Casting A Huge Shadow…
♦Last Saturday the comics industry lost Darwyn Cooke, one of the best-loved modern comics creators. To celebrate his legacy, we thought we would pick out 10 of his most significant comics from a career that was surprisingly short but packed a lot into it…
We didn’t know Darwyn Cooke that well but he was always a professional when we saw him. We first interviewed him back in 20o3 when DC: The New Frontier came out. We would see him periodically at shows like Wonder Con in San Francisco around 2008 and at the New York Comic Con.The last time we saw him was at The Lakes International Comics Art Festival up in Kendal last October. He only really worked for two decades in comics but he did a lot in his career. So here are our choices for what to read of Cooke’s output
- Batman: Ego (DC Comics)
Published back in 2000, the proposal for this Batman original graphic novel was sitting in the slush pile at DC and was unearthed some time after Cooke submitted it. Editor Mark Chiarello found it and asked if Cooke was still interested in finishing it. A story that took a look behind Batman’s psyche, it introduced the world to Cooke’s uniquely elegant art and his pulpy but visceral writing.
- Catwoman (DC Comics)
Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Cooke were brought on board to revamp Batman’s on-off female adversary and Cooke moved the character away from the questionable direction it had been heading in, back towards Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s approach in Batman: Year One. Brubaker and Cooke created a Catwoman who was fully fleshed out, not just a pair of breasts in a leather catsuit.
- Selina’s Big Score
As well as a run on the series with Brubaker, Cooke also wrote and drew this original graphic novel in 2002, which puts Selina Kyle in that demi monde that Cooke seemed so comfortable to inhabit as a creator. She falls in with a gang of criminals and her lost love, Stark, in a story that channels Hitchcock, Chandler and Alex Toth. It showed that his versatility shouldn’t be underestimated. It also had a Jim Steranko pin up in the back, appropriately enough as Steranko was definitely one of Cooke’s influences.
- DC: The New Frontier
This six issue miniseries published in 2004 was the ultimate celebration of the essence of DC’s most iconic heroes. He took characters like Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter and invested them with empathy and human emotion. He understood that they were created to be shining examples of what a superhero could be and ingenuously he also weaved their stories into real modern history, like the Cold War and JFK. It was the apotheosis of his career and showed just what he was capable of, given the correct material.
DC’s anthology series, which gave a different artist a whole issue to flex their creative muscles, was a wonderful series with many highlights in its short run. Again reunited with editor Mark Chiarello, who gave Cooke his big break, Cooke’s Solo, #5, displayed the versatility of the creator. He was as much at home illustrating a noirish tale as he was telling a Batman story. He was able to channel the best of the classic comic artists like Alex Toth and Hugo Pratt while adding his own ingredients to the mix.
- X-Force 124
Written by Peter Milligan, Cooke was the perfect example of the approach that Marvel was taking around 2002. Hiring dynamic, old-school comic artists like Cooke to bring a sense of classic comic books to many of their books. X-Men spin-off X-Force was one of the boldest books that Marvel was publishing at the time and Cooke showed off his rare ability to tell a story here, working with writer Milligan to imbue mutant U-Go-Girl with real life. This was a high watermark for Marvel in this decade.
- The Spirit
If any modern creator was worthy to take Will Eisner’s mantle, Cooke definitely fell into this category. His take on The Spirit managed to be faithful to its origins while giving it that unique Cooke feeling.
- Superman Confidential
Here, Cooke was just the writer, with his script drawn by Tim Sale. However to call him simply the writer on this story would be to do him a disservice as it still features many of his hallmarks. His Superman, a benevolent alien facing down against the evil Lex Luthor, is a human and flawed figure, one that connects with the reader.
- The Hunter
Cooke had a huge affinity for noir and mysteries and so this adaptation of Donald Westlake’s The Hunter, published by IDW as the first in an occasional series of original graphic novel translations of his work by Cooke, fit the creator like a well-tailored trenchcoat. He managed to capture Westlake’s prose while still utilising the strengths that the comic medium had to offer. There is a brutal beauty to Cooke’s work here that showed he understood crime stories and he also knew how to keep a story moving without sacrificing its depth.
- All-Star Western #34
Cooke had worked with Hex writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey on a number of occasions before but this single issue, wrapping up their run on All-Star Western, was magnificent. Bounty hunter Jonah Hex and his partner Talulah Black decide to leave their life of crime and ride off into the sunset and every note here is perfect. Cooke showed that he understood and loved comics as he was one of the finest storytellers still working in comics at this point. He was able to pack more emotion and depth into one panel of this story than many of his contemporaries managed in an entire series.
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