In 1985, Cooke published his first comic book work as a professional artist in a short story in New Talent Showcase #19, but economic pressure made him leave the comic book industry, and he worked in Canada as a magazine art director, graphic and product designer for the next 15 years.
In the early 1990s Cooke decided to return to comics, but found little interest for his work at the major publishers. Eventually he was hired by Warner Bros. Animation after replying to an ad placed by animator Bruce Timm.
He went on to work as a storyboard artist for Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series, and in 1999 he animated the main title design for Batman Beyond. He then worked as a director for Sony Animation's Men in Black: The Series for a year.
DC Comics then approached Cooke about a project which he had submitted to the publisher years earlier which eventually became Batman: Ego, a graphic novel published in 2000.
The critical success of that project led to Cooke taking on more freelance work, such as X-Force, Wolverine/Doop and Spider-Man's Tangled Web for Marvel Comics and Just Imagine... Stan Lee for DC.
In 2001, Cooke and writer Ed Brubaker teamed up to revamp the Catwoman character. They started with a 4 issue serial "Trail of the Catwoman" in Detective Comics #759-762 in which private detective Slam Bradley attempts to investigate the death of Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman).
The story led into a new Catwoman title in late 2001 by Brubaker and Cooke, in which the character's costume, supporting cast and modus operandi were all redesigned and redeveloped. Cooke would stay on the series, which was met with critical and fan acclaim, up until issue #4. In 2002 he would write and draw a prequel, the Selina's Big Score graphic novel which detailed what had happened to the character directly before her new series.
Cooke's next project was the ambitious DC: The New Frontier (2004), a six issue miniseries which sought to tell an epic storyline bridging the gap between the end of the golden and the start of the silver age of comic books in the DC Universe. The story, which was set in the 1950s, featured dozens of super-hero characters and drew inspiration from the comic books and movies of the period as well as from Tom Wolfe's non-fiction account of the start of the US Space Program The Right Stuff. The major DC characters are introduced in The New Frontier in the same order that DC originally published them, even down to the correct month and year in the story's timeline.
That same year, Cooke contributed to DC's artist-centric anthology project Solo. His issue (#5, June, 2005) featured several different stories in different styles with a framing sequence featuring the Slam Bradley character. In 2006, Solo #5 won an Eisner Award for "Best Single Issue."
In November 2006, Cooke and writer Jeph Loeb produced a Batman/The Spirit crossover. This was followed in December by an ongoing Spirit series written and drawn by Cooke. In June 2007, Cooke and J. Bone won a Joe Shuster Award for "Outstanding Canadian Comic Book Artists" for their work on Batman/The Spirit, and Cooke won "Outstanding Canadian Comic Book Cartoonist" for his work on The Spirit.
In July 2006, it was announced that Warner Bros. Animation and DC Comics would release a series of direct-to-DVD animated movies based on important DC comic books. One of the first comics to be adapted was Cooke's DC: The New Frontier. Cooke co-wrote the film with Stan Berkowitz and also provided art direction. The movie was produced by Bruce Timm.
Darwyn Cooke also wrote the first six-issue story arc of the new Superman monthly series, Superman Confidential, which debuted on November 1, 2006. Superman Confidential features stories set in the early years of Superman’s career. In June 2007 Cooke was awarded the Joe Shuster Award for "Outstanding Canadian Comic Book Writer" for Superman Confidential.
In July 2009, IDW Publishing published Cooke's Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter, an adaptation of the Donald Westlake novel, The Hunter. This is the first of four Parker novels that Cooke will be adapting for IDW. The second, The Outfit, was released in October 2010 and The Score released in July 2012. The remaining adaptation will be Slayground.
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