While I’m not down with the basic premise that Gotham must have a Batman – see the beautifully coded http://dangermart.blogspot.com/2009/02/battle-for-cowl-why.html – I gave this book a shot. And it has some good points. Writer/penciller Tony Daniel, a surprise choice for a high-profile three-issue mini, quickly sets up the situation of a Batman-less Gotham having descended into chaos. Gang war has broken out (again), looting is rife and – ulp – someone is going around tearing the heads off/hanging criminals. Things are so bad, Nightwing and Robin have taken to importing UK Batman and Robin, the Knight and Squire. Hang the UK, Gotham is in danger and only has a dozen or so local heroes to protect it, among them Catwoman, Wildcat, Huntress, Oracle, Manbat, Black Canary, Lady Blackhawk and even brat boy Damian.
And of course, there’s a mysterious wannabe Batman. There’s always a mysterious wannabe Batman. It may be Jason, it may be one of the fake Batmen left over from Grant Morrison’s recent Batman run, it may be the new Azrael we’re due. I dunno, what I do know is that I don’t much care – we’ve seen the ruffty-tufty imposter bit too many times previously, and despite what this issue claims, Gotham has enough vigilantes as it is.
And while the newly named Network – Dick and Babs do like to think up team names – runs around Gotham, firefighting, costumed baddies heading from Blackgate Prison to Arkham Asylum are gathered up by Black Mask after he blows up said nuthouse.
What’s that you say, Black Mask is dead, killed by Catwoman in revenge for something or other? Turns out he’s not, which is handy for everyone who believed Selina Kyle killing anyone was way out of character. Mind, it could always be someone else under the mask. I dunno, Red Hoods, Black Masks . . . bring on the Pink Balaclava, that’s what I say.
Meanwhile, back in the event book, Dick is still super-mopey over Bruce’s death, staring into glass cases at Bat-manikins. This sends him over the edge to the point where he starts trouncing defenceless dummies. All credit to MI-5 and RSC-trained fighter Alfred for jumping into the fray and defending the poor saps.
Dick’s mood fails to convince, as he’s trained for years to take over should Batman no longer be around, and he’s long-established as a world-class team leader in the DCU. This is a man who would be getting on with the job, not choking back the tears. I’m not blaming Daniel for this, though, it’s almost certainly an editorially imposed piece of mischaracterisation – if Dick is allowed to be the hero we know he is, there’s no Battle for the Cowl.
Tim is busy having moody thoughts about manipulating Dick into accepting that he should be a new Batman. This is the same Tim who a couple of months ago wasn’t at all pleased when Spoiler caused chaos in Gotham, at Batman’s behest, in order to make Tim a ‘better’ Robin. He’s also a tad addled, referring to Batman’s costume as ‘my father’s suit’. I know Bruce adopted Tim, but heck, that was five minutes ago in comics time, and his actual dad, Jack, has been dead only six. (Actually, being dead for six minutes in a bat book means he’s likely back as someone new. Jack Drake is the Black Mask. Or wannabe Batman. Or Azrael. You read it here first.)
The extra-length story is well-paced, Daniel gets a lot of information across efficiently and there are some neat set-pieces. A scene involving Damian, Oracle and a groupie he’s picked up in the Batmobile is a hoot, and what follows is good comics. A confrontation between pushy Tim and sulky Dick works well. And we see once again that whereas Dick embodies the daredevil aspect of Batman’s legacy, Tim is the better detective. In all, this is a creditable effort from Daniel, I’d say he bears watching as a writer.
Mind, he’s given a big hand-up from the penciller. That Tony Daniel is good, whether it’s heroes battling hoods, butlers sparring with charges or costumed crooks crammed into a bus. Even plain old conversational scenes have an emotional energy that works for the book. Adding to the mood is inker Sandu Florea, who gives great black. And colourist Ian Hannin stops a book featuring mostly grey and blue characters in night scenes looking dull.
Overall, this is a textbook example of an event comic – it sets the scene, introduces a gazillion characters and sets the engine of the story running. What we don’t get is anything new. We’ve seen the battle for Batman’s mantle, mass villain breakouts and Gotham in chaos plenty of times. The only big surprise here was that Oracle doesn’t know what ‘decimate’ means. Let’s hope that now the set-up is over, it’s not rogues, but originality that breaks out.