Darwyn Cooke, award-winning comic book writer & artist behind DC Comics’ acclaimed DC: New Frontier miniseries as well as an animator who worked on several Warner Bros/D.C. projects, died today following a battle with cancer. He was 53. His death came less than 24 hours after his family announced that he was ill on his blog.
“We regret to inform you that Darwyn lost his battle with cancer early this morning at 1:30 AM ET. We read all of your messages of support to him throughout the day yesterday,” Cooke’s family said in a statement this morning. “He was filled with your love and surrounded by friends and family at his home in Florida.”
Born in Canada in 1962, Cooke first attempted to break into comics in the early 1980s but was forced to back away from the industry due to financial concerns. Supporting himself as a magazine art director, graphic and product designer instead, his break came in the early 1990s when he answered an ad placed by Warner Bros animator Bruce Timm. Cooke was soon hired as a storyboard artist on Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series, and continued in this role on the successor series, The New Batman Adventures as well as its spinoff Superman: The Animated Series. In 1999 he animated the opening title sequence for Batman Beyond, and in 2000 served as a director on Sony’s Men in Black animated series.
It was then that he made the transition back to comics. In 2000, DC published his graphic novel Batman: Ego, and in 2001, he and writer Ed Brubaker were tasked by DC with revamping the character of Catwoman — their work is still considered by many readers to be the definitive version of the character. Over the years since then, he worked on numerous titles as both an artist and a writer at Marvel, IDW and especially DC Comics. Among them, Green Lantern, Detective Comics, Batman: Gotham Knights, and the recent series of Watchmen prequels collectively called Before Watchmen.
But Cooke’s most enduring comics legacy is his groundbreaking 2004 miniseries DC: The New Frontier. Drawing influence from DC Comics’ long history as well as works such as The Golden Age, Watchmen, and The Dark Knight Returns, the story is a realist but highly idealist look at the concepts of heroism and collective good, an examination of their uneasy relationship with patriotism and national identity, and a nostalgic tribute to the golden age of comics all at the same time.
Set in the 1950s, the story features the A-list of the DC universe – as well as a plethora of obscure characters and references – coming together to face a worldwide, existential threat amid the political uncertainty of the post-World War II era and growing Cold War. Incorporating feminist and humanist themes, capturing the spirit of comics and other pulp art from the era, and aggressively eschewing the grim tone that had dominated mainstream comics since the mid-80s, New Frontier was released to great sales and even greater acclaim. It went on to win Eisner Awards (comics’ equivalent of the Oscars) for Best Limited Series, Best Coloring, and Best Publication Design.
Three years later, when Warner Bros began its still-ongoing line of DC Universe animated original movies New Frontier was chosen as the second film in the series. Retitled Justice League: New Frontier, Cooke was brought onboard the production to co-write the script and also served as an art director. The pic, whose voice cast included (among many others) Lucy Lawless as Wonder Woman, Jeremy Sisto as Batman, Kyle MacLachlan as Superman, David Boreanaz as Green Lantern, Neil Patrick Harris as The Flash, and Kyra Sedgwick as Lois Lane, was subsequently nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program.
As an artist, Cooke was celebrated for his simple, vibrant style that recalled the graphic art of the 1950s and 60s and lent a touch of humanity to larger than life characters. As one example, his drawings of Superman in New Frontier carefully included small folds on his uniform to suggest it was made of cloth. He was also gifted at subtle touches that suggested much larger implications — another example from New Frontier is a couple of stray panels making it clear that Wonder Woman is several inches taller than Superman. He utilized that style throughout his work, particularly on comic book and literary book covers.
Cooke continued to work constantly until his diagnosis with cancer. He is survived by his wife Marsha and his family, including his brother, Dennis.
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