Wednesday, 18 May 2016
Solo #5 by Darwyn Cooke Review
Darwyn Cooke passed away this past weekend and, like a lot of people who were familiar with the man’s name and his work, I wanted to read something of his in memoriam. I thought about re-reading his best known work, New Frontier, or one of his Parker adaptations (his best books in my mind) - and then I saw this double-sized issue of Solo on Comixology, the DC series from ten years ago where each issue was handed over to a creator to do with as they please.
Solo #5 was Darwyn Cooke’s issue and, by sheer chance, I found the most perfect comic to read as a send-off to the artist.
The issue is framed with Private Detective Slam Bradley, one of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Golden Age characters, going to a superhero bar for a few drinks and some stories. Cooke was a huge fan of Golden Age comics, a fascination that was reflected in books ranging from New Frontier to the Parker books to Before Watchmen: Minutemen/Silk Spectre and his revival of Will Eisner’s The Spirit. It’s fitting that the main character should be from that time.
The first story is autobiographical as a young Cooke visits a neighbour ostensibly to feed his golfing hunger and inadvertently discovers painting, an incident that changes his life’s path. It’s beautifully apt that the last panel shows a brush hovering over a blank canvas - the Slam Bradley parts are painted.
There’s a New Frontier thriller starring obscure DC character King Faraday, an espionage agent from the 1950s, which was a bit forgettable; a tribute to the funny pages of a bygone era and some gorgeous pinups of Catwoman and Zatanna; a Twilight Zone-esque short about a man in love with his vacuum cleaner that was a bit overlong for the joke; and The Question crops up briefly to ruminate on the moral complexity of modern warfare albeit not really shedding any light on the subject. I loved though how each strip was drawn in a different style, showcasing Cooke’s remarkable range as an artist.
By far the standout story of the issue for me was Batman: Deja Vu, which riffs on the 1970s comic, Night of the Stalker, where an orphan is made when some crooks gun down his parents, which Batman is unable to stop, propelling him on an extremely personal mission (for obvious reasons) to bring the murderers to justice. Batman doesn’t speak one word throughout but he dominates the story, using his ninja skills and intimidation tactics to subdue the criminals, from whose perspective we experience the story. It’s got incredible artwork too and it’s easily the best Batman story I’ve read all year.
The issue ends on a poignant note, especially given Cooke’s passing: Slam Bradley at the bar, alone with the bartender at the end of the night, the place empty and about to close, having one last drink – but going out with a story on his lips.
Solo #5 starts with Cooke as a kid discovering art and ends with an old man, weary but happy - I wonder if it’s just a coincidence that Slam looks a lot like Darwyn.
The comic covers Golden Age superheroes, noir, crime thrillers, all the genres Cooke loved and made his name with, as well as a mesmerising showcase of his artistic abilities. Like I said, sheer luck that I went looking for something commemorating his life and found a comic that encapsulates Darwyn Cooke so perfectly, set out like a kind of biography.
Even though Cooke was, rarely for an artist of his stature, someone who didn’t create an original character, he wrote and drew some outstanding comics with other people’s; Solo #5 is one of many comics that he leaves behind as testament to that fact.