On May 14, 2016 the comic book world lost a talented and pivotal artist in Darwyn Cooke, as he lost his battle with cancer only a day after his wife posted an announcement of his updated condition. Cooke’s presence in the comic book world spread from writing, illustrating, penciling, cover art, animation and storyboarding. To choose the best of his covers was a daunting and practically impossible task to begin with, since he spanned multiple publishers and comic universes. We eventually managed to choose these as the best of the best. His style of art will continue to inspire comic artists for generations to come. The artists of thick lines, perfect for hand-drawn animation, square chinned heroes in regal and distinguished hero poses will count Cooke among those to thank. His iconic vision will be missed.
10. Rocketeer Adventures #1 (2012)
The Rocketeer isn’t likely to make many comic fans’ top superheroes list, for many good reasons. Yet, all of that aside, this cover done by Cooke gives a comic book interpretation of the World War I and II looking propaganda posters encouraging young men to join the service, women to join the work force, and for the purchase of war bonds. The matte colors, the patriotic imagery with the Rocketeer’s pose with the planes blending into the stars and stripes, it’s a testament to the style of that era with just a few switches of images. It’s easy to love this cover more than the Rocketeer himself and that’s what a good cover is capable of.
9. Jonah Hex #56 (cover date Aug. 2010)
This title enjoyed some extra attention leading up to the 2010 movie. This Cooke cover is a terrific tribute to the bounty posters of the Old West. A particularly nice touch is the rip in Hex’s shirt (made to look like a heart), over his chest like the antihero that he is. Hex, a war veteran turned bounty hunter with a code of honor he swears by, is encapsulated on this cover that varies from the more recognizable Darwyn Cooke cover style. Talented artists like Cooke adapt their art to what will serve the story or series best. The style of shading appear like dust and sand to authenticate the frontiersman feel. So while the movie didn’t serve the character very well, this cover definitely did.
8. Catwoman: Anodyne – Part One of Four (2002)
Cooke was an integral part is Catwoman’s redesign. This cover captures the visual essence of Selina Kyle. She’s smooth, cool and badass with subtle visual parallels to how cats pose. The added touch of the light shining across her eyes through blinders is a particularly great touch. The story has Selina tracking down a serial killer. This cover shows right out of the gate how sleek and stylish this series is and that her new look was to be the new standard for Catwoman going forward.
7. Batman #37 (cover date Feb. 2015)
The first of two Batman covers on this list, but one that couldn’t be ignored, since there are so many great elements going on in this, one of Cooke’s many landscape angled variant covers. Gotham’s villains all piled together, sparing no space (yet not cluttering) to show Batman overrun and overwhelmed by the amount and organization of Gotham’s underworld pinned against him. The best covers are the ones that can capture a snapshot of the issue’s story and this cover is a great example of that it can stand alone as an art piece.
6. The Murder of King Tut #3 (cover date Aug. 2010)
This cover looks like it could double as a movie poster, with the layers of depth it uses to highlight the action and subplots of the issue. Every element of the cover is deliberate and allows the eye to uncover all of details on their own. It was part of a four-part series written by renowned author James Patterson, alongside Martin Dugard and Alexander Irvine. For a historical figure such as King Tut, Cooke’s style lends well to modernize the commonly viewed images of hieroglyphs and marries it with comic book art and it makes it very stylish.
5. The Spirit #2 “The Maneater” (cover date Mar. 2007)
Cooke was a major player in the re-imagining of The Spirit by writing, penciling and doing cover art for the series in 2007. “The Maneater” cover gives a film noir, old Hollywood glamour look to the comic. It is completed with the red spotlight, showing the distressing scene of The Spirit hung upside down, much to the smirking delight of his lady captor, the seductress P’Gell. The dynamics of the composition reflects the cat and mouse history between P’Gell and The Spirit, as well as the glimpse of the issue to come as The Spirit must do all in his power to protect P’Gell’s target. The look of this cover is timeless.
4. The Twilight Children #2 (cover date Jan. 2016)
This four-part Vertigo series, with penciling and cover art by Cooke, doesn’t feature his usual vintage and regal looking covers. It offers far less detail than most Cooke covers but it’s still very visually interesting and looks great. What stands out about issue #2 is how many of the layers are blended together and the play between portrait and landscape aspects. The white hair doubling to look like smoke, carrying the orbs against a starry sky over calm beach waters, beautifully sets visual cue the fantasy story.
3. Before Watchmen: Minutemen #6 “Chapter Six: The Last Minute” (cover date Mar. 2013)
Cooke is the writer, penciller, and cover artist on this series, which was met with quite a bit of heat from Watchmen loyalists. But of all of the Before Watchmen stories, this was one of the best, as it showed the gritty dark side of the Minutemen that was only mentioned as passing legend in the Watchmen. This cover in particular highlighted perfectly the mystery and secrecy that perpetually surrounded Hooded Justice, in terms of his past, his origins, and his motivation. Keeping in line with that theme, this cover can be interpreted in many ways, much like Hooded Justice.
2. Batgirl #37 – The New 52 Variant (cover date Feb. 2015)
This variant cover is blaring with badass, girl power, and has superhero imagery written all over it. Another of the landscape-angled variant covers for the New 52, it does everything right, using every inch of the cover for the action. Batgirl’s hair and cape flowing from the back of her motorcycle in her modernized and more tactical costume redesign, with Burnside Police cars either chasing or following her, you don’t get to know until you read it. The issue revolves around an impostor seeking attention over social media and claiming it as art in a series of photos and live demonstrations of robbing celebrities. It’s also a sharp contrast to the regular newsstand cover.
1. Batman: Gotham Knights #12 (cover date Feb. 2001)
This cover is well balanced and your eye is drawn to the eyes of the face in the center of a clock, surrounded by the hours with hair flowing. Her eyes looming over Batman in a dynamic pose, ready for action. The issue is titled “Damages” and is part of the Black and White Bandit story and finds Barbara Gordon teamed up with Alfred Pennyworth to find a mugger targeting people in wheelchairs. It’s a more than a pretty cover, it’s a good read as well.