Tag Archives: Donald Westlake

Noir Comics | The Score by Richard Stark and Darwyn Cooke

The Score Darwyn Cooke Richard Stark

My Copy

Darwyn Cooke has an amazing talent for novel-to-comic adaptation, and The Score is a particularly delicious example. Originally a noir crime fiction novel by Richard Stark (AKA Donald Westlake), Mr. Cooke has turned a great heist plot into a visual treat of diabolical noir. The Score is the third such release in the last few years, and is easily the most ambitious of the trio not only in the broad scope of the heist but also in the breadth of the characters.

I imagine that one of the most difficult things about such an undertaking is making sure that each character is represented correctly and is easily recognizable from panel to panel. In the previous volumes, there were only five to six characters maximum, but The Score is comprised of a cast more than twice that. As a result, the story seems to be more shallow than the previous two, albeit no less entertaining or engaging. I feel compelled to read the entire graphic novel again, purely to make sure that all the moving parts fall into place.

The Score begins with Parker wandering the streets of a deserted city at night. A smallish fellow in a plaid coat obviously follows him, though Parker seems to be ignorant of the tail (the keyword here is “seems”). The little guy is quickly cornered and interrogated, his last mistake pulling a knife in defense. Parker kills him with bare hands.

Noir Comics Parker The Score

Page 16

This sort of thing doesn’t spook Parker, it annoys him. He returns to a hideout and tells a small gang waiting there, “The deals off. I’m out.” You see, to Parker, something like this is a sign that the job is sour; and he won’t take a job that’s sour. The finger, a man named Edgars, prevails upon Parker to at least hear the job out before walking, and it’s in the details that Parker can’t resist: They’re going to knock over a whole town.

Parker is a great protagonist because he feels like an antagonist. He’s unfeeling, cold, and abrasive. Donald Westlake writes:

The idea of the book had come about in a very mundane way; I walked across the George Washington Bridge. I’d been visiting a friend about 30 miles upstate from New York, and had taken a bus back to the city. However, I’d chosen the wrong bus, on that terminated on the New Jersey side of the bridge instead of the New York side (where I could catch my subway). So I walked across the bridge, surprised at how windy it was out there (when barely windy at all anywhere else) and at how much the apparently solid bridge shivered and swung from the wind and the pummeling of the traffic. There was speed in the cars going by, vibration in the bridge under my feet, tension in the whole atmosphere.

Riding downtown in the subway I slowly began to evolve in my mind the character who was right for that setting, whose own speed and solidity and tension matched that of the bridge. People I knew came and went, but he quickly took on his own face, his own hard-skeletoned way of walking; I saw him as looking something like Jack Palance, and I wondered: Why is he walking across the bridge? Not because he took the wrong bus. Because he’s angry. Not hot angry; cold angry. Because there are times when tools won’t serve, not hammers or cars or guns or telephones, when only the use of your own body will satisfy,  the hard touch of your own hands.

So I wrote the book, about this sonofabitch called Parker, and in the course of the story I couldn’t help starting to like him, because he was so defined; I never had to brood about what he’d do next. He always knew. To some extent, I suppose, I liked Parker for what he wouldn’t tell me about himself.

I absolutely love this series, these books are the noir crown jewels of my bookcase. The binding is the highest quality possible, and the hardback is beautifully vintage. My only peeve is that I have to wait until 2013 for the next one!

Parker Richard Stark

Page 18

Parker Darwyn Cooke

Page 19

The Score Comic

Page 25

Noir Comics The Score Darwyn Cooke

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Richard Stark's Parker The Score

Page 49

Femme Fatale Parker The Score

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Parker Novels Darwyn Cook

Page 78

Noir Comics Darwyn Cook

Page 119

The Score by Richard Stark and Darwyn Cooke

sans dustjacket

The Score by Darwyn Cooke and Richard Stark

sans dustjacket 2

I hate the quality of these images (taken with my last gen Android)- but the internet has a pitiful offering where the contents of this great noir comic is concerned. I wanted to at least give you a peek at some of the quality work being done here, even if the pics don’t do it justice.


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Noir Crime Fiction | “The Comedy is Finished” by Donald E. Westlake

The Comedy is Finished by Donald E. Westlake is a delicious morsel of noir crime fiction. Like a voice from beyond the grave, this manuscript was unearthed from a long forgotten storage box and published as the final known work of the deceased master.

Noir Crime Fiction The Comedy is Finished Donald E Westlake

"The Comedy is Finished" by Donald E. Westlake

The plot follows the unfortunate plight of American comedian Koo Davis as he is kidnapped by a group of radical revolutionaries. In true thriller fashion, the story moves at a dangerous pace propelled by unsettling thematic undertones. The triumph of this novel is in the detail of the character development. Every individual in the story is treated with a freshness and respect that is rare in any story. Each of the five kidnappers is meticulously ornate: Peter, the leader, with his chewed-raw cheeks and fear of emasculation. Larry, the theorist, with his grasp of Truth and History, as well as his patient lecturing. Liz, the femme fatale, with her lack of physical boundaries and drug addled perceptions. Mark, the muscle, with his brutally violent and unpredictable temperament. And Joyce, the den-mother, with her affectionate naivete and hopeful outlook. The reader is given a uniquely intimate view into the anxiety-charged climate of the hostage.

How does it fair against the noir definition? Observe:

1) The Seedy Underworld

Hollywood and the surrounding areas of pomp in the 1970s; Gated communities, back-rooms at police HQ, vacant mansions, and an underground grotto with a peeping-tom window to the swimming pool. Mr. Westlake is fabulous at creating vibrant environments that provide contrast for the dark deeds committed in them.

2) The Anti-Hero

Koo Davis is a wonderfully sympathetic anti-hero. He’s funny, bright, and extremely perceptive. As a reader, I was pained to see not only the predictament he was thrust into, but also the bleak landscape of his personal history. Because of the bridges burning in his rear view mirror, he seriously doubts that any of his family or so-called friends will care that he’s kidnapped. In these moments of doubt, his comical facade drops and one can see that indeed “the comedy is finished.”

3) The Femme Fatale

Each of the kidnappers possessed a very fleshed-out character, but only one qualifies as a femme fatale: Liz. She is the woman shown on the cover, wearing nothing but sunglasses. Although Liz does not have any interest in Koo, she does flaunt her sexuality with abandon. She doesn’t hide her disdain towards men, and she spends the novel in an acid-induced fog of violence.

4) Misogyny

Koo is an old man who recognizes his own misogyny far too late. He’s lived the life of a womanizer; drunk on his own fame, a stranger to his own wife and children. Koo’s memories of USO tours are fraught with the sexual objectification and misrepresentation of women, the pinnacle of his misogyny being the money he would shill to ensure secret abortions. The Comedy is Finished has a strong thread of noir crime fiction misogyny.

5) Redemption

For FBI agent Michael Wiskiel, the Koo Davis kidnapping case will be his ticket back to Washington D.C., his chance to salvage his career. For Koo, he realizes the need for redemption far too late, and he mourns the loss of a lifetime of apologies. For Peter (the lead kidnapper), this operation is the beginning of the redemption of America, the beginning of wresting it from the hands of the unworthy. Without spoiling anything, I’ll also note that there is a very strong father/child redemption theme present in the text.

Noir Crime Fiction Donald E Westlake

Donald E. Westlake

6) Eroticism

Several erotic scenes exist within the novel, and they follow the exact outline for the noir genre. They approach sexuality from the unacceptable outskirts, dabbling in the bizarre and outré practices of the sexual deviant. Liz’s blatant nudity, the free love shared among the kidnappers, and Peter’s sexual demands all lend to the erotic underpinnings of the novel.

7) Loss of Innocence

The only scene shared between Liz and Koo was shocking. I won’t spoil it, but it was one of the strangest scenes I’ve ever read. It absolutely represented a loss of innocence.

8 ) Racism

There are no characters of other races in the novel. And no racially-charged content.

9) Smoke

Smoke is the ever present companion of the characters. Always on the edge of the scene, dangling from a pursed lip.

10) Emasculation

The largest evidence of emasculation occurs in the scene between Liz and Koo, but I’ve already stated that I won’t spoil it. Peter fears that his operation will fail, or that his leadership will be questioned; This leads him to the extremes of personality that he exhibits. His fear of emasculation is one of the most driving elements of his character. Likewise, Agent Michael Wiskiel has been emasculated in the past (he was demoted and sent to California in shame) and this past failure drives him to the great lengths and risks that he is willing to undertake to recover Koo as well as his lost manhood.

Donald E. Westlake is a undeniable master of the noir crime fiction genre, and we are lucky that he left us with such an immense catalogue to read.

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