When the late Darwyn Cooke took on adapting the Parker series—the brilliant, ruthless crime thrillers written by Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Donald Westlake under the name Richard Stark—he brought his all to the work. Cooke’s four Parker graphic novels—The Hunter, The Outfit, The Score, and Slayground stand as some of the greatest comics ever made.
Cooke’s Parker comics share their source material’s merciless precision, and they do so while playing with the form and shape of their medium in really, really neat ways. The Outfit details a series of heists executed against the titular criminal organization through style-hopping: one heist is told through a glossy magazine feature, another through a board game to name just two. Slayground features a fold-out brochure of the shuttered-for-winter theme park master thief Parker weaponized against the small army of mobsters and bent cops out for his blood. In the spread below, taken from The Score, Cooke presents the map of the town Parker and company plan to rob while toying with the rules of that presentation, with heist planner Edgars pointing the map out not only to Parker and his crew, but to the reader themselves.
And at the same time, Cooke’s classical comics-craft is just as strong — be it The Score‘s elegant cutting between the players and the enormous number of elements they have to juggle if they are to successfully rob literally all of Copper Canyon, or Slayground‘s meticulous setup of Parker booby-trapping the theme park and its subsequent merciless deployment of those traps. Consider the two pages below.
The first is the setup, which occurs as Parker is stalking through the park, preparing for the mob’s inevitable attack:
Parker, a man of few words, affords Cooke numerous opportunities for silent sequential storytelling—the setup phase of Slayground is a prime example of this. As a man who has cut away everything other than what is essential to the success of the job, Parker is as precise as he is stoic. While things go wrong and he has to improvise more than he’d like, wherever he can he takes the time to establish an advantage. And when the time comes to do so, he does so. Without hesitation.
With The Martini Edition – Last Call presenting both The Score and Slayground together, the impressive range of Cooke’s Parker work becomes clear. The Score is a massive ensemble piece, bouncing Parker off of a massive crew of fellow players. Slayground keeps him on his own for the vast majority of its page-time. One examines Parker in what is, for him, a social context. The other is a heavily-internal study of Parker as a survivor, as a man of, to paraphrase John Wick, “focus, commitment, and sheer will.” Neither would be mistaken for the other. Both are unmistakably Parker—a testament to the skill and care both Cooke and Westlake brought to their work.
This collection is very much a tribute to Cooke. In addition to collecting his last two Parker books, The Martini Edition – Last Call features a new comic by the great Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker (of Reckless fame, amongst many, many other collaborations). Starring Parker’s far-more-easygoing fellow thief Alan Grofield in late middle age as he meditates on his history with Parker, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a meditative, melancholy comic. It’s Phillips and Brubaker paying homage to their late friend through a work that pulls from the distinctive style of Cooke’s Parker work whilst still being very much a Phillips/Brubaker comic. Odd as it is to use the word for a story about a character who is so ruthless, it’s a genuinely lovely piece of work.
Following Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow is an extended conversation between Brubaker, Bruce Timm, and Scott Dunbier about their relationships with Cooke and about the work he did to bring Parker to comics. It’s a deeply affectionate conversation and one that does not treat Cooke like a cardboard standee to be held aloft. Brubaker, for instance, is frank about their years-long falling out and the subsequent rebuilding of their friendship. In acknowledging Cooke’s fallibility alongside his generosity and talent, his friends and peers deliver a humane, moving memorial that shares the late artist’s commitment to comics as an art—a commitment driven home by The Martini Edition – Last Call‘s final section, a collection of paintings and sketches from all across Cooke’s Parker work—be they early character studies of Parker or never-before-seen drafts from the ended-by-Cooke’s-death illustrated editions of Westlake’s novels.
It’s a tremendously impressive presentation, one worthy of the books it contains. Parker: The Martini Edition – Last Call is a very, very fine premium edition of some of the best crime comics to have ever been made. For those who dig crime comics, Cooke, Westlake, the process of comics-craft, and all of the above, tracking it down is a must.
Join the AIPT Patreon
Want to take our relationship to the next level? Become a patron today to gain access to exclusive perks, such as:
- ❌ Remove all ads on the website
- 💬 Join our Discord community, where we chat about the latest news and releases from everything we cover on AIPT
- 📗 Access to our monthly book club
- 📦 Get a physical trade paperback shipped to you every month
- 💥 And more!