The world has lost an amazing talent. Darwyn Cooke, the award-winning writer, artist and animator known for such celebrated works as DC: The New Frontier, Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter and Catwoman, passed away overnight at the young age of 53. Earlier Friday, his wife Marsha Cooke announced he was receiving palliative care following an aggressive bout with cancer.
“We regret to inform you that Darwyn lost his battle with cancer early this morning at 1:30 AM ET,” Cooke’s family said in a statement released this morning. “We read all of your messages of support to him throughout the day yesterday. He was filled with your love and surrounded by friends and family at his home in Florida.”
Promising that a long statement will be released later today, the family added, “Please continue to respect our privacy as we go through this very difficult time.” The message ends with a quote from John F. Kennedy’s “New Frontier” speech: “Then we shall not be weary. Then we shall prevail.”
As an artist, Cooke was known for a distinct visual style, evocative of a different era — as seen in comics like New Frontier, set during the 1950s — yet still uniquely modern. His work varied from the retro superheroes of New Frontier to the hard-boiled crime fiction of his adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker novels and more esoteric projects like the recent Vertigo series The Twilight Children.
Cooke made his comic book debut in 1985 with DC Comics’ Talent Showcase #19, but it was another 15 years before he began to receive industry attention with the one-shot Batman: Ego, which he wrote and drew. In the interim, he worked as a storyboard artist for multiple DC-based animated series, including Batman Beyond, Superman and The New Batman Adventures.
In 2001, Cooke teamed with writer Ed Brubaker for a stylish update of Catwoman, with Cooke illustrating the first four issues and redesigning the famous character, creating a look that defined Selina Kyle for years to come. He then wrote and drew the original graphic novel Selina’s Big Score, a prequel to his run on Catwoman.
Cooke also worked for Marvel during that period, contributing to the acclaimed X-Force run by Peter Milligan and Mike Allred with interior art on X-Force #124 and the Wolverine/Doop miniseries. He also wrote and illustrated two issues of anthology series Spider-Man’s Tangled Web.
However, 2004’s DC: The New Frontier likely stands as the most significant single work of Cooke’s career. He wrote and illustrated the nearly 400-page story, which starred many of DC’s iconic heroes.The miniseries earned multiple Eisner and Harvey awards and inspired an animated adaptation, released in 2008. In 2007, Cooke helmed a DC Comics revival of The Spirit, the legendary Will Eisner’s most famous creation.
In another ambitious and well-received endeavor, Cooke adapted four of Richard Stark’s Parker crime novels to the graphic format, starting in 2009 with Parker: The Hunter, released by IDW Publishing, and continuing through 2013’s Parker: Slayground. Three of his four Parker books won the Eisner Award for Best Adaptation from Another Work.
Cooke contributed heavily to DC Comics’ controversial Before Watchmen initiative, a series of prequels to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal Watchmen story. Cooke wrote Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre, illustrated by Amanda Conner, and wrote and drew Before Watchmen: Minutemen. In 2014, he returned to animation for a Batman Beyond short released as part of the Dark Knight’s 75th anniversary.
His most recent comics work was The Twilight Children, a four-issue Vertigo miniseries written by Gilbert Hernandez, which concluded earlier this year.
“They asked me to do [‘The Twilight Children‘] and I took a [closer] look at Darwyn’s work and I go, ‘This guy knows how to make a comic’,” Hernandez told CBR in an interview conducted at WonderCon 2016. “I was gonna write it as simple as possible, as directly as possible, mostly dialogue, not a lot of description of what’s going on, just letting him know it’s a little fishing village, it’ll move along at a certain pace and this and that. And he just ran with it, beautifully, he just knew what to do.”
Cooke made convention appearances as recently as January. He had been scheduled to appear this weekend at the Motor City Comic Con in Novi, Michigan.
“Our work together was a highlight of my career and helped to make my name in this industry,” Brubaker wrote Friday on Twitter. “He is one of the best comics artists ever.”
Cooke’s family has specified that donations can be made to the Canadian Cancer Society and The Hero Initiative.