Sunday, May 15, 2016

Darwyn Cooke, RIP

Within days, we learned that artist Darwyn Cooke had an "aggressive" form of Cancer and was in "palliative care"..and  come Saturday morning, we learn that he passed away. He was only 53 years old.
He first got attention for his work doing storyboards on Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond. In the former, it was the magnificent recreation of  Batman fighting The Mutants gang leader from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns in the episode "Legends of The Dark Knight". For the later series, it was the striking title sequence that opened the show. His first comics work was the graphic novel Batman: Ego for DC Comics, which was followed by a major revamp of Catwoman with writer Ed Brubaker that defined the character for the last decade and a half, including the graphic novel Catwoman: Selena's Big Score.
But wait! There's more! A revival of The Spirit. New Frontier. A series of graphic novels for IDW adapting Richard Stark's "Parker" novels. And lots of variant covers. His art style, at first glance, looked like an offshoot of animator Bruce Timm's style, capitalizing on the popularity of the animated cartoons, but Timm was quick to observe in interviews that when he looked at Darwyn's drawings "...there's a little bit of Frank Robbins, there's some Milt Caniff, a little bit of Sickles.." I would suggest that Cooke's characters tend to look self-aware; they seem to behave like actors that know they're being filmed - lots of expressions with eyes, jaws and teeth. A glance at both artists work in comics reveals that if Timm's characters stick to the script, Cooke's actors are prone to ham things up.
His work as a writer wasn't flawless; I found his scripts could be leaden at times - the dialogue and plots don't necessarily fire on all cylinders and payoffs can come off anti-climactic. His zombie Montez storyline in The Spirit had a climax taken from a short Batman: Black & White tale and went off the reservation, as if he was glad he could find an ending to the arc.
But that's just a minor quibble. Cooke loved heroes that were heroic and liked to tell stories he wanted to read. He could be an outspoken critic of popular dark storylines, like Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis. He despised stories that pretended to be "mature" and "sophisticated" when it was only dragging fictional characters that were once created for children  though the mud. In the last few years, he felt he was typecast as an artist who only dwelled in Silver Age nostalgia and he's not wrong - if he had illustrated Grant Morrison's run on Batman, that definitely daft tenure wouldn't have been so easily discarded. When asked about why he didn't do much work for Marvel Comics  (beyond two issues of a Spider-Man title, a fill-in issue of X-Force and a surreal mini-series starring Wolverine & Doop), he pointed out that he was originally enlisted as the architect for the all-ages "Marvel Adventures" line, before his ideas for creative teams and storylines were completely scuttled by editorial. So he made his name working on DC Comics characters. Not bad.
He was working till the very end, so I wouldn't be surprised if some of the stuff appears posthumously. A comic book variant cover by Cooke on the outside always outclassed the art featured on the inside. When DC had Cooke do variant covers for all their books in 2014 - some featuring characters rendered by him for the first time in print, like He-Man and Skeletor - on the face of things that was a very classy-looking month, but only a few of those books might have had stories people still remember today. They'll remember those covers, though.
Darwyn Cooke, RIP

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