The comics and animation worlds are reeling today with the announcement of the loss of Darwyn Cooke. At only 54 years of age, it’s a good-bye far too soon, and represents something of a “double-whammy” coming just a day after news of his fight with a very aggressive form of cancer had gone public. In a world where the term “visionary talent” is criminally overused, Cooke was exactly that, and reading through the many tributes to the man posted on social media by various comics creators, it’s uncanny how much they resemble the tone and substance of what many musicians had to say in the wake of Prince’s still-shocking passing a couple of weeks ago, essentially: he was the best of us.
Cooke’s first foray into the world of comics was a brief one, with his artist’s “by-line” adorning a short story in DC’s New Talent Showcase #19 in 1985. With a young family to feed, he couldn’t pursue his dreams on the printed page at that time, and worked as a graphic designer and art director in his native Canada for a number of years before giving comics another try in the early 1990s, finding no takers, and then being hired on by Bruce Timm as a storyboard artist on Superman: The Animated Series and Batman : The Animated Series before eventually working his way up to the position of lead animator on Batman Beyond in 1999. He also found time during this period to direct a number of episodes of Sony Animation’s Men In Black cartoon series.
Still, he never gave up on his passion for comic books, and in 2000 DC finally “green-lit” a project he had submitted years earlier, the original graphic novel Batman:Ego. From there, the rest is history.
A few assignments at Marvel followed — most notably on X-Force and Spider-Man’s Tangled Web — but his revival of Catwoman beginning in 2001 with writer Ed Brubaker pushed him into the stratosphere of “top comics talents,” and his six-part 2004 mini-series DC:The New Frontier elevated his status to that of “living legend,” reminding us all of just why we love this medium so much along the way.
After that, every project Cooke was involved with was a genuine event. Batman/The Spirit showed that he was the best Spirit artist since Eisner himself, Before Watchmen: Minutemen (a project he had initially passed on, but later decided to accept knowing that DC would be going ahead with it anyway, with or without him) proved to be the only series in that unholy mess of an initiative worth following, and his graphic adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker novels for IDW were a genuine feast for the eyes and a triumph of modern noir. His last comics work was the supernatural mystery series The Twilight Children for DC’s creator-owned Vertigo imprint, a collaboration with writer Gilbert Hernandez that allowed Cooke to infuse his sleek, “deco”-esque style with a distinctly Latin flair.
And damn, I mean — it was all brilliant, wasn’t it? Sure, once could see dashes of Kirby, Toth, Rude, Timm and others in his work at times, but whatever he came up with was always his own. Nobody else “drew like Darwyn Cooke” — although in their private moments many a comic book freelancer certainly wished they could — and I don’t think anybody else ever will. A one-of-a-kind, revolutionary talent who was also, by all accounts, one heck of a fine human being, as well. This loss hurts — a lot.
But Cooke’s work? That’ll live forever. And while plenty has been, and is being, said about his art, his skills as a writer deserve some mention, as well. May I present to you, then, my favorite Cooke-scripted sequence, from DC:The New Frontier, which shows without question that he was the first and only creator to really understand the character of Johnny Cloud, from The Losers, since a fella named Kirby worked on him in the early 1970s:
Cooke’s work honored the past while looking firmly towards the future, and if somebody ever asks you “why do you like comic books, anyway?,” I can’t think of a better way to answer them than to show them a few pages from one of his books. Trust me, they’ll go from questioners to converts pronto.
Rest in peace, good sir. Your friends and colleagues are absolutely right — you were the very best of us.