It is a sign of exemplary craftsmanship that whatever a master craftsman works on they manage to imprint their unique signature style on the product. Moreover, for the consummate artist, the signature style is always preserved, all the while being adapted precisely to the needs of the work at hand.
The late Darwyn Cooke (1962-2016) was a modern master.
If he had only written New Frontier, which is probably the most stirring tribute to the Silver Age of comics ever produced, Cooke would deserve to be remembered. But so talented was Cooke that we can list many standout comics where his input both brought new life and lifted the title he contributed to above the merely average or run of the mill.
Whether his skills were put to work on producing new versions of the Richard Stark Parker novels, a new Batman comic, a Catwoman story arc, or if he decided to put his talent to work telling stories about Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen characters (in his contributions to Before Watchmen), there was nothing Cooke put his hand to or helped produce that felt like he was merely going through the motions or just doing the minimum.
That makes picking a select number of comics to call Cooke’s ‘best work’ difficult. But if I had to pick four works that I think Darwyn Cooke will be remembered for, and that contributed stand out work to the comic book medium, it would be the following:
Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde seems to have been the template for this unorthodox Batman story. Probing the psyche of both Batman and Bruce Wayne, Cooke produced a psychological thriller with his usual Jack Kirby meets atmospheric art-deco retro art. A 9.6 of this Bat-story sold for $28.00 one year ago. No CGC copies known.
This comic grew out of Cooke’s work with Ed Brubaker on DC’s Catwoman comic. A lot like the Parker comics, Cooke succeeds here by telling the story as crime noir. This so suits the Catwoman character (who is essentially a Cat-burglar) that the story works brilliantly. No CGC sales recorded for this, and it’s easy to find first prints of this now classic Catwoman story for under $20.00 on Ebay.
Richard Stark was the pseudonym of Donald E. Westlake and ‘the Hunter’ was his first Parker novel. Parker is a noir crime thriller, and Cooke manages to translate it to the comic book medium brilliantly. It was Cooke’s strength as both writer and artist to convey information fluidly and cohesively in a serial way with every panel working to build on what came before and seamlessly moving the story along. The fluidity and expressiveness of Cooke’s art is truly on display here. No CGC copies of this excellent graphic novel on the Census; there was a film made in 2003 starring Jason Statham but it was not well received.
My vote for Cooke’s best work is still New Frontier. I actually saw the DVD video of the DC animated movie version before I read the trade paperback. Both versions blew me away. And, by the way, Cooke’s extensive work in animation (he worked on various animated series throughout his life, including the ‘Batman Beyond’ cartoon) is probably what made for the great translation of the comic series into an animated feature. For anyone who wants to understand the beauty and fun of the Silver Age, this series captures it in six issues. New Frontier #1 is, for now, a sleeper key. Two graded copies have sold a 9.4 for $10.00 and a 9.8 in January of 2016 for a respectable $71.00. With so few of these on the Census, I say that if you can find it, pick it up. Plus, this one is good for the soul!