Saturday, January 28, 2012

GN Review -- Batman: Battle for the Cowl / Tony S. Daniel

When I first heard about Batman: Battle for the Cowl, I was impressed about a number of things, most importantly that DC had the gonads to kill off one of their most popular characters of all-time (I know these things never last, but still).  The promotional art for it suggested that virtually every vigilante character in the Bat-Family would be involved, which eventually turned out not to be the case.  But what we do end up getting is essentially a battle between Dick Grayson and Jason Todd that ends up also being a fight for the soul of the Dark Knight's legacy.

In the wake of Bruce Wayne's demise, Nightwing and a network of Gotham-based heroes and vigilantes have tried hard to keep the city from spiraling into a war zone, to almost no avail.  Knowing that Batman is no longer protecting the streets of Gotham City, Penguin and Two-Face viciously escalate their gangland battle for territory and supremacy on the streets, exhausting the GCPD and Nightwing's assembly of heroes.  Things get further complicated when Black Mask shows up, springs a bunch of Arkham Asylum inmates from their transports, and lets them loose to do his bidding and topple the other two gangs.

Nightwing has tried--hard--to deny himself the necessity of succeeding Bruce's mantle and assuming the guise of Batman, but when a ruthless, cold-blooded psychopath begins taking out street scum and calling himself Batman, he has little choice but to hunt the man down.  What ensues is much more than a battle for the right to become the next Batman.  It becomes a very personal, very brutal conflict between the heroes who seek to preserve Bruce Wayne's legacy as Batman, and the madman who feels not only the need to succeed Batman, but to surpass him--and he'll use any brutal method to subvert the meaning of Batman.

This is my first exposure to Tony S. Daniel's work, and I have to say I'm impressed that he handled both the writing and penciling duties for this story.  The central topic of the story--stepping up and preserving your predecessor's legacy, embodied by Dick Grayson/Nightwing--is handled extremely well, as is the conflicting subject of subverting your predecessor's legacy to what you think it should be, embodied of course by the bitter and psychotic, yet still needy Jason Todd.  I like that we get to see at least a little bit of extra help from the other heroes, most notably the Birds of Prey and Knight and Squire, who are all worked smoothly into the plot without overwhelming it with their presences.

There are a few decisions in the writing that left me asking questions that detracted from the overall narrative.  What exactly was Catwoman's final fate by the end of the story?  Why did Jason wear another mask under his Bat-cowl?  And if that wasn't the real Black Mask we saw for the final time in the story, who was it?  These were relatively minor questions that didn't really affect the overall story, but they did distract from it, and I felt they should have been addressed or resolved in some way.

I did enjoy Daniel's artwork in this story, particularly the good job he did in making Tim, Jason, and Dick all look similar (as they always have, to me at least) yet distinct.  The covers with the split images of the three each in their respective previous garbs and their Batman costumes were also nice touches.  The linework is smooth, the action shots are involving, and the heroes look as heroic as the villains look villainous.

Overall, this was a good Batman story, even without the traditional Batman character.  It suffers slightly from false advertising, as the story I found was much smaller in scope than I expected, but it was well written and nicely drawn.  A good read for Batman fans, as well as proponents of the Nightwing-Jason Todd-Tim Drake conflicts that inevitably arise.  Highly recommended.

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