Creator Content Darwyn Cooke
And now for something different!
This week in Graphic Reviews, I wanted to take some time to recognize and remember the work of a creator who had a huge impact on the comic book world: Darwyn Cooke. Cooke battled an aggressive form of cancer before sadly passing away at age 53 on May 14, 2016. Cooke had one of the most iconic styles in the DC Universe and worked on a number of different graphic novel series, as an artist for the television shows Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond and also did a large amount of cover art. In honor of his talent and as a person who deeply affected my enjoyment of comics and my love of the industry, I wanted to take the time today to talk about what I believe to be his three best series.
3. Catwoman with Ed Brubaker
Talk about a dream team! I cannot imagine anyone I would rather have revamp a Catwoman series than Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke. Catwoman has largely been a secondary character in many of the stories in which she appeared but Brubaker and Cooke took her in a new direction which focused not just on Selina’s seductive nature but on her talents as a thief and protector of the weak. With Brubaker’s crime-noir writing talents and Cooke’s gorgeously comic style, Selina comes to life as a cat burglar turned protector of the East End of Gotham in a way that she never had previously. For all that it is intrinsically a noir story, Cooke’s art brings a note of optimism and rebirth to Catwoman. This is a Catwoman who’s trying to start over after all the terrible things that have happened (some of which she’s directly responsible for) in the past and who ends up becoming the protector of the people in the streets of Gotham. The mix of Brubaker’s darkness and Cooke’s lightness makes for a Catwoman series that is incredibly difficult to put down and exactly what I’ve always wanted to see for the notorious antihero.
2. DC: The New Frontier
I challenge anyone to read The New Frontier and not be overwhelmed with nostalgia for the Silver Age of comics. I wasn’t even reading comics until the 2000s and I felt in love with the Silver Age era by the time I finished the series. The New Frontier is so remarkable because it’s essentially a love letter to the Justice League of the 1950’s and 60’s but written in a time in which gritty and dark was the accepted norm for superheroes. Written and illustrated by Cooke himself with Dave Stewart as colorist, The New Frontier is one of the most optimistic and hopeful superhero stories that I’ve ever read. It pits characters like Martian Manhunter, Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Green Lantern against an extraterrestrial threat that looks to spell the end of the world. In a soul stirring, epic fight against this alien force, the heroes must work together to save the world. It’s that inherently “truth, justice and the American way” feel of the Silver Age comics but not in a hokey way. It’s a wonderfully optimistic story that makes you believe in the power and goodness of superheroes again.
1. Richard Stark’s Parker
No list of Darwyn Cooke’s contribution to comics is complete without mentioning the Parker series. It’s by far my favorite of anything he’s worked on and I would argue one of the greatest adaptations from one medium to another. Richard Stark is the pseduonym for the well-renowned mystery author Donald Westlake, who in the 1960’s created a master thief character named Parker who quickly became a crime-noir favorite. In 2008, Cooke began working with Westlake on an adaptation of the books in the series and it’s absolutely brilliant. Westlake was intimately involved in the creation process and helped Cooke to understand the personality and motivations of the eponymous character. It’s clear from reading the adaptation that Cooke understood Parker as a character. What truly makes it shine however is Cooke’s knowledge of using the visual advantages of the graphic novel medium in order to express the story of the book without having to re-tell it word by word. There are long sequences where Cooke’s art takes center stage and this mastery of when to show and when to tell makes Parker one of the best graphic novel series that I have ever read.
Between his work on the animated television shows (and the fantastic DC: The New Frontier animated movie) and the various series on which he worked, Darwyn Cooke left an indelible mark on the industry. He was an incredibly talented illustrator and writer who made reading his comics an experience to remember. He was capable of making readers feel the dark lows of crime-noir and the intoxicating highs of Silver Age superheroes. And his signature, slightly cartoony yet also beautiful style made his work consistently stand out amongst a very crowded field. If you haven’t had a chance to experience the magic of Darwyn Cooke, I would highly recommend picking up any of these series!
RIP Mr. Cooke, you will be missed by this fan and many others.