Update: This review is a first draft. The current version is here.
The sheer brutality of The Hunter was unsustainable for a series, and Richard Stark didn’t attempt it. Rather, he took the character and universe of The Hunter and used them for more complex tales of amorality. This isn’t to say that there is no brutality in subsequent Parker novels, because certainly there is (The Sour Lemon Score and Deadly Edge, for example), but Stark wisely didn’t attempt to top the brutality of The Hunter with each subsequent novel.
In The Outfit, the first sequel to his stellar adaptation of The Hunter, Darwyn Cooke again follows Stark’s lead (although he does take a good many more liberties with the source material than he did the first time out*). Put much too simply, The Hunter is the story of a man who fights to get what he wants, where The Outfit is the story of a man who schemes to get what he wants.
The Outfit opens quite faithful to the original, with Parker surviving an Outfit assassination attempt while in the arms of Bett Harrow, a woman of convenience who turns into some unexpected trouble. When Parker stands nearly-naked above his now nearly-unconscious assailant, his face is quite different from the Parker we met in The Hunter–it’s considerably harder and much less handsome.
From there, we go to a flashback based on The Man with the Getaway Face (a section published under that title as a promotional item), a precursor to a series of heists done by Parker and others that form the core of the comic. And it’s these heists that may cause a split reaction to The Outfit.
Those familiar with The Outfit (the novel) and other Parker books beyond The Hunter will likely relish these heist scenes. Those who have only read Cooke’s The Hunter may be disappointed that it isn’t an attempt at going even darker than The Hunter. I hope they come along for the ride, because the heist scenes are great–Cooke tells these stories-within-the-story using a variety of styles ranging from adding illustrations to text straight from the novel to cartoonish visuals that are absurd but fitting.
And when the heists are over? Then it’s time for the reckoning, which comes in grand fashion.
*None of these liberties is to the detriment of the adaptation. Jake Menner from the novel cleverly becomes Skim Lasker, which helps tie the Getaway Face section in. The car-buying scene with Handy McKay and Chemy is gone, but although it was a highlight of the novel, it was a detour and it probably wouldn’t have worked in the comic book. Most interesting to the Richard Stark fan, Alan Grofield makes his debut earlier than in the series of novels so as to set up the next volume of the comic series, The Score (purists may not like that he has become Alan Grofeld and moved to Virginia). And, intriguingly, Parker’s still got Bett Harrow to deal with even though The Mourner isn’t being adapted.