This month, the comics industry and fans grapple with the loss of writer, artist, and animator Darwyn Cooke, a singular talent who passed away at the age of 53. Mr. Cooke’s works, the bulk of which were produced for DC Comics, showcase heroes and villains untouched by the cynicism plaguing so many capes and cowls in contemporary culture. His stories were and will continue to be held up as brightly shining examples of what comics "should be." A Darwyn Cooke comic embraces its retro roots but features a sophisticated, forward-looking narrative. It charms.
What follows below are only a few of his many must-reads, and we welcome your own favorites in the comments section.
Catwoman Vol. 1: Trail of the Catwoman by Darwyn Cooke and Ed Brubaker: In direct opposition to Selina Kyle’s previously impossible proportions and questionable portrayal, writer Brubaker and Cooke brought class back to Catwoman in a new costume and fun vision—one that has (nearly) remained her status quo since 2001. In a great interview with The Comics Journal, Cooke said, “I did have an affinity for her because she’s an amoral character. She’s a lot easier to understand than a hero or a psycho. She’s a lot more human than most of the characters.” Cooke would return to the character in a prequel, Selina’s Big Score, which is included in this volume.
DC: The New Frontier: In 2004, Cooke bridged DC’s Golden and Silver Ages in this grand origin story, in which new heroes meet for the first time and mantles pass from one generation to the next. It’s gorgeous, moving, stand-alone, and regarded as an industry benchmark (its three Eisner Awards serve as testament). See the new Deluxe edition for a worthy presentation, as well as the animated adaptation, where Cooke co-wrote and provided art direction.
Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter: Double-crosses, revenge, and a whole lotta noir; this is the first of Cooke’s four recent adaptations of Donald Westlake’s crime novels, and it was awarded the Eisner for Best Adaptation from an Outside Work in 2010. See also publisher IDW’s Martini Edition, which includes a slipcase, another volume, and supplemental material.
Batman: Ego: Darwyn Cooke’s earliest collected work, featuring a story set early in Batman’s career. Bruce Wayne questions his role as The Batman and finds his alter ego does not always remain in the shadows. Also included here: again, Selina’s Big Score, and Cooke’s excellent short story from an issue in the Solo anthology series.
The Twilight Children by Darwyn Cooke and Gilbert Hernandez: Possibly Cooke’s final collected work; here he teams with writer Gilbert Hernandez. Paired together, the two craft a village under quiet siege by a supernatural event and an enigmatic woman. Cooke’s artwork illuminates, a contrast from his more recent shadowy work in Parker, and it’s a chance to see him beam outside superheroes as well.
There is unmatched grace in Darwyn Cooke’s pages. It’s why so many readers and comics professionals count themselves as fans. It’s why we return to his stories, always wanting more--and that’s where he left us.
P.S. George Gene Gustines wrote a moving Darwyn Cooke tribute in The New York Times.
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