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Sunday Slugfest: Battle for the Cowl #3

Posted: Sunday, May 24, 2009
By: Thom Young

Tony Daniel
Tony Daniel (p), Sandu Florea (i), Ian Hannin & JD Smith (colors)
DC Comics
“Last Man Standing”

With the destruction of Arkham Asylum, the return of the Black Mask, and dozens of Gotham City's most lethal villains rioting through the streets, Nightwing, Robin, and their allies already have their hands full. However, when a deadly Jason Todd masquerading as a gun-toting Batman is added to the mix, things spiral out of control even more.

Dave Wallace:
Andre Lamar:
Jason Cohen:
Stephen Joyce:

Dave Wallace:

Battle for the Cowl #3 sees Tony Daniel wrap up a story in which Batman’s three most well-known Robins have competed for the honour of being their mentor’s successor. I use the phrase “wrap up” rather than “conclude” because Battle for the Cowl is another one of those “event” miniseries that leaves several story threads hanging--presumably (in this case) to be explored in future issues of DC’s batbooks.

Considering that Daniel used earlier issues to set up several different subplots (the Black Mask’s attacks on Gotham, the Arkham Asylum breakout, the turf war between Two-Face and the Penguin, et cetera), it’s disappointing that the only part of the story that receives anything approaching a decent ending is the conflict between Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, and Jason Todd.

Admittedly, this part of the story is handled fairly well, even if the ideological differences between the three Robins are ultimately reduced to a fistfight between Dick and Jason. Nightwing’s monologue in the early part of the issue handles his feelings on the matter of Batman’s replacement well--with his desire for Bruce to never be replaced conflicting with his recognition that the Batman (whoever he may be) is an essential figure that must be maintained if law and order is to be preserved in Gotham City.

However, these matters that are directly related to the question of Batman’s replacement are served poorly by a script that seems to forget all about them halfway through the issue. Even though most readers will probably be pleased with the final choice of the inheritor of the Batman’s cowl, any miniseries that ends with the words “The Beginning . . .” is bound to feel more than a little inconclusive.

This lack of conclusiveness wouldn’t be so bad if the issue didn’t draw specific attention to the unresolved plot points. When Jason taunts Dick with his knowledge of the identity of the new Black Mask, it’s reasonable to expect that readers might learn the secret before the end of this finite series.

Similarly, the big build-up to the military and police showdown with Two-Face in the first part of the issue only makes the sudden disappearance of this element of the story even more keenly felt.

There are other minor problems with the story, too--such as what happened to Catwoman between issues #2 and #3, and the (predictable) reversal of the apparent death of Tim Drake last issue that is given only the most perfunctory explanation in this current issue.

Also, some of the dialogue could have used a little more polish. Whilst Daniel explores the Bat-family’s complicated web of relationships quite well (particularly when it comes to Bruce’s different relationships with his three protégés), other exchanges often fall back on clichés that don’t help the story to feel as fresh as it might like to seem.

At one point, there’s also a strange mismatch between the text and the illustrations. In a panel that sees Nightwing’s internal monologue consider the need to talk through Jason’s psychological issues with him in order to calm him down, the art shows Nightwing punching Jason squarely in the jaw. If I ever have to talk through my problems with a psychologist, I hope it’s not one from the Dick Grayson School.

As a British reader, I also have to query Daniel’s use of bizarre non-existent colloquial phrases in order to set the speech patterns of the Knight and the Squire apart from those of the other characters. For example, the Knight’s reference to a criminal as “Hot Rubbish” is a phrase that I’ve never encountered before, and one that I struggle to understand even in its context here.

Additionally, the Squire’s use of the word gimpy in relation to Damian’s injuries might be one that’s familiar to Americans, but it’s a word that simply isn’t used in that context by the British.

Happily, Daniel’s art fares better than does his writing. The early scenes of a blazing Gotham City set the tone for the issue, the action sequences are clearly-choreographed and dynamic, the numerous variations on the Batman costume are handled well and are made distinctive from one another, and there are some standout pages (such as the one that features a silhouetted Black Mask on his throne) that are simple great-looking images in their own right.

There are occasional artistic missteps. For example, considering that we don’t get to see the new Batman’s face in the closing pages, it might have been a good idea for Daniel to avoid confusion by keeping the character’s hair the same length as it was in the rest of the issue. However, for the most part, Daniel has done an excellent job--one that rescues the book from me giving it a lower bullet-rating.

Still, there’s a feeling that this miniseries could have been a more satisfying read than it turned out to be. In my review of the second issue, I stated:
I fully expected Battle For The Cowl to be an exercise in empty storytelling, existing only to tidy up Batman continuity and tread water whilst DC waits for Grant Morrison to return to the batbooks--and I almost didn't buy it for that reason. However, with two-thirds of the series complete, I'm happy that I gave it the benefit of the doubt.
However, having read issue #3, I’m beginning to think that my initial instincts may have been correct after all. To give the writer the benefit of the doubt, I do have to wonder whether the problems that I had with the book’s lack of conclusiveness stem from the editorial direction that Daniel received rather than from his own story ideas.

Other than these problems, the execution of the story has been reasonably good, with Tony Daniel telling the story adequately through both his writing and his artwork. Ultimately, though, this entire series feels like little more than set-up for the next phase of DC’s batbooks. As such, I think it will be remembered as a skippable (if reasonably diverting) tale.

Andre Lamar:

In the latest issue of Battle for the Cowl, Nightwing reveals to Jason Todd a pre-recorded message from Bruce Wayne expressing his sorrow for Todd’s troubled past. Bruce admits guilt in the message for believing he could mentor his former sidekick on his own instead of seeking help from a professional.

Jason Todd was a troubled youth before becoming Robin. His introduction to Bruce Wayne occurred while attempting to steal the tires from the Batmobile. Believing he could instill direction into Todd‘s life, Wayne welcomed the young rebel into his family and dubbed him the second Robin. Unfortunately Jason’s brash attitude led to his death by the Joker hands.

Tony Daniel has crafted a paramount script for the Battle for the Cowl miniseries. The series has included succinct and upbeat storytelling, and introducing Jason Todd as the gun-toting Batman added an excellent spin to the story. Daniel’s emphasis on Todd’s rage and emotional agony has certainly fleshed out the character in this final chapter. Seeing the deranged vigilante shoot Damien and stab Tim Drake, unveiled a new layer of Todd’s personality.

Although Dick Grayson refers to Todd’s actions as insane, I disagree. On the contrary, I see a tormented soul who has never stood a chance in life. Bruce failed to raise Todd because the billionaire lacked viable options for the hothead. Bruce could’ve turned the youngster into the authorities. However handing Todd over would’ve most likely placed the unruly juvenile in the court system or in foster care. Without a doubt, if either scenario were to take place, Todd would’ve became yet another villain in Gotham City. Therefore, in Cowl #3, once and for all, Daniel disclosed the notion that Todd will never come to his senses.

Artistically Daniel’s visuals and Florea’s coloring are consistent with their previous work in this series. Every panel continues to convey a sense of restless activity and action.

Sadly Battle for the Cowl #3 wasn’t as entertaining as the previous issues. The ending didn’t come as a surprise. Not to mention the fact that the final installment of the script lacked an awe-inspiring moment.

For instance Cowl #1 introduced Jason Todd wielding a gun while wearing a bat suit. Cowl #2 featured Todd shooting Damien and stabbing Tim Drake. However Cowl #3 neglected to deliver an intense moment.

Nonetheless, Battle for the Cowl #3 delivers a decent ending to an overall great series. Although the conclusion may not come as a surprise, all the followers of the series owes it to themselves to pick up this issue.

Jason Cohen:

Many people have called this three-part series a “fill-in” as we wait for the regular monthly titles to start back up. Based on the final issue of this series, I can say they are right. However, that doesn’t mean Battle for the Cowl #3 was bad.

The issue is still very suspenseful and I was turning the pages faster than I could read waiting to see how every subplot would fall into place. Yet, as the issue drew to a close, it began to lose its suspense since most people already knew who was fated to be the new Batman.

I had hoped for another reveal that might serve as a shocker ending, but there is none here and “the next Batman” story is summed up all too perfectly while everything else is left in mystery:
  • Who is Black Mask?

  • What happened to the entire Network?

  • If there will be a new Batgirl, what is going to happen to the current one?

  • If the military is still under control of the city and Gordon has seemingly failed, what is left to tell in Streets of Gotham?

  • Finally, where do Gotham’s bad girls and Riddler figure into all this?
There is nothing wrong with teasing/introducing new stories to come later (a la DC Universe #0, but to have such extensive plots running through three issues and then to leave very little concluded by the end makes this series seem stuck between an actual event and simply a lead-in.

Through no fault of Tony Daniel’s, this issue lacks substance. He had to omit a lot in order to conclude the core story, but that story wasn’t enough to fill the full book. It seemed that Dick and Jason argued for five pages over whether Tim was dead and whether Jason was lying. Given another three issues, I’m sure we would have gotten a more fleshed out overall story in preparation for the arcs to come.

Fortunately, the art is great as Daniel provides the same level of work seen throughout his run on Batman--and this time he was even doing the writing too. My favorite page is the first that shows Jason Todd, who has sunk so low he now resembles something demonic. Nothing was really out of place except for the first page pose shot of everyone in this issue who is soon to be forgotten. The pencils seemed to be overshadowed by the inks on some of the less detailed pages, but the coloring was solid all around.

The truth is Battle for the Cowl was intended to be a filler of sorts to pass the time between the end of R.I.P. and the beginning of the adventures of the new Batman. Because this series wasn’t allowed to blossom and grow to become its own entity, Battle for the Cowl can be chalked up as more wasted potential from the DCU and the Batman franchise.

Stephen Joyce:

For the purpose of this review, I went back and re-read the first two issues of Battle For The Cowl so that I’d have a fresh look at the entire series and how well the ending works. A Robin has narrated each issue--Tim Drake narrated the first issue; Jason Todd narrated the second; and the original Robin, Dick Grayson, narrates this final issue.

As a huge Nightwing fan, I was waiting for this issue to see his view of current events. Tony Daniel has had a handle on the internal voices of both Tim and Jason and he doesn’t disappoint when handling Dick.

Dick Grayson really is a man torn by what everyone expects of him and by the last request of his father and mentor. It was interesting to finally hear from someone who doesn’t want to take over as Batman.

As much as the internal monologue worked, it was disappointing that not all of the dialogue worked in this final instalment. At the beginning of the issue when Nightwing is talking to his network of superhero friends and allies, Daniel’s choice of words for Nightwing seems off. The situation and position work for Nightwing. He’s a natural leader, but something doesn’t seem right about his dialogue in that scene.

For an example of where the dialogue both worked and didn’t work we can look to the fight between Nightwing and Jason Todd. There are times in the fight where the dialogue seems very routine and simple. At times Jason comes off as a villain-of-the-week from a Saturday morning cartoon. Luckily this isn’t the case most of the time.

When Nightwing replays Bruce’s message for Jason, you can sense Jason’s anxiety. This moment also helps show Nightwing in the proper position in this fight. He’s that older brother trying to get through to and help his younger brother.

The most symbolic scene in the series is in this issue when Nightwing and Jason are fighting atop a train, and both are grasping the cowl. Jason fights for what he thinks he deserves while Nightwing fights to protect what Batman stood for. I really, really liked this scene. The art was great. The fight was choreographed well. Even the dialogue flowed well between the two combatants.

Speaking of the art, I can’t say enough about how good this entire series has been with Tony Daniel doing the illustrations. I wish he could do everything that has to do with Batman. He does a great job with light and shadows that is perfect for the character.

The only real problem I might have with Daniel’s art is how he draws Tim Drake. I think he tries to make Tim appear a little older than he needs to be, and he also makes him look too much like Bruce Wayne. Still, I think I can look past one character to enjoy his art.

The whole purpose of this series has been to not only determine a new Batman but to explore the role and purpose of Batman in Gotham. To that end, I think this series has worked. It’s explored the different aspects of why Gotham needs Batman.

This last issue has had some of the best reasons for Batman. The character Batman Jones said it best when he compared Batman to God--not in a literal sense of being an actual god, but what he represents. Batman gave Gotham’s underworld someone to answer to. Without consequences for their actions they were free to do whatever they liked. Batman was also fear. Yes, Gotham still had heroes in the area, but none of them represented that fear that the bad guys had when dealing with Batman.

Battle for the Cowl has been a great ride, but it is good to see it come to an end. If you’ve wondered why Dick Grayson has not taken up the cowl, this issue will answer all those questions. The art alone is worth picking up this issue. The ending works in the long run for this series. It may not have been the best issue out of the three, but it’s still very entertaining.

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