The comic industry lost an legendary talent this past weekend. Darwyn Cooke was known for being an amazing cartoonist and stand up guy. He held strong to his convictions and told only the stories he wanted to tell. His style was the perfect blend of both modern and classic and his stories were always paced perfectly. He was a storyteller who didn’t just present a tale but instead took you on a journey.
Geek Hard’s own Mr. Green got the chance to speak with Darwyn a couple of years back at the 2014 Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) and says it still stands today as one of his favourite comic creator interactions. While the loss of this great creator is devastating, it’s important at this time to take a look back and remember him for all the great work he has left us to enjoy. What follows is a list of some of his greatest works. If you haven’t had the chance to check out all that he’s done over the years, this list is a great starting point.
Selina’s Big Score
(Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score GN – 2002)
If there ever was an indication that Darwyn was the perfect choice to adapt the Parker Novels, Selina’s Big Score would be it. A train heist on the Canadian border with a crew that not only includes Selina (sans her Catwoman persona) but also a man named Stark (Donald Westlake wrote the Parker Novels under the pen name Richard Stark). This drips with the DNA of Parker in all the right ways.
When Selina Kyle finds that she’s completely tapped out of money and options, she returns to her Gotham stomping grounds to find a big score to set her up. Through her fence, Swifty, she’s introduced to a woman named Chantel who happens to be the girlfriend of mobster Frank Falcone. Chantel brings Selina in on a heist involving drug money traveling by train that’s destined for Montreal and a shipment of Asian Heroin. Selina knows it’s a big job and needs a crew. Her mind wanders back to an old job she did with a man named Stark. Her past is muddy with Stark as she double crossed him on that job and they haven’t talked since. But a job’s a job and Stark comes on board.Meanwhile, the mayor of Gotham has hired detective Slam Bradley to track down Selina. Selina has to deal with Slam while planning and pulling off one of the biggest heists of her career.
Between this story and the relaunch of the Catwoman series that he collaborated with Ed Brubaker on, Cooke had a major hand in revamping and developing Catwoman. A number of the elements that he brought to the character still stand today. This book was a big gamble as it was uncharted territory for Catwoman at the time. To do a classic Noir tale with Selina remaining out of costume for the duration was a bit risky. But it paid off as it remains one of the greatest Catwoman stories of all time. It’s also amazing to see Selina as both the main protagonist and the femme fatale all in one story.
The New Frontier
(DC: The New Frontier #s 1-6 – 2004)
Basically a love letter to the silver age of DC Comics, no stone is left un-turned as almost every superhero from that era gets their time to shine in this book. The story looks at both the decline and rebirth of superheroes in the post war age as well as the injection of the science fiction genre into the world of superheroes while also reliving the origins and development of beloved characters like Green Lantern, The Flash and more! The story follows these heroes as they must band together and stop a pending alien invasion.
What’s fantastic about this mini series is that the big three (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) take a back seat to characters like Hal Jordan, Martian Manhunter, King Faraday and Ace of the Challengers of the Unknown. Instead of taking the road that’s been travelled so many times before and have Batman have all the answers and Wonder Woman and Supes save the day, we get to see the lesser known heroes strut their stuff. Also, if you ever wondered what a certain DC character would look like if Darwyn were to draw them, this book is for you as he tries his hand at a plethora of heroes from that age. This series was the 3rd DC comic story to be adapted for the DC Animation Direct-to-Video Features. While still capturing a great deal of what made this tale special, it’s only has a tenth of the magic the comic does.
(Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter GN – 2009)
Like I said, I can’t think of any other artist with the chops to adapt the Parker novels into graphic novels as well as Cooke did. Like many a fanboy, I had a high hopes for this piece of crime noir goodness and thankfully, I wasn’t let down. Over the years, a number of films adapted this “one man rampage of a revenge” tale, but none have captured the cold and calculating demeanor of Parker as Cooke’s take did. The first of the Parker novels, we see a man who returns to New York with vengeance on his mind as he hunts down the woman that double-crossed him and the partner who betrayed him to get the money that was stolen from him.
The story has a gritty undertone but the illustrations are clean and precise, just like Parker. What’s amazing is how Cooke was able to capture the uniqueness of the character. Westlake wrote the man as neither hero nor villain. He’s just a man who wants what he believes he’s entitled to and he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty to get it. The film adaptions have shied away from this, choosing to play up humanity within the character. Cooke’s version shows no such quality as he’s more a force of nature than your average protagonist. The graphic novel was the start of something magical.
(Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #s 1-4 – 2012)
Artist: Amanda Conner
Although primarily a cartoonist and illustrator, Cooke collaborated as a “writer only” from time to time. His work with Tim Sale on both Batman and Superman are great additions to the characters’ catalogues. But even these do not hold a candle to his collaboration with Amanda Connor on this Before Watchmen series. Before Laurie Jupiter took up the mantle of Silk Spectre and started bumping uglies with Dr. Manhattan, she was just a young adult who wanted to rebel against her mother and go on an adventure. That’s what this story’s about as she runs away with her then boyfriend and moves to San Francisco in the middle of the flower power movement. In a psychedelic tale involving drug dealers, hippies and Frank Sinatra (only referred to as “The Chairman” throughout the tale) as an unlikely yet fitting antagonist, Laurie must accept her destiny and become a costumed crime fighter.
With guest appearances by the Comedian and the original Nite Owl, this was one of the Watchmen prequels that actually worked and brought an extra layer of character to the original mini series. I got the chance to interview Amanda Conner as the book was coming out and she spoke about her collaboration with Cooke as one that was perfectly 50/50 as they plotted and scripted a great deal of the story equally. Cooke would also do a Minutemen Series looking back on the original heroes of the Watchmen world and it too would be a smartly presented companion series.
(Richard Stark’s Parker: Slayground – 2013)
The last of the Parker graphic novels from IDW, this was a shorter, faster tale than what I was used to with the character. A heist goes wrong for our “hero” and he must go into hiding with the money in a carnival that’s been closed down for the winter. The problem is that there’s only one way out of the theme park and it happens to be guarded by mobsters who’ve found out about Parker and his score. So now he must face off against a group of thugs, hoods and a few crooked cops to make his escape. The classic “one v. all” story line, the graphic novel reads like an old school Die Hard except that everyone’s the badguy in this one.
Out of all the Parker graphic novels, this proved to be the most visually interesting due to it’s environment. The amusement park setting and the winter season add not only tons of eye candy but also raise the tension because you know that for the most part, Parker is out of his element. A game of cat and mouse never looked so cool. Also included is a shorter tale staring Parker called “The 7th” that was released previously as a special feature in the Parker: Martini Edition.
So that’s the list. Some of you might disagree with a few of my choices or omissions, but these are the Darwyn Cooke stories that stand out as the hallmark of quality. Feel free to let me know in the comments below what your favourite Cooke stories are. Be sure to check these out if you haven’t already and remember the man that made them.
And if you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!