Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Comic Review Wednesdays - Batman: Battle for the Cowl #1

Batman: Battle for the Cowl #1 (Of 3)
Written by Tony Daniel 
Pencils by Tony Daniel

The dark knight is dead. Gotham is in chaos. A new champion needs to rise, defend the streets of Gotham and be all that which Bruce Wayne was, but who? And will it be enough to save Gotham in its decimated condition? These are the questions that Tony Daniel's Battle for the cowl arc is going to answer as it establishes the new status quo of the Batman universe. 

In light of the upcoming plans for Detective Comics (and my subsequent decision to start reading in June), and the promised new status quo for the Batman universe it seemed impossible to ignore the battle for the cowl. Although IGN's recent interview with DC editor and chief Dan Didio did send up some red flags. It's not often that a title promised to be all out action turns out for the best, and it seems that my fears, to a great extent were realized. 

The story is told primarily from Tim Drake's point of view, and the issue is littered with red-orange caption boxes, a handful of them pretty lengthy. This is, of course, to help reduce the size of the mini-series so that the story can be told as quickly as possible. The problem is that with the extent to which these are used. The mini might be better served with an additional sub-title of Exposition Abound! Captions are used to relate everything from Dick's feelings since Bruce's death, the gang situation in Gotham, and the means by which Tim tracks down the mysterious new vigilante featured in the mini. It's bad writing, and it makes for bad reading. Action in comics is fine, but really it's not worth much if they're simply generic villains. If forced to choose between the two, I'd be much more interested in Two-face or Penguins plans, glossed over in the captions, than Nightwing punching out some thugs. 

Black Mask is revealed as the primary antagonist within the first few pages, and while it's thrilling to see him return (I'm pulling for him for Batman 3)-- I have an overwhelming since of dread for where his character might be heading and the role he will play in the changing Bat-verse. Daniel puts several characters in a situation with him and the pending result seems to be leading to a derivative gang/crime leader situation that active comic readers are likely to pick up on. Without speculating too much, this idea seems to be supported by the announcement of the upcoming series Gotham City Sirens which is set to feature Catwoman, who has a long, sored history with Black Mask, and Poison Ivy, who is featured somewhat prominently in this issue and a character to watch for this reason. 

In truth, one of the biggest problems with this issue is that it suffers from all the marketing DC has done on the part of it's June release Batman books. Between the revealed list of Bat-books, the interviews, promo issue releases, and general character histories, it's likely that Daniel doesn't have much to offer in the way of surprises to his readers. The interest that remains in this miniseries doesn't come from 'How will it change', and perhaps not even 'who will be Batman' but rather 'How is it all going to happen?' Daniel may have some surprises up his sleeve up it seems unlikely. After all, when Marvel shakes things up they put Norman Osborn in charge-- when DC shakes things up they conjure a gang war. The reality seems to be that the beans have been spilt and those paying attention are just biding their time until the final result. 

I try to avoid discussing art, but as a quick sidenote, Daniel's designs for Riddler and Poison Ivy are absolutely atrocious. Riddler looks like an idiot, and Ivy's sensuality, the primary element of her character, is absolutely shattered by the absurd plant-clothes that Daniel puts her in. Both look like an amateur's copy of Jim Lee's designs from Hush. 

RATING: 6 out of 10. 
This might seem high given the content of the review, but until Daniel plays his hand he can't be judged for the events in the book. If you're interested in reading some of the upcoming Batman books, it might be worth your time to pick this up but you could likely avoid it and still be on solid ground.  


Kiriska said...

Hm. Sounds disappointing. I'll have to grab that from you at the next WB meeting though. (Almost wish there was one tonight, lol, I'm so done with finals. XD)

Joe said...

Eh. IGN gave it a pretty positive review. Apparently they didn't mind the endless exposition. I guess they thought the reader's "catching up" on the events was a successful parrellel to the characters trying to keep up with the crime. You know, because nothing quite speeds and confuses a reader like endless exposition.

They also praised Daniel's dialog, which I think sort of discredits their review because while not bad, it's far from exemplary.

I kind of wish we had a meeting this week too, although I am enjoying the lack of one.