Saturday, August 01, 2009

A Superhero in a Prism, Antiheroes in Deep Focus

Batman has a proposal for Catwoman in Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert’s “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?,” which offers multiple views of its hero’s mythology.

By George Gene Gustines
Published in The New York Times, July 30, 2009
The cartoonist Darwyn Cooke is an extraordinary talent. He had already proven himself to superhero fans with a taut psychological examination of Bruce Wayne (“Batman: Ego”), a down-and-dirty heist adventure (“Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score”) and an audacious revisionist look at the formation of the Justice League (“The New Frontier”).
Adapted and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke
144 pages. IDW. $24.99.
Written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Andy Kubert
128 pages. DC Comics. $24.99.
Written and illustrated by David Mazzucchelli
344 pages. Pantheon. $29.95.
Excerpt: ‘The Hunter’
Excerpt: ‘Asterios Polyp’
Excerpt: ‘Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?’

Now Mr. Cooke has turned his eye toward the guys and dolls that make up the world of Parker, the single-named, downright criminal antihero created by Richard Stark (the novelist Donald E. Westlake, using a pseudonym, who died last year). The result is a wonderfully engrossing graphic-novel adaptation of “The Hunter,” the 1962 book in which Mr. Stark introduced his frequent protagonist.
The Hunter” is about a hijacking caper that ends poorly for Parker: not only is he double-crossed, but his wife, Lynn, is a coerced accomplice in his downfall. He’s shot and left for dead in a building set ablaze. He survives, of course, and tracks his enemies to New York City, bent on revenge. Except for omitting a scene or two involving an Upper West Side bodega, the adaptation is faithful to the novel, down to the opening and closing lines.
While the situations may be Mr. Stark’s, the stylized imagery is Mr. Cooke’s. (At this point in his career, I would happily buy his graphic adaptation of a phone book.) “The Hunter,” with a black, white and washed-green-gray palette, opens with a bravura 13-page sequence that is nearly dialogue-free. We see Parker stomp across the traffic-clogged George Washington Bridge, his effect on women (lots of blushing and preening) and his forging a driver’s license for use in a later con. The New York of 1962 appears clean, innocent and inviting, while its residents have the scrubbed look of the advertising executives, wives and mistresses of “Mad Men.” The reader is denied Parker’s face until Page 20, when we see his visage, reflected in a mirror, smoldering with rage.
Mr. Cooke depicts his characters with such emotion and conveys so much with gesture and composition that, except for the specifics of the hijacking, you could almost follow the story by the images alone. And when the words and graphics are in harmony, the effect is deliciously brutal. When Parker confronts Lynn, she’s physically and emotionally shaken by his return. She talks about her guilt regarding his “death”: “If I don’t take the pills, I don’t sleep. I think about you and how you’re dead and how I wish — I wish it was me.” With steel in his eyes, Parker responds, “Take too many pills.” His encouraging her to commit suicide is only one example of the ice in his heart.
Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” has morbid moments, but also bittersweet
passages. Its title story, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Andy Kubert, imagines several variations of Batman’s death. This anthology, published by DC Comics, also includes other stories by Mr. Gaiman about the millionaire Bruce Wayne’s famous alter ego. The other tales are very good, but “Whatever Happened to ...” packs enough emotional punch to stand solo.
The story is narrated posthumously by Batman (no spoilers here; it’s apparent by the seventh page). It opens with Selina Kyle (Catwoman) on her way to the Dew Drop Inn, a seedy bar with a backroom. The occasion is Batman’s wake, and his enemies and allies assemble to recount their versions of his passing.
Read the rest at NYT.

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