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 The Animated Series and 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 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 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. In 2005, Cooke won an Eisner Award for "Best Limited Series", and a Joe Shuster Award for "Outstanding Canadian Comic Book Cartoonist" for his work on the series.Most recently, 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 July 2005, it was announced that in 2006 Cooke and writer Jeph Loeb would produce a Batman/Spirit crossover, to be followed shortly afterwards by an ongoing Spirit series written and drawn by Cooke. Batman/The Spirit was ultimately published in November 2006, followed in December by the first issue of Cooke's The Spirit. 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 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 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, is scheduled for October 2010. The remaining two adaptations will be 'The Score' and 'Slayground'
Batman: Ego (DC Comics, 2000). A 64-page prestige format Batman story. Writer & artist.
Catwoman #1-4 (DC Comics, November 2001 to February 2002). With writer Ed Brubaker.
X-Force #124 (Marvel Comics, January 2002). With writer Peter Milligan, Cooke drew this one-issue story about the relationship between The Orphan and U-Go Girl. The regular penciller of the series was his friend Mike Allred.
9-11, Volume 2 (February 2002).
Spider-Man: Tangled Web #11 (Marvel Comics, April 2002). Cooke writes and draws "Open All Night!", a Spider-Man Valentine's Day story.
Catwoman: Selina's Big Score (DC Comics, Summer 2002). 96-page graphic novel featuring a Selina Kyle story that takes place before Catwoman #1.
Spider-Man's Tangled Web #21 (Marvel, February 2003). A Spider-Man Christmas story titled "T'was the Fight Before Xmas", also featuring several female Marvel characters (Crystal, Medusa, The Wasp and The Invisible Woman).
Wolverine/Doop #1-2 (Marvel, 2003). 2-issue miniseries written by Peter Milligan that co-stars X-Men's Wolverine and X-Force's Doop.
The New Frontier #1-6 (DC Comics, 2004). Writer and artist.
Green Lantern: Secret Files 2005 (DC Comics, 2005). Cooke pencils the main story (22 pages), written by Geoff Johns.
Solo #5 (DC Comics, June 2005).
Batman/The Spirit (DC Comics, November 2006). One-shot crossover issue between Batman and The Spirit, featuring some of the supporting casts of both characters (Robin, Catwoman, the Joker, Ebony, P’Gell, Commissioner Dolan and more). Co-written by Cooke and Jeph Loeb, and penciled by Cooke.
The Spirit #1-6, 8-12 (DC Comics, December 2006 to January 2008). Writer and artist.
Jonah Hex #33 (DC Comics, July 2008) Artist.
The Hunter (IDW Comics, July 2009) Adapted from the novel by Richard Stark, illustrated by Cooke.
Richard Stark's Parker: The Man With the Getaway Face - A Prelude to The Outfit (IDW Comics, July 2010) Oversized (8" x 12") one-shot adapted from the novel by Richard Stark, illustrated by Cooke. Later republished as the first chapter in Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit.
The Outfit (IDW Comics, October 2010) Adapted from the novel by Richard Stark, illustrated by Cooke.
The Score (IDW Comics, TBA) Adapted from the novel by Richard Stark, illustrated by Cooke.
Slayground (IDW Comics, TBA) Adapted from the novel by Richard Stark, illustrated by Cooke.
Detective Comics #759-762 (DC Comics, July to October 2001). 4-part "Trail of the Catwoman" back-up story (8 pages in each issue) with writer Ed Brubaker, featuring Sam Bradley, that leads to Catwoman #1.
Batman: Gotham Knights #23 (DC, November 2001). A "Batman Black & White" backup tale written by Paul Grist (Kane) and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke.
Just Imagine Stan Lee with Chris Bachalo creating Catwoman (May 2002). Cooke drew a short back up story written by Michael Uslan and inked by Mike Allred.
X-Statix #1 (August 2002). Cooke drew a back-up short story featuring Doop, written by Peter Milligan.
Marvel Double Shot #3 (December 2002). Cooke drew the 11-page "Who Let the Dad Out?" (the title is related to the "Who let the dogs out?" song, which is mentioned in the story) with writer Sean McKeever. A short story featuring Ant-Man, about his relationship with his teenage daughter.
JSA: All Stars #3 (DC Comics, 2003). Cooke drew a back-up story written by Steven Manale and colored by DC editor Mark Chiarello (also a friend of Cooke) featuring Dr. Fate.
Gotham Knights #33 (DC Comics, September 2002). Writer of the back-up story "The Monument", with artist Bill Wray.
Solo #1 (DC Comics, 2004). 11-page story "Date Knight", featuring Batman and Catwoman, with artist Tim Sale.
Superman Confidential #1-5, 11 (DC Comics, November 2006-07, 2008). "Kryptonite," Books 1-6 written by Cooke with art by Tim Sale.
The Spirit #1-6, 8-12 (DC Comics, December 2006 to January 2008). Writer and artist.
Richard Stark's Parker: Book One - The Hunter (IDW Comics, July 2009). Adapted by Cooke from the novel.
Comic book covers
Batman Beyond #4, 23 and 24 (DC Comics)
Weird Western Tales #1 (DC/Vertigo, 2001)
Gotham Adventures #45 and #50 (DC Comics, 2001)
Batman Gotham Knights #12 (DC Comics, 2002)
Justice League Adventures #7 (DC Comics, 2002)
Rawhide Kid #4 (Marvel, 2003)
Bad Girls #1-5 (DC Comics, 2003)
Toronto Comics Festival 2005 (Free Comic Books Day)
Elk's Run Bumper Edition (Speakeasy Comics, 2005). Collects Elk's Run #1-3.
Spellgame #1-3 (Speakeasy Comics, 2005)
Red Menace #1 (variant cover) (WildStorm Comics, 2007)
Toronto Comics Festival 2007 (Free Comic Books Day)