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]