Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Batman: Battle for the Cowl #1 Review

Written by Tony Daniel
Art by Tony Daniel and Sandu Florea

I've been reading Batman comics for a good 10-15 years. I feel like I've seen a lot of different stories from various creative teams over the years, some new, some recycled, but most fairly decent.

The most common story that seems to come up is the missing-Batman or gang war stories. It's an easy way to instigate conflict and pretty hard to mess up. In the case of Battle for the Cowl, Tony Daniel recycles both of these plotpoints in the aftermath of Batman's "death" post-Final Crisis / Batman RIP and does an okay job with the basic plot. Like I said, it's hard to screw it up when you have so many examples of it in action, such as Knightfall, No Man's Land and even the most recent instance, War Games.

However, while the premise is sound and the basic plot points Daniel sets out to hit are fine, the actual characterization for the myriad cast of characters is amateur (queue Christian Bale Terminator set rant) at best. It's as if Daniel is living in his own bubble and hasn't been paying attention to any other Batman related titles over the past few months.

As Tony Daniel is headlining this minievent, the blame for the miscommunications, even if they were due to editorial mistakes, falls on his shoulders and there's no excuse for so many inconsistencies in simple things, such as Nightwing being the closed off and distant one here while Robin is the one reaching out and accepting Bruce's "death" when both were shown to have the exact opposite representations in both their titles as recently as their final issues. We even have the Birds of Prey, along with Oracle, operating in this issue when Oracle disbanded the group at the end of their series. While the Birds may have stuck together, what the heck is Oracle doing there and giving them orders when we're told the story picks up in the Oracle: The Cure mini?

Continuing with the trend, we have a Damian Wayne featured in this issue that is nothing like the one Morrison wrote. Damian is not the spoiled, petulant brat that was infatuated with his father and the Batman legacy nor is he the same kid that was leading the League of Assassins and defeated Tim Drake with ease. In fact, in this issue, he's featured as some teenager picking up what looked like a hooker for a joyride in the Batmobile before nearly wetting his pants as Croc and Poison Ivy attack him and, later, hiding in a corner while Nightwing gives himself up to the villains chasing the two of them. Was Daniel even reading any of the scripts he was given to draw over the past year?

Finally, all of the villains come off as flat, cardboard representations of their usually outlandish selves. These are merely the Batman rogues gallery in name and appearance only. There isn't a single sign of personality from any of them, even the new (there's no way he's back from the dead after what happened in Catwoman) Black Mask, who is as generic as they come.

However, I would be remiss to discuss any of the good points of the issue. As I said earlier, Daniel does hit the normal high points a Batman story of this type strives for. We have the big break out of the villains, which has story telling promise, if a tad lacking in character writing.

Then, we have the rather entertaining scenes of 'the Network', which is basically the Batman extended family, such as the Birds of Prey, Alfred, Nightwing and so on, along with some outsider friends, like Knight and Squire, among others. It was enjoyable watching them work together in a vain attempt at controlling an uncontrollable situation.

Next up is the new Batman imposter, who turns out to be the gun totting version seen on some covers. As solicits have already spoiled it, I'll point out that this is actually Jason Todd. However, I actually think the imposter Tim was looking for in the underground complex was a different Batman than the Jason Todd version that showed up at the end of the issue, but we'll probably find out if there is a second fake out there or not in the next issue.

Finally, the artwork from Daniel is probably the best he's done on the Bat titles, especially his work on faces and non-costumed characters. I imagine the break since Batman: RIP has given him more time to focus on this and that probably explains the increased quality.

Verdict - Check It. While I wasn't exactly thrilled with the characterization, the story does have promise and, as it's only three issues long, I'm going to stick with it for the duration.

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