Tag Archives: Darwyn Cooke

Today’s Super Comic — DC: The New Frontier #6 (2004)

DC: The New Frontier ends with a rousing action sequence and a JFK speech (the latter is where the series got its name from, after all). And it reminds you why you love superheroes in the first place.

Throughout the previous five issues, we’ve seen the hopes and fears of various characters, but in #6, when a powerful menace threatens the entire world, it’s time to set aside all personal issues and do what’s right. It’s superheroes in their purest form.

Flash and Green Lantern get the most attention here, as both learn to think bigger and push themselves further. Ultimately, the world is saved because two men, acting bravely and selflessly, perform feats they had never previously attempted. The time for angst and introspection has passed—it’s time to be adults and get the job done. And, ironically, they’re at their most adult when they act the most like childhood fantasy heroes. No reason maturity can’t be brightly colored.

I’m reminded of the Muppets. Yes, Muppets. When you’re a young child, the Muppets are hysterical. When you’re a teenager, it’s all, “Oh, I’m too old for that kid stuff.” Then as an adult, that becomes “You know what? I like the Muppets. They amuse me, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.”

And that’s basically what The New Frontier is saying, but with superheroes. It recaptures the fun of watching purely heroic characters saving the world, and it gives you permission to enjoy it without shame. And it encourages you to aspire to greater heights yourself.

Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in DC: The New Frontier Volume Two (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — DC: The New Frontier #5 (2004)

In the penultimate issue of DC: The New Frontier, a powerful threat makes itself known…and folks step up. Whereas the previous issue showed the fear holding everyone back, issue #5 shows characters moving forward, even in the face of the unknown. And things are beginning to look a lot more Silver Age—appropriately enough, as this miniseries is a reimagining of that era’s dawn.

Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern origin story gets a retelling here, and it drills deeper into Hal’s head than the original 1959 comic did. His joy shines through, especially with writer/artist Darwyn Cooke’s clean, classic style, and it’s pure fun watching him fly for the first time (without a plane, that is). But the scene fits thematically with the larger work—the ring provides a focal point for the bravery that was always there, even as Hal had been doubting himself.

The Green Lantern power ring becomes a metaphor. Push away the fear, and you can soar—you can perform all sorts of phenomenal feats.

Also of note, Superman gets his big hero moment, by way of showing inspirational leadership to the rest of the cast.

But the series is called DC: The New Frontier, not Superman: The New Frontier. So Supes can’t do it alone.

On to the final issue…

Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in DC: The New Frontier Volume Two (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — DC: The New Frontier #4 (2004)

Things tilt toward paranoia and fear in DC: The New Frontier #4. The government’s attempt to abduct the Flash sends the speedster into hiding. Wonder Woman has retired to Paradise Island. J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, decides to hitch a ride back to Mars. And Hal Jordan is scrubbed from that same Mars mission (though that’s against his will).

But amid the fear, acts of heroism shine through. J’onn J’onzz gets a great one, which leads to a turning point for a character who has spent the series concealing his true nature for fear of how he’ll be treated. And his fear is hardly baseless, given what happens to a black vigilante named John Henry who tries to strike back against the KKK. And John Henry’s tragic situation reminds us about the need to be better than we were.14

Darwyn Cooke’s story makes excellent use of DC’s shared universe. These characters aren’t just inhabiting the same world—they’re affecting each other within it. When Flash publicly calls it quits, J’onn makes up his mind about trying to return to Mars, and his means of departure is the mission Hal’s involved in.

Characters and situations connect in an organic way, a thematic way, but not a “Look how cool—it’s, like, all connected, man” way.

Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in DC: The New Frontier Volume Two (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — DC: The New Frontier #3 (2004)

DC: The New Frontier puts the Martian Manhunter to excellent use—in my opinion, his best ever, which the book accomplishes by going back to the character’s core concept.

There’s a lot going on in issue #3, including perhaps too much exposition, and we check in with quite a few characters. The standout moments involve J’onn J’onzz as he continues adapting to his new life on a new world, among people he fears would fear him if they knew what he truly was.

A newsreel of the newly formed Challengers of the Unknown plants the seed of an idea—perhaps the good J’onn can do isn’t limited to his work as police detective John Jones. But then an encounter with a distrustful Batman, who knows his weakness, reminds him of everything he has to fear.

Though the Martian’s presence on Earth isn’t public knowledge, the U.S. government is aware that the alien is out there somewhere, prompting a mission to Mars to determine whether the planet is a threat. That mission, still in the works, has recruited Col. Rick Flagg of the so-called Suicide Squad and Hal Jordan—two men both psychologically scarred by previous wartime experiences.

And that’s the true brilliance of the story, which can appear rather episodic at first glance—it explores the balance between fear and courage, and paranoia and aspiration. The various threads all tie into that central theme somehow. The theme is perfect for the superhero genre, and it especially fits the characters of J’onn J’onzz and Hal Jordan—the former because of his “stranger in a strange land” status, and the latter because of his reputation for fearlessness that’s always begged the question of what’s motivating that bravery.

Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in DC: The New Frontier Volume One (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — DC: The New Frontier #2 (2004)

The second issue of DC: The New Frontier continues setting the mood in this 1950s reimagining of the DC Universe, and it’s an opportunity to admire Darwyn Cooke’s art as being among the greatest of his generation. His work synthesizes various classic elements into something that feels familiar but also new, fresh, and exciting.

Superman looks like he flew out of a 1940s Max Fleischer cartoon. Batman wears the original Bob Kane design, rendered by way of a Bruce Timm Batman: The Animated Series influence. Wonder Woman lacks a quintessential cartoon version, which allows Cooke to put more of his own stamp on her design. In an inspired touch, he makes her a true Amazon, taller than even Superman.

The Flash is a kinetic figure with a large head to denote his scientific intellect. J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, appears unsettling and creepy but without any malice in his native form, and his human form, Detective John Jones, is the archetypal movie detective.

The events are fairly episodic at this point, but they tie together thematically, all pointing toward changing times. The Martian Manhunter, ripped away from Mars, is trying to fit into a new world. Superman and Wonder Woman verbally spar over newfound ideological differences, not unlike how they did in Kingdom Come. Batman begins to realize that his appearance is frightening to more than just criminals. The Flash is still adjusting to his new powers and new super-heroic lifestyle.

And Hal Jordan, our ostensible protagonist, has difficulty readjusting to civilian life after the Korean War, and his guilt over killing an enemy soldier drives him to take the sort of fearless risks that will soon get him noticed by a certain intergalactic police corps, one with an affinity for emerald jewelry.

If you’re a DC fan, this series is a love letter to all your favorite characters (including many I haven’t mentioned here), and the early Cold War setting grounds it with substance.

Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in DC: The New Frontier Volume One (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — DC: The New Frontier #1 (2004)

DC: The New Frontier is the late Darwyn Cooke’s magnum opus, and it’s masterful indeed. And it’s worth taking it one issue at a time. So on to #1…

The series chronicles the dawn of a new heroic age, but that age hasn’t started yet in the first issue, which takes place in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Thanks to McCarthyism, the mystery men and superheroes of World War II and “the Golden Age” have been mostly outlawed, and a relative handful remain to carry on the fight with the blessing of the U.S. government (most notably Superman and Wonder Woman).

In the real world during this time, DC Comics was between super-heroic eras. Superheroes started falling out of favor once the Nazis were defeated, and other genres dominated the medium for several years (western, romance, etc.).

Fittingly, then, the first scene features the final mission of the Losers, a group of non-powered military characters who debuted in the late ‘60s in a war comic book series set in WWII. In this book, they find themselves in a land of prehistoric creatures, and they never leave. In a particularly memorable splash panel, the final Loser leaps willingly into the mouth of a tyrannosaurus rex with live grenades to take the beast down. And with that, an era ends.

Shortly later, the book asks, “”What type of person—what new breed of hero would have the character and daring to lead America to the edge of this new frontier?”

We meet Hal Jordan, the future Green Lantern, first as a boy and then as an Air Force pilot serving at the end of the Korean War. Cooke makes an excellent decision to spend time getting to know Hal pre-GL, fleshing him out into a fully rounded character.

Here, Hal distinguishes himself by his refusal to kill, even during war. He’ll serve his country, but he won’t kill for it. Then, in a visceral scene, he discovers what he would kill for—his own selfish survival. He encounters an enemy soldier who doesn’t realize the war has just ended, and the situation quickly progresses to “kill or be killed.”

The scene plays out in a way that punches you in the gut, and the tragic result will inform Hal’s motivation for the remainder of the series.

This is definitely a book to savor, for the story as well as the art.

Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in DC: The New Frontier Volume One (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Spirit #2 (2007)

Will Eisner was a true pioneer of the comic book medium, and his series The Spirit pushed the boundaries of comic book storytelling, adding to the possibilities of what a panel (or page of panels) can do.

Sadly, I don’t own any Eisner books. I’ve read some, thanks to the local library system, and I remember being impressed. But since I have no examples at the ready for review purposes, I’ll go with the next best thing…

DC Comics acquired the rights to the Spirit at some point and launched a new series written and drawn by the great Darwyn Cooke, perhaps the most fitting successor to carry on the character. Cooke really captured the, er … (dammit, the perils of quickly writing a review a day…) captured the spirit of an Eisner book (I’m hanging my head in shame).

Basically, the Spirit is a masked vigilante crimefighter who operates with the cooperation of the police commissioner (and dates his daughter). He used to be a detective, until he was killed (or maybe “killed” – I don’t recall the exact origin), and he came back as the anonymous Spirit. The stories range from lighthearted action to darker noir.

In #2 of Cooke’s series, we see a mix of that range, a sort of “lighter side of noir.” Recurring femme fatale P’Gell strikes again, with her usual modus operandi of marrying wealthy men and then killing them and stealing their fortunes. Cooke adds details to her backstory, giving her a bit more depth with a first marriage that was legit but ended tragically.

There’s plenty of humor along the way, though. For example, the Spirit poses as a blind man to gain entry into a shindig…and then the guards, while beating him up, call him out on that very not-PC act.

The most direct tribute to Eisner each issue appears in the opening splash panel, a two-page spread featuring an inventive layout with some symbolism. In the case of #2, we see a large image of P’Gell lounging across the pages, dangling a tiny Spirit toy. It says much about her in a primarily visual manner.

So, sorry I don’t have an actual Eisner Spirit comic to share, but the Cooke Spirit comics are worth a look, too.

(And just pretend the movie doesn’t exist. What movie? Exactly.)

Writer/Penciler: Darwyn Cooke

Inker: J. Bone

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; included in The Spirit, Vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Solo #1 (2004)

Anthology series are a tough sell. It’s much easier to get invested in ongoing sagas than short stories (and comic book short stories are super-short). I’m plenty guilty of overlooking them, even knowing full well the gems that may be hidden within.

But I actually did pick up one anthology book when it was new—the first issue of DC Comics’ Solo. The series was designed to spotlight the talents of renowned comics artists, and each issue “starred” a single such artist. Tim Sale headlined issue #1, joined by writers Darwyn Cooke, Diana Schutz, Jeph Loeb, and Brian Azzarello (and Sale did some of the writing himself).

The issue’s stories span genres, from superhero to noir to ordinary slice-of-life, but they’re all love stories in their own way. Catwoman takes Batman on a “date” by having him chase her across Gotham, though she’s actually chasing him. Supergirl recalls her first love. Martha Kent narrates a story about Clark trying to be a good person on his prom night. A hitman remembers a dead lover and his current loneliness. And so on.

Throughout the book, Sale demonstrates the range of his talents, bringing kinetic energy to Catwoman and Batman’s “dance” across the city, innocence and sadness to Supergirl, quiet grandeur to a young Clark Kent, pervasive bleakness to a hitman, and more.

“Solo” may be a misnomer, given all the talent helping out. Name aside, though, it’s a solid anthology that allows you to appreciate not only the storytelling possibilities of the artist, but of the comic book medium in general.

Of course, foolish me, I never picked up another issue, and DC cancelled it after #12. (Clearly it’s all my fault…or DC’s for setting the price tag at $4.95. Probably the latter.)

Writers: Darwyn Cooke, Diana Schutz, Jeph Loeb, and Brian Azzarello

Artist: Tim Sale

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Solo: The Deluxe Edition (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Catwoman #1 (2002)

Here’s a time it actually made sense to start over with a new issue #1. When writer Ed Brubaker and artist Darwyn Cooke (both incredible talents) took over Catwoman, they injected a mature tone into the book and set Selina Kyle on a fresh course.

She’s been presumed dead for the past six months, so now it’s time to figure out what to do with her life. She laments how self-serving she had become, but she’s not quite sure what that makes her at present. As she observes Batman in action against the Riddler, she realizes how she doesn’t belong in his world of good against evil; her territory is “between right and wrong.”

Catwoman and Batman have a nice moment together on a rooftop, and the dialogue further sharpens their differences:

Batman: No matter what, I believe that deep down, you’re really a good person. Don’t you think so?

Catwoman: Sometimes…yeah, sometimes I do…but I think it’s just a lot more complicated than that.

(As a side note, it’s always nice when a Catwoman/Batman rooftop scene in a Catwoman #1 manages not to devolve into gratuitous sex to “shock” us or show off how “adult” it is. I try to stay positive here, but that poor decision in the New 52 series deserves the jab. So…sorry/not sorry. But as I said, Brubaker and Cooke bring a mature tone to this book.)

Catwoman, when handled properly, is a complex character. Her many shades of grey give her the potential to surpass Batman as a compelling protagonist. And this particular #1 kicks off the finest set of Catwoman comics I’ve ever read.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artist: Darwyn Cooke

Inker: Mike Allred

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Catwoman vol. 1: Trail of the Catwoman (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Catwoman #12 (2002)

Catwoman 12Catwoman has had quite a few solo series over the years, but none was better than Ed Brubaker’s noir take on the character, particularly in the first two years when the late, great Darwyn Cooke set the artistic tone.

Cooke’s clean, energetic style freed poor Selina from the over-objectification she’s often subjected to. This series was never about cheesecake—it was about a unique woman, one comfortable in morally gray areas, trying to do her part to improve her neighborhood. Cameron Stewart soon took over the art, and he admirably continued the general look and feel that Cooke established.

Issue #12 kicks off what’s arguably the pinnacle of the run. It’s a relatively quiet issue that spends quality time with the supporting cast, which Brubaker did an excellent job of fleshing out. That effort went a long way toward making Catwoman feel like the center of her own world rather than an extension of Batman’s.

And when faces from the past return to Selina’s life, we can trust that Brubaker and Stewart will be sending us on a thrilling ride. And yes—the next several issues fulfill that promise.

Catwoman at her best, no Batman necessary.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artist: Cameron Stewart

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Catwoman vol. 2: No Easy Way Down (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up