Friday, April 10, 2009

Army of One (DC)
Batman: Battle for the Cowl #2 When: June 2009 Why: Tony S. Daniel How: Tony S. Daniel

The Story So Far...
Once upon a time, evil won. Humanity was enslaved by the god of evil, Darkseid, who was reincarnated to walk as man on Earth, a harbinger of the Fifth World. Few could stand against the spread of his Anti-Life Equation, and those that did were gradually whittled away as their own companions became weapons against them. With all hope seemingly lost, one man stood between us and them. Though he conemned himself to a fate worse than death, the Batman pointed a cosmic pistol at Darkseid, and he saved us.

For the people Batman left behind, a smouldering corpse leaves them little option but to believe him dead. For a time they mourn him, but inevitably the absence of a Batman in Gotham City leads only to chaos. Though reluctant to step into a father's mantle, Dick Grayson and Tim Drake are forced to confront the need for a symbol, and their unique suitability for the role.

Complacency allows a third contender for the Batman cowl to emerge on the streets of Gotham. This dark avenger utilizes methods similar to the Batman, but far more brutal than anything even he ever condoned. Armed with twin firearms and an armored cowl, all signs point to the fallen son, Jason Todd, but is there more than meets the eye to this so-called Batman, and who can find out?...

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Draw 2 (Average)
Intelligence: Draw 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Draw 4 (Athlete)
Agility: Draw 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Draw 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Draw 2 (Projectile)

- When Batman sacrificed himself to end Darkseid's reign of terror [during Final Crisis], the Dark Knight fell victim to the Omega Sanction -- the death that is life. While Bruce Wayne suffers the torment of successive unpleasant realities, the world he left behind continues under the assumption that he is dead.

In Gotham City, as a city of maniacs begins to tear itself apart, the vaccuum left by the Batman demands attention. From the void emerges a new lightly armored Dark Knight whose intentions meet criminals on a darker agreement than ever before. Wielding twin pistols, the grilled cowl and uncompromising ethic suggests Jason Todd as the sadistic new Batman, but his true identity remains unknown.

- The death of the second Robin, Jason Todd, weighed heavily on Batman.
With the original boy wonder, Dick Grayson, having grown into his own mature hero; the Dark Knight's world turned invariably darker as he internalized the struggle of his responsibility. Recognising this grim turn, a young boy embarked upon a mission to return balance to the Batman's life by enlightening him to the value of the famous sidekick.

Tim Drake, having deduced the dual identities of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, showed an aptitude for detective work that made him unique candidate for the legacy of the boy wonder. When Batman and Nightwing's lives were in peril at the hands of Two-Face, Grayson donned the costume for the first time, forcing even the gruff Batman to accept the possibility of training a new Robin.

Under Bruce Wayne's tutelage, Tim Drake developed the acrobatic and combative skills associated with the previous Robins. Drake also further honed his skills as a detective, benefitting from the Batman's bredth of knowledge, experience, and technology. Drake also expanded his network, following in Dick Grayson's foot steps as a member of the Teen Titans.

Math: Draw Ranking: Robin (#40)

What Went Down...
Donning one of the Batman's old costumes, Tim Drake takes it upon himself to do what Dick Grayson refuses. In his adopted father's colours, Drake enters the Gotham underground to fight the impostor Batman on their behalf. In the ruin of Gotham's collapsed subway tunnels, Drake finds a passage leading to a makeshift Batcave obscured by train debris.

The stunned Robin triggers an explosive trap, throwing him helplessly into the air, if not for the intervention of a whip. Catwoman comes to the blue Batman's aid, hoisting him to a jutting cliff face. Together they discover the dark twisted mirror of the alternate Batman's cave, complete with torture chambers and a starved prisoner. Their investigation does not last long.

The impostor arrives to the cut the cat's curiosity short, taking her out of the battle quickly with the butt of his gun. Tim springs into action, leaping into an gymnastic kick that knocks who he assumes is Jason Todd into the void!

The impostor Batman quickly recovers with some acrobatics of his own, challenging the recognised boy wonder to face him in his own environment!

The caped crusaders clash in a collision of kicks and dives.
The dark impostor notes a thorough understanding of the way Drake operates, observing him as a worthy opponent, but one with the perceived disadvantage of Bruce Wayne's morality. Despite the philosophical difference, the pair appear relatively evenly matched, leaving Tim Drake to land alone at the cave base.

The armored Batman sees fit to remain in the shadows, striking violently at his junior opponent with the sharp edge of a batarang. He slices at Tim's back, neck, chest, and face, showing no mercy in the battle for the cowl.

The dark Batman presses his advantage, leaping on his wounded opposite with a ferocious combination of punches. He mocks Tim's readiness to wear the cowl and symbol of Batman, but the youngster shows tremendous resilience. Reaching out to the rubble around them, he finds a poignant weapon -- a crowbar!

A swing of the metal bar shatters the impostor Batman's grille.

Tim whacks his exposed foe a second and third time, wielding the weapon that the Joker once used to beat Jason Todd to death. Despite the beating, the toothy gape of the impostor Batman's mouth lets loose a laugh, revealing to Tim Drake the truth of the situation. Looking down, the last thing he sees before blacking out is the batarang protruding from bleeding chest.

With that, the dark impostor leaves his nemesis to die.

The Hammer...
It might be a little early to start eulogising Tim Drake, but whomever he may be, the brutal Batman emerges victorious from this confrontation.

Stat hounds can safely assume the impostor Batman is Jason Todd. All signs certainly point toward the fallen boy wonder, but until we get confirmation on the subject, we'll hold off on updating the rankings. I'm sure you won't mind waiting (longer).

Thus far, Battle for the Cowl has been such an unusual experience. For all intents and purposes, a three-part mini-series that pits elements in Gotham against each other in competition for the Bat-mantle, while establishing a new "status quo" for Gotham City, isn't such a bad idea. However, in execution, I'm stuck wondering whether or not this series is running too long, or far too brief.

After a thoroughly ordinary first issue that ticked off sequences like a hurried checklist, this second issue pauses long enough to redeem itself. Even the artwork of writer/artist Tony Daniel appears a little more composed, making the two major fight sequences with "Dark Batman" much more enjoyable than the previous issue's stunted attacks on Nightwing, and Damian.

DC made no bones about the situation leading in to Battle for the Cowl, but one can't help but feel some level of disappointment regarding the gaps left entirely for a final issue. It's almost unfeasible to expect reasonable explanations for all the questions that have arisen as a result of this book in one single issue. Granted, those are presumably matters for subsequent issues of the post-Battle books, but without those answers, the events of these three issue feel hollow.

The scattershot narrative sifting through details of Gotham's Battle bound woes isn't quite as deft as Grant Morrison's approach to the expansive epic of Final Crisis. With events isolated to Gotham City, even presumably important scenes, like the gathering of notorious crooks under Black Mask, seem slightly irrelevant in a script that seems to want to focus on the matter of the title.

To give Daniel some credit, the issues certainly capture the rapid fire succession that is no doubt gripping Gotham City. However unfulfiled they might be, each scene whisks the reader through at a pace fitting to the overwhelming situation that's taken our heroes by the wayside. Unfortunately, that doesn't leave a lot of room for even insinuation, which was one of Morrison's great skills in Crisis.

The writer/artist copped some heat recently for leaking an image on his blog of post-Battle designs for Dick Grayson as Batman. Let's be honest, assuming the leak really did reveal the identity of the next Batman, he wasn't spoiling much.
Based only on the double-page teaser printed in various DC books months ago, most would've placed their bets on a Dick Grayson Batman to emerge alongside the blue-garbed Tim Drake Batman (featured this issue), and who we assume is Jason Todd, the fully masked grille Batman.

This telegraphed assumption makes sitting through Dick Grayson's pining reluctance all the more painful. It really isn't an attractive trait in the would-be next Batman, but again, I would have to call in to doubt Tony Daniel's handling of the script. Editorial demands might've steered him forcefully in this direction, but the handling of the character just feels a little too weak to be the veteran character. Worse still, it should be as obvious to all characters in-fiction, as it is to us, that Dick Grayson should be the next Batman. So get on with it!

Coping with death and interpretive culpability have long been central concepts in the Batman mythos. Battle for the Cowl continues this exponentially, forcing the expansive supporting cast to deal with issues once plaguing Bruce Wayne, while characters like the impostor Batman thrust many of the doubts of the Batman character upon his potential successors. With much less emphasis on this matter apparent in previews for upcoming titles in the Bat-relaunch, it's easy to accept this brooding stumble through the darkness of Gotham as something that had to happen. If it isn't a B-plot in subsequent series, at least we've dealt with some of those issues in this book, however cumbersome the process may be.

In the fight stakes, it's a shame Catwoman couldn't have featured more prominently, but I can see artistic reasons for wanting to pit the two Batmen against each other mano-a-mano. The artwork could've given a clearer image of her unfortunate fate, but that could be true of most pages. There's a very nineties feel about the whole book, not in a particularly positive way.

A nice enough read with a strong objective point that might not actually be contained within the pages of the series. No doubt we'll be back to talk about that some time in the future, as well as other details featured in this issue.

The Fight: 4.5 The Issue: 4

Want to know what's happened to Gotham City since Batman's disappearance? Keen to see who's battling for the cowl? Batman: Battle for the Cowl is still under way and on shelves now, but if you'd rather get the whole story in one volume, you can pre-order the trade collection via Amazon. By using purchase links provided, you help sponsor future entries in the Infinite Wars! You'll find plenty more in the Gift Shoppe including collections featuring most issues found in the Secret Archives!

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