In a recent Reddit AMA with Matt Kindt, a reader asked what comics he has been reading lately. Kindt responded “I love what Darwyn Cooke is doing with the Parker books.” All it takes is a simple glance from Kindt’s work over to Cooke’s to see how much influence Cooke has passed on to the mind behind Pistolwhip, Mind MGMT, and Dept. H. Cooke’s style — a simplified yet powerful homage to the artistry of the Golden Age — has been a refreshing cornerstone of DC and popular comics since the 1990’s, when he solidified his place in the comics history books with his extensive work under luminary Bruce Timm on Superman: The Animated Series. The comic book community was devastated today to hear via a blog posted by Cooke’s wife, Marsha, that after struggling with aggressive cancer, Cooke was receiving palliative care.
Spanning decades, publishers, genres, and themes, it’s impossible to discount Cooke’s impact on the artistry and narrative of the medium. To celebrate the ongoing career of Darwyn Cooke, one of the most visionary and influential talents working in the comic industry today, we have collected his five greatest works. As a matter of coincidence, Comixology is currently running a sale on works by Darwyn Cooke, so if anything in the list below catches your eye, you can head in that direction and pick it up. If anything else, you can use this opportunity to sharpen up on Cooke’s work as the road to his new creator-owned title, Revengeance, continues to shorten. Revengeance #1 will be available from Image Comics next month.
While not strictly comics, his work as a storyboard artist on Superman: The Animated Series (1996-2000) and Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995) without a doubt cemented his comic book breakthrough. On top of that, Cooke also animated the opening credits for Batman Beyond (1999-2001), which would set the ominous and technologically-advanced tone for the entire series. If you’re looking for a honorable mention in comics, the hands-down choice would be Green Lantern: Secret Files & Origins, which brought Cooke together with another luminary DC Golden Child, Geoff Johns. In Secret Files, Darwyn Cooke pencils the story “Flight” from a script by Johns, wherein Hal Jordan, while en route to a US Air Force Base, attempt to simulate the thrills of flying jet planes to fellow Green Lantern Kyle Rayner. If that’s not enough to get you through the door, the special also features a prelude to Green Lantern: Rebirth by Green Lantern dream team Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver.
5. Catwoman, vol. 1: Trail of the Catwoman (DC)
From late 2001 into early 2002, Darwyn Cooke teamed up with all-around general comic book legend Ed Brubaker for a four-issue Catwoman arc. Cooke and Brubaker leave their mark, making this one of the most significant Catwoman arcs in the title’s canon, and together create one of Catwoman’s most popular designs — one that even withstood the weathers of the New 52. In the story, Selina Kyle takes advantage of a rumor that Catwoman has perished to continue her felonious career under the shadowy mask of anonymity. Quickly bored and disillusioned without the thrill of recognition and infamy, however, Kyle uses the opportunity to overhaul her costumed persona (bring into play Cooke’s popular new design for the character) and decides to hit the streets like she never has before. In 2012, ten years after the arc’s original publication, DC collected the four issues into a trade paperback.
4. The Spirit, vols. 1 & 2 (DC)
Darwyn Cooke has routinely shown his love for traditional-themed comics, touching everything from Rocketeer to The Phantom, bringing his modern-take-on-classic sensibilities to grace the covers of these series seeped in themes of antiquity. Perhaps no take on these elements are better, though, than his run on The Spirit. If memory serves me right, between 2006 and 2008 Cooke participated in twelve issues of The Spirit for DC Comics if you count one holiday special and one Batman/The Spirit crossover one-shot. Also featuring work from writer Jeph Lobe and artist J. Bone, DC released these issues as two separate volumes, the first in 2007 and the second in 2009. Cooke’s run sees The Spirit go toe-to-toe with El Morte, a character essential in the creation of The Spirit, arch-nemesis The Octopus, and is even joined by a few members of Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery. The true magic of Cooke’s take on the iconic classic is his return to its original sensibilities: Cooke’s The Spirit was light and fun and wasn’t strained down with overtly dark tones or themes. Moreover, Cooke focused particularly on the female costars of the series, infusing them with characters and purpose and aspiring to transform them into something more than the eye-candy plot devices they had served as for decades.
3. Richard Stark’s Parker (IDW)
Rumor has it that Donald Westlake — known around these parts as Richard Stark — was so impressed with Darwyn Cooke’s early artwork for his first Parker adaptation, The Hunter, that he gave him the okay to use the character’s original name. While this may seem like a tiny detail, it’s worth noting that this privledge wasn’t allowed to any film adaptations of Westlake’s work involving Parker (up until 2013’s Jason Statham vehicle, Parker, which was produced after Westlake’s death). Incredibly protective over his legacy, Westlake was moved by Cooke’s dedication to the original text, keeping all elements and themes of the novels intact during his adaptations. Cooke adapted four Parker novels for IDW, The Hunter in 2009, The Outfit in 2010, The Score in 2012, and Slayground in 2013. Also in 2013, IDW began building on the relationship between Cooke and Westlake’s work as they worked in tandem to release a new printed edition of The Hunter with new illustrations by Cooke. Now, the four titles are stretched over four hardbacks, a special collectors edition, a paperback edition, and an illustrated novel and serve as a masthead in Cooke’s body of work.
2. The Twilight Children (Vertigo)
May 11 saw the collected release of Cooke’s most recent work, The Twilight Children, which he co-created with Gilbert Hernandez. The miniseries ran over the course of four issues between October 2015 and January 2016 and was collected into a trade paperback by Vertigo this month. Seeped in Darwyn Cooke’s signature style, The Twilight Children follows Hernandez’s script to tell the tale of a beachfront community plagued with mysterious orbs of light. Over time, the orbs seems to become more and more mischievous: blinding local town kids, abducting the local drunk and a wealthy philanderer, and attracting shady government agents. The arrival of a mysterious white-haired young woman is met with as much distrust and alarm as that of the orbs, but she seems to have the ability to keep the orbs in check. A simple and short sci-fi yarn, The Twilight Children is a case study in suspense, tension, and the power of a good mystery.
1. The New Frontier (DC)
In 2004, Darwyn Cooke created his most groundbreaking work. His six-issue magnum opus was printed throughout 2004 by DC Comics and was collected into two volumes in 2004 and 2005, followed by definitive edition in 2006 and a deluxe hardcover edition in 2015. The New Frontier is Cooke’s attempt to bridge the Golden Age so reminiscent in his artwork with the Silver Age, showcasing the introduction of the Golden Age’s Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman with the Silver Age’s Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and others. The New Frontier quickly became a DC favorite and earned classic status almost immediately. The story saw a new generation of superheros teaming with the superheroes of yore as they fight to overcome a looming alien menace and a distrusting government. In 2008, Cooke serves as artistic director for the animated feature adaptation of The New Frontier, which helped spark a roster of increasingly excellent DC animated films.