Other than Jack Kirby, no comics creator has meant more to me than Darwyn Cooke (1962-2016). After having been out of comics for years, I discovered Cooke’s graphic novel adaptation of Richard Stark’s (aka Donald Westlake) novel The Hunter (1962) in 2009, the same year it was published (by IDW). For years I’ve loved hardboiled novels, film noir, and anything related to those works, so when I discovered Cooke’s adaptation, I felt I had stumbled upon a wonderland of crime fiction that was simply too good to be true. The Hunter is the first book in the Parker series, which ran for 24 novels, so I was looking forward to many more Parker graphic novels for many years. I was also looking forward to meeting Cooke at a convention, hoping to tell him how much his work means to me.
As we all know now, that will never happen, not in this lifetime. Cooke passed away on May 13, the victim of an aggressive form of cancer at the age of 53 (just a few months younger than I am).
I soon began seeking out other Cooke works and borrowed a library copy of the first volume of DC: The New Frontier (2004), a miniseries set in the 1950s that connects the Golden Age and Silver Age comic eras with a huge cast of DC superheroes.
I was speechless. The art… Stunning is too simple a word to describe it. It goes beyond any adjectives I could supply because it goes straight to the heart of a comics lover who dreamed/longed/hungered to see superhero stories like this. Cooke’s The New Frontier is big, bold, and daring, but something about it felt important, even essential. Reading it, you just know that Cooke understood everything we love about comics and knew how to deliver it in a way that makes us stare open-mouthed in absolute wonder.
I loved the first volume so much, I bought the Absolute edition, an oversized slipcased book that covers the entire New Frontier saga. If you can find it at a good price, you should get it, even if it’s over $100. It’s money well spent.
Cooke created many other works including Batman: Ego, Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score, and several others that will no doubt become sought-after comics.
Still, my favorites remain the Parker graphic novels. Cooke understood the noir style, the way shadows can convey character, setting and mood. He knew these stories and knew how to convey them visually with the right timing, pacing and perhaps more than anything else, a love of good storytelling. Cooke even began creating covers for the prose novels, but I’m not sure how many of these he completed.
Again, I recommend the oversized Richard Stark’s Parker: The Martini Edition, which includes the first two Parker graphic novels The Hunter and The Outfit, as well as the Eisner-winning short story “The Seventh.” (The book also won the 2012 Eisner award for Best Graphic Album Reprint.) You simply have to see Cooke’s work in the largest format possible and you can’t beat this edition for that. (It’s also quite affordable right now. Get it before it becomes unaffordable!)
My thoughts and prayers go out to the Cooke family. The artistic world has certainly lost a master. If, like me, you never met Darwyn Cooke in person, you can meet him through his work. It’s a journey I hope you’ll take with me.