The Outfit marks the second entry into Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novel adaptations of Richard (Donald Westlake) Stark’s Parker novels. And much like Cooke’s original adaptation of The Hunter, The Outfit stands as yet another incredible accomplishment that continues to prove why Cooke is one of the premiere graphic storytellers in the comics medium.
Darwyn Cooke is a man who fully understands how integral art is to the comic making process. Few artists have the skill required to pull off what Cooke manages to do in The Outfit. Cooke can, and does, go pages without a single word balloon, narration or thought bubble. Instead, Cooke’s artistic skill in capturing the nuances of facial expression and body language do a lot of the storytelling heavy lifting.
Cooke even incorporates numerous ingenious page layouts to build character backgrounds without resorting to unnecessary exposition. The Outfit is a graphic novel that you can hand to someone not well verse in the medium and show them what makes storytelling through the use of images and words so unique and special.
But there are a select few instances where Cooke’s art comes off as relatively hard to follow. Because of Cooke’s stylistic choice to be minimalistic with background dressing and color--The Outfit once again utilizes the two-tone color scheme first introduced in The Hunter--the action sequences can be tough to comprehend. Luckily, The Outfit is not the type of story riddled with shootouts and fist fights. Rather, it’s more about the character interaction, playing right into Cooke’s strengths as a storyteller.
So far I’ve only touched on the art of The Outfit, but I really don’t want to undersell Cooke’s script work here. The dialogue and narration of The Outfit is just as sharp as it was in The Hunter. But the real standout sections, script-wise, come in Book Three (of 4), where Parker reaches out to his network of con buddies and gets them to pull various scores on some the Outfit’s criminal organizations. Not only do each of these heists sport wildly different page layouts, but the actual dialogue and narration detailing how each was pulled off is a refreshing style change midway through the book.
Surprisingly, even the seven-page prose entry detailing the heist of Club Cockatoo felt oddly fitting within the confines of a graphic novel. Cooke even adds a classy extra layer to this prose piece by giving the byline to Richard Stark. Consider me shocked that the highlight chapter of The Outfit is the one without a trace of Parker in its pages.
But it is worth noting; The Outfit is not a standalone, jumping on point for the Parker Graphic Novel series. This book references characters and plot threads set up in The Hunter while simultaneously moving them forward. Without first reading The Hunter you will be lost and confused with The Outfit. Maybe that can be considered a misstep by Cooke; failing to reach as wide an audience as possible on the merits of this story alone. But I don’t think that was ever considered or intended. Cooke is staying true to Richard Stark’s delivery of the original novels, The Outfit making up one part in a series. Therefore, The Outfit lacks a concrete beginning and end, acting more as a stepping stone heading towards the inevitable conclusion.
It should be perfectly clear that Cooke has near limitless respect for Richard Stark’s original source material and has crafted a loving graphic novel tribute to it here with The Outfit, much like he did with The Hunter. Darwyn Cooke’s Parker adaptations might be the best work of his long, prosperous career. They prove that he is capable of not only creating amazing original work (See also: DC: The New Frontier), but can also distill the core essence of someone else’s masterstroke and adapt it to a new medium without any loss in translation.