Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Battle for the Cowl

Review by Neill McLaughlin

It took an evil, despotic God to kill the world's greatest man, but how many will it take to replace him? Crime as thick as pitch has descended upon the dank alleyways of a city drowned in sorrow and fear. As the Dark Knight fades slowly into the onyx twilight, the duty of upholding Gotham's safety and sanity falls heavy on the shoulders of many costumed crusaders. Some have proven themselves worthy of such an honor, while others arrogantly believe the mantle to rightfully belong to them. Mentors, allies, and enemies alike gather beat back the growing darkness or take full advantage of it, either way, they all question their own intentions and the expectations placed upon them. One thing is for sure, the Batman is dead and another knight needs to be sired in or Gotham will burn.

Battle for the Cowl is a three part story written and illustrated by Tony Daniel, who came into the Batman franchise during Grant Morrison's monumental "RIP" story arc. From his gutter pictorial of Gotham City streets, to his cryptic revival of villains long forgotten, Tony Daniel has made his stake as one of the pioneer Batman artists. Using heavy shading to showcase the perpetual darkness that surrounds Gotham, Daniel highlights the beam of hope the Dark Knight shines on his citizens by snuffing the light around him. Both creators bring forth a masterful piece of work that shakes the very foundations of everything we have come to know about the Caped Crusader. After the heart stopping finale of "RIP," Morrison chills us to the bone with Final Crisis #6; as we witness the New God Darkseid and Batman destroy each other. Enter Neil Gaimen and Andy Kubert's "Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader?" two part funeral story, in which we witness Bruce, Batman, and the child that would never be transcend to his final reward through eloquently poetic writing and beautifully haunting art. With the vibrations of one man's death felt around the world, Gotham trembles from the aftershock and the foundation begins to crack at an alarming rate. The Bat Family is still reeling from the demise of Bruce Wayne, but crime waits for no man... no matter how statuesque he maybe. The streets have become more violent than ever before, with gangs warring over turf and civilian looting at an all time high. All the while, crime lords and colorfully dressed madmen take full advantage of the opportunity at hand, making a claim for the throne of Gotham's criminal underworld. The heroes and citizens in mourn must rise up, reluctantly placing their fears and grievances aside to stop the fire from consuming all of Gotham. With the Batman missing, Bruce's three adopted sons will strive to do what they believe to be the proper course of action. Nightwing, Robin, and Jason Todd all have their own agendas and plans for retaliation, but which one is righteous enough to don the cowl in the name of justice? Are any of these vigilantes actually capable, or even redeemed enough, to take own such an iconic role? The answers lie within the pages of
Battle for the Cowl... or online if need be.

In recent comic years, numerous tie-ins have had little to do with the actual continuity of the main book and served as nothing more than $1 bin fodder. With Battle for the Cowl being only three issues, the tie-ins actually add some background to the who, what, when, where, and sometimes why some of us would ask. Of all the BFTC tie-ins, I recommend "The Underground," "The Network," and Azrael: Death's Dark Knight to get behind the faces patrolling Gotham's rooftops and lurking through its sewers, the two Gotham Gazette One Shots to understand the cast of characters that have cared for Bruce over all these vigilant years, and Secret Six #9... Because I believe Catman to be worthy enough for a nomination. The other tie-ins would strengthen your knowledge for future developments, but is not on a must read basis. With all that said, Battle for the Cowl is a great read, but not necessary to start Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's exciting new chapter, Batman and Robin. With Quitely on board to draw the first three issue story arc, Phillip Tan will take on the second three issue story arc, followed by Quitely for three more, this series will shake the conventional style of the franchise while keeping traditional and deep-rooted themes at the murky surface. For fans of Detective Comics, Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III will take over the monthly title while bringing Batwoman into the foreground as the central character. With all these titles becoming fresh again, I expect nothing but great things from the Bat Franchise in the years to come. Once again, I am getting ahead of myself...

Throughout Grant Morrison's exceptional run on Batman, he has taken us places few of us have been to. Places only a seasoned veteran would understand, let alone remember. For those new to the book, he brought a fresh take on the Bat-Mythos, allowing novice fans to jump aboard without bombarding them with too much information. The first story arc, "Batman and Son," is a jovial, roller coaster ride incorporating the same feeling of childlike intrigue and imaginative acceptance as the golden age, while adding a young and fresh feel to the characters with art by Andy Kubert’s. Fueling the dark knight nostalgia with pop art influenced backgrounds and Ninja Man Bats, the team craft a story rich in subtle detail and classic detective undertones that mix together like a thick gumbo. Taking from the idea originally instilled by Mike W. Barr and Jerry Bingham's phenomenal graphic novel "Son of the Demon" Morrison continues the controversial plot of Batman conceiving a child with Talia al Ghul, daughter of the tyrannical genius Ra's al Ghul . During the events of "Son of the Demon" Talia and Bruce contemplate marriage and parenting, while sharing a passionate night upon an ocean of satin. After Batman deciphers Ra's true goals and thwarts the despot like never before, Talia breaks it to Bruce like a knee to the back... she has miscarried. Shattered yet understanding, Bruce recovers back in Gotham while Talia secretly births the child and leaves him within an orphanage with only a jewel encrusted necklace as proof of his natural heritage. Many Batman aficionados claimed blasphemy on the new addition to the Wayne Family bloodline, and thus, the story continued on outside normal continuity as Elseworld stories where he would don the mantle Ibn al Xu'ffasch; roughly translated from Arabic to mean "Son of the Bat." When Grant Morrison got a hold of these loose threads, he not only added a more scientific and cohesive approach to the child's birth, but he gave him a name worthy of the adolescent’s malicious, precarious, and spoiled attitude... Damian. In Morrison's story, Damian was genetically produced within an artificial womb using both Talia al Ghul and Bruce Wayne's DNA to create a flawless physical specimen. Breed by the League of Assassins to be the perfect warrior, Damian became a master of the martial arts and a harbinger of death before he reached puberty. During "Batman and Son," Talia introduces Damian to his father as a way of disrupting Batman's work and allowing the violent teenager to confront his biological father accordingly. Though arrogant and full of piss & vinegar, Damian is still a Wayne and the rest of the family is determined to rehabilitate him or kill him in the process. Neither Alfred, Nightwing, nor Robin have any desire to help this devious boy along, but will not give up on the brat all the same. Somewhere deep down, they can all see the capacity for greatness that Batman saw in all of the boy wonders. In Batman #666, we see an older version of Damian (who looks remarkably like Grant Morrison) carrying on his father's quest for justice in a futuristic Gotham City, entertaining the thought of inheritance and redemption for the rebellious youth. A prophetic vision showing Damian violently sacrificing himself physically, mentally, and even soulfully; Is this the Batman of the future or is it all a hazy prediction? Shall the fate of Gotham City rest on the shoulders of the one taking up the cowl or does the future depend on a ruthless killer’s redemption? Only time, training, and tact will tell...

And it looks like you have some reading to do.

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