Sadly, comic legend Darwyn Cooke passed away on May 14th of this year. He was only 53 years old. Cooke, no doubt had more stories to tell, and with his impressive track record you know that we will be missing out on fantastic pieces of work.
Cooke was a Toronto born creator who started fairly late in the comics game at the age of 38 or so. Despite this, he quickly made a name for himself. Nearly everything he put out became seminal work. I mean this in the best way possible because I feel that he was almost the ultimate opportunist, in the fact that he didn’t need a lot of chances to hit one out of the park. He took whatever he worked on and ran with it at full speed. Cooke was of a rare breed, proving he could be both an excellent artist AND writer. Cooke always claimed he hated writing but damn, he was good at it, and he had distinctive styles for both. Cooke made a name for himself working on Batman The Animated Series and Batman Beyond, and his own art style reflected that but his style still had it’s own unique flavor. His penchant for lighting and drama really stick out in my mind. His art was detailed, but simple enough to increase efficiency. Cooke stated on a few occasions that he developed his art style in this way in order to work quickly without having to sacrifice quality, and he never missed a deadline. His writing style was also as unique. He manged to tell complex and nuanced work without delving into excessive violence or gore thus making it accessible for . He was a major advocate for all age comics. In fact, he was quite critical of mainstream comic companies not tailoring enough of their modern material for younger readers.
His first work was the excellent Batman: Ego one shot ,which he wrote and drew. It was a psychologically complex look at Batman’s worst enemy, Himself. I find that it’s still criminally underrated. Certainly one of my favorite Batman stories of all time. It wasn’t until Justice League: New Frontier that the public really started paying attention and critical acclaim soon followed.
Cooke was as much a teacher as he was a creator. He was vocal about sharing tips and advise to any aspiring artist or writer. Fans always wanted to see him do more creator owned work but it was not to be.
If you’ve never heard of Darwyn Cooke, do yourself a favor and check out a few of these recommendations.
DC:The New Frontier: 6 issue miniseries
Probably what he will most be remembered for is the re imagining and reweaving of the origin of the Justice League, in many ways, the heart of the DC universe. Tackling both art & writing duties, Cooke manged to showcase a tale that could appeal to anyone at a time where grim and gritty seemed the norm. His idealistic view of a better hope for tomorrow never came through quite so poignantly as it did with New Frontier. The limited series manged to win an Eisner, Harvey and Joe Shuster Award for best limited series, High accolades indeed.
Richard Stark’s: Parker- Vol 1 -4
Cooke often said that Parker was the story he was born to do and if you look at the end result, it’s hard to disagree. Sure, it’s an adaptation of various novels by Richard Stark but Cooke really brought the stories to life and managed to make Parker a household name. I’ve written about my love for the Parker books before so I won’t go on too long but if you’re looking for bad ass crime noir, look no further than Parker. I’d say the finest art Darwyn Cooke ever did. So simple, yet so complex. Feast your eyes on this spread.
The Spirit: #1–6, 8–12
The only ongoing, monthly series Darwyn Cooke ever had but it was an instant classic. Also regarded as the only successful revival of The Spirit to match the quality of Will Eisner’s work. That is huge praise considering how well regarded Eisner’s Spirit work is. Much in the tradition of Eisner’s work, Cooke focused on one and done stories. Every issue had something unique about it. Be it a point of view or just the way to tell the story itself. The tones were as varied as they come. You had straight up detective stories and other times you had light hearted comedies. It seemed like the sky was the limit when it came to Cooke crafting The Spirit. He was only on the title for 11 issues but, as Darwyn Cooke always did, made his mark. Forget the horrible movie, read this instead.If you can track down the trade, vol 1 contains the excellent Batman/Spirit crossover that Jeph Loeb and him worked on. It’s a wonderful story and winner of the Eisner award for best single issue.
I have to mention Batman: Ego again. It’s such a complete and satisfying read and it’s only one issue, 64 pages long! It’s more concerned in exploring the dark psyche of Batman/ Bruce Wayne rather than focusing on fisticuffs. When we are self dive into self anyliss the results can be… interesting. Imagine what the analysis would be like for someone who puts on a Bat suit and beats up criminals in order to avenge his parents death? Let me give you a preview.
Just look at that monstrous image along with that sharp dialogue and tell me it wasn’t cool. The actual one shot is a bit difficult to locate but thankfully it was collected in trade paperback( Batman: Ego and other tales) along with some excellent Catwoman stories Cooke worked on. Not as action packed as a story like Dark Knight Returns but just as meaty.
Watchmen: The Minute Men: 6 issue mini series
Comic fans know how massive Alan Moore’s Watchmen was and still is. Imagine the idea of having a prequel without his involvement… Sacrilege, right? DC took a big gamble and decided to give a few select creators the keys to the kingdom, one of those creators was luckily Cooke. He initially passed on the offer from DC but came up with a story that didn’t step all over Alan Moore’s story and manged to provide further insight into something that hadn’t been explored to it’s fullest yet. In came the Minute Men. It tells the story of Hollis Mason recounting his days with the Minute Men in the 40’s. But writing his autobiography provides to be more challenging as he faces various sources trying to silence his story. It’s a thoroughly engaging story that was regarded as one of the better prequels to come out of the Before Watchmen stories.
I have to give a shout out to the brief stint Cooke had drawing Jonah Hex with writers, Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti. Cooke’s art sensibilities fit surprisingly well within the western motif and his art only helped elevate the excellent writing that series already had.
These and many more stories should be discovered and consumed by the reading public. A talent such as Darwyn Cooke’s deserves wider recognition than just a comics guy. He was a true artist and visionary, certainly one of the most influential ones of his generation. I’ll leave you with the classic opening for Batman Beyond, which he animated. Farewell Daryn Cooke. The world has lost you but you are not forgotten.