Battle for the Cowl: The Underground #1 review

The latest special showing what’s happening in Gotham in the wake of Batman’s death/’death’ stars Catwoman and the Riddler, villains turned good guys. Catwoman’s been on the side of the angels since the Eighties via a transformation readers followed, while the Riddler’s conversion came without much explanation a couple of years ago – it was just one of those post-coma things.

Here they are embroiled in the Penguin v Two Face gang wars searing Gotham City and their narrations make the conflicts come alive. Selina comes with built-in reader empathy, as she realises that it’s senseless to fight crime in order to please the dead Batman, and wonders at the identities of the apparently resurrected Black Mask and the new Batman. Edward Nigma provides a cooler analysis of the situation as the Penguin bulldozes the self-styled detective into agreeing to find Black Mask. And all the while Poison Ivy, Killer Croc and company go about Black Mask’s business of creating chaos, Poison Ivy gets bored and Harley Quinn amuses without grating.

It’s a clever balancing act that writer Chris Yost pulls off, making the villains such good company that it’s disappointing when Bad Batman shows up and starts hogging panel time. On this evidence I’ll be buying Yost’s upcoming Red Robin book.

Pablo Raimondi’s dark, mean streets art is as perfect for this book as it was for Marvel’s X-Factor. His Catwoman is especially good, with suitably catty poses and a non-imitative flavour of Darwyn Cooke, his Riddler suitably rakish and his Two-Face suitably horrifying. The work is cleverly coloured by Brian Reber (the contrast between the garish Riddler and cool Penguin, for example) and neatly lettered by Steve Wands.

The book boasts a tremendously moody cover by Ladronn and is topped off with a bold logo. It’s a shame this is just one issue.

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