. And the thing with the eyes, while suitably hardcore, seemed a bit too excessive for my liking.

And in unrelated blog news, posting may be light to nonexistent over the next few days. I’ve developed a minor but extremely painful medical condition (technical term: Axe in Face), and the pain is just too distracting to allow me to do very much writing. Hopefully, I can get all patched up today, but if not, I’ll see ya when I see ya…

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Back to the Frontier


Justice League: The New Frontier Special

You might remember that I recommended DC’s “The New Frontier” graphic novel last December November. Well, DC has now released a sequel, published to help promote the recently-released “Justice League: The New Frontier” direct-to-DVD animated movie. We get three short stories, all written by “New Frontier” creator Darwyn Cooke, all set in his version of the retro-cool 1950s/60s.

We start off with an “outtake” from the original graphic novel, with Superman ordered by the government to take down Batman. Next up, Robin and Kid Flash star in “Dragstrip Riot” as the two go undercover to break up gangs of murderous drag-racers and saboteurs. Finally, Wonder Woman and Black Canary strike a blow for Women’s Lib in the Playboy Club.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The first story is the big winner — it’s the only one that’s actually drawn by Cooke, and there ain’t nothing finer than a story with Darwyn Cooke art in it. On top of that, it’s got one of the best Superman-vs.-Batman slugfests I’ve seen since “The Dark Knight Returns.” The Teen Titans story isn’t as epic, but it’s exactly the kind of stuff the original Titans specialized in, and it’s completely drenched in early ’60s coolsville. The Wonder Woman/Black Canary story is, in some ways, the weakest. The art is tremendously cartoony, Wonder Woman’s personality is badly warped for comedic purposes, and Black Canary has little purpose other than reacting to Wondy. But it’s definitely the funniest story in the book, with a couple of funny guest stars, several cool moments, and numerous funny lines.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of “New Frontier,” I’ll have my own review of the movie on Monday.

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