Review: Batman: Battle for the Cowl hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, December 21, 2009

In any number of close-up scenes of character interaction in Batman: Battle for the Cowl, Tony Daniel writes and draws an interesting Batman crossover, much in the spirit of Knightfall -- the Bat-family fights a crazed vigilante for control of the identity of Batman. But it's when the action zooms out that both plot and artwork get a little sketchy -- as well done as some parts of Battle for the Cowl are, other parts left me scratching my head.

[Contains spoilers for Batman: Battle for the Cowl]

I give Tony Daniel much credit for writing and drawing the three issues of this book, and if Batman RIP hadn't already done so, Battle for the Cowl would cement Daniel as one to watch. In a style just on the border between animated and realistic, Daniel draws a breathtaking wrap-around cover of the Bat-family, chilling fights between the story's villain and Nightwing and Robin respectively, and I love his mod Catwoman that never quite puts on her mask. His diminutive Damien, at least, likely defines that character for the stories to follow.

The best replacement for Batman, we already know, is a Boy Wonder, and Daniel's story sees first Tim Drake and Jason Todd, and then Todd and Nightwing Dick Grayson, duke it out to be Batman's successor. While Daniel's Jason remains just too crazy to be interesting as a villain (Jason still comes off as a "whiner"), I give Daniel points for daring to suggest there may have abuse in Jason's past -- perhaps the most cogent explanation for Todd's ever-present attitude so far.

Daniel gets in lots of little moments -- Tim in the yellow-circle Bat-costume that reflects his early days with Batman; Catwoman's classic, "I wondered whatever happened to the Caped Crusader"; and that Tim attacks Jason with, of all things, a Death in the Family-inspired crowbar. The story is a feast for Batman fans not unlike Legion of Three Worlds was for Legion fans, and Daniel pulls it off nicely.

But yet, even as I consider myself fairly up to date on the DC Universe, some parts of this didn't jibe for me. At the outset, Robin notes that Nightwing and Batgirl called in their allies -- but why Batgirl? Wasn't she until recently completely estranged from the Bat-family? Our first shot of Damien has him in the Batmobile with a girl he picked up -- but since when does Damien date, how did he get the Batmobile, and why isn't he with his mother Talia?

Nightwing has supposedly turned emotionless, when he was plenty emotion-full at the end of both the Nightwing and Robin series; apparently he doesn't want to take on the cowl initially because Batman told him not to in a video -- but the reader gets no hint of this until the end, and therefore Nightwing's actions seem largely incongruous most of the time.

I have a guess, actually, that much of the missing material here either resides in the Batman: Battle for the Cowl Companion, or otherwise in yet-uncollected transitionary comics between Batman RIP and this book (see "Last Days of Gotham"). Indeed the presence of certain Outsiders characters here suggests I've probably read certain books in the wrong order, since I don't know who they are or when they joined that team.

No crossover necessarily stops to fill in readers on every background detail, but Battle for the Cowl felt especially fuzzy -- this ought be the natural throughway from Batman RIP to the new Batman & Robin book. Daniel appears at times to lose focus, both in story and art; characters not in the foreground are often dark and indistinct, and similarly some events, like Gotham coming under martial law, are told through narration when they might have been stronger demonstrated firsthand.

Judd Winick is next up on Batman, but I'll be more curious for the issues when Tony Daniel comes back around. Battle for the Cowl isn't perfect, but I wonder if it'll hold up better under a more knowledgable second read, and I have an inkling there's great work from Tony Daniel to come.

[Contains full covers, sketchbook pages, Gotham Gazette issues]
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7 comments:

  1. Batgirl: Redemption Road explains the bit where Batgirl is suddenly back with the Bat-Family in good standing.

    I actually hoped you'd have reviewed that by now, because I got it and, in my opinion, it vastly mischaracterizes half the characters including Nightwing as a jerk to Oracle and Misfit and Deathstroke being unable to best David Cain.

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  2. I've been meaning to read Batgirl: Redemption, as I rather like both the character and writer Adam Beechen, but the series is so outside the main DCU thoroughfare that I had to put my budget toward other things ahead of it. One day.

    I'm not sure even that story, however, explains why Batgirl is the one to round up Batman's "network," as they're calling it these days. Maybe because she was with the Outsiders. As it is, she gets absolutely no speaking part in all of Battle for the Cowl. There are somethings this story did very well, and then there are others not so much (though with all of the Bat-family to work with, I imagine Daniel's never going to please everyone).

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  3. That makes sense, maybe that contributed to my distaste for that TPB.

    I agree with you, though, on the characterization of Jason presented here. I read it with the feeling of three brothers literally fighting over who gets to inherit their family business with Jason being that one estranged son with wacky ideas. Like shooting people. Too bad Morrison didn't really run with it.

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  4. I finished battle for the cowl last night and agree with you on some parts, but i actually quite liked Jasons slight shift in attitude and behavior. For me the whole non-killing aspect of Batmans attitude is fine, but i like the thought that not all his apprentices learn and follow the same morals, so a Jason who kills is a nice change- especially after last seeing him portrayed in such a pathetic way in that prison...

    Apart from that i thought the whole story was great, im less concerned about batgirl and other side characters and more about Bruce, Dick, Jason and tim, and in terms of those characters i thought the story worked really well. Damian for me is still just too irritating to be taken seriously and i hope they do something with that character soon because ever since Batman and Son he has added nothing in terms of value, plot of story progression to the franchise (apart from stating of course that he is batmans son).

    Regarding Daniels work, i love his writing and LOVE his art- reminds me of Lee's batman slightly which is only a good thing and i would have been happy to see him stay on Batman for a long time yet.

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  5. I've just finished reading BTFC hardcover and there is a little detail that is bugging me. Why is Poison Ivy in the transport to Arkham that was intercepted by the Black Mask? I've seen her in Heart of Hush helping Catwoman, so I think she shouldn´t be in that transport, right? Am I missing anything?
    Any thoughts on this? Tks

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  6. Probably this is just a continuity glitch that can't be worked out; Ivy is later free as of Solomon Grundy and Gothan City Sirens. Many of the second-tier Batman villains (Ivy, Croc, Mad Hatter) tend to come and go across the DC Universe as writers need.

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  7. This is a very late addition to this comment thread, but I just reread this book. I was annoyed by the fact that the characters routinely address each other by name in public. For example, Oracle calls Damien by name even while noting he's in the batmobile with some girl he picked up somewhere (at 10 years old...).

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