Bruce Wayne is dead. The criminals from Arkham Asylum are on the loose. Gotham City has become a battleground for gang warfare between the Penguin and Two-Face, with the Black Mask stirring the muddy waters even thicker. So yes, if Bruce is dead so is Batman.
Cue a major storyline that redefines the caped crusader as well as guaranteeing to shift a few more copies off the shelf. DC Comics has done it before with the death of Superman storyline and, of course, Marvel has been dramatically teasing us with the aftermath of the death of Captain America.
However, this is the world of superheroes and death is rarely permanent. Critics and Secret Invasion have seen enough heroes resurrected, as well as new ones fall. So it’s best to just enjoy this latest saga of the caped crusader for what is: exploring who could possibly inherit Batman’s cowl.
Of course, we have been here before with Bruce out of action after a near-crippling encounter with Bane, which led to someone else filling his bat shoes and also gave birth to Azrael. Battle For The Cowl, however, brings together a whole host of heroes and characters from the Bat-verse. Known collectively as the Network, the main figures include Nightwing, Huntress and Oracle, but the list also includes Robin, Catwoman, Man Bat, and a host of other caped crime-fighters
What these stories also reveal is how complex the Bat legend has become over the years, especially with the character of Robin. It’s an identity adopted by a whole succession of people, with the original boy wonder, Dick Grayson, now going by the name Nightwing. But his successors, Tim Drake and Jason Todd (Oh yes, he died once too, but he came back a little more twisted than before) also feature in the struggle to inherit the bat ears.
Considering the number of characters, Tony Daniel (best known form his work on Teen Titans) manages his ever-expanding cast with great skill. Having worked the Batman R.I.P. storyline with Grant Morrison, it seems only appropriate that he pick up the pieces and pull all the remaining story strands together at the same time as rebuilding Gotham City as well as kick-starting a new chapter in the legend of the Dark Knight. With his hand shaping the images too, he creates an enjoyable traditional comic book with its own bursts of unashamed adrenalin fun.
To complete this volume, and supplementary to the main action, the Gotham Gazette mini-series is included, focussing on some of the pivotal characters whose own lives have reached dramatic turning points.
Famed X-Men and Buffy scribe Fabian Nicieza takes us into the personal worlds of Vicki Vale, who’s back in the world of newspapers after her disgraced stint on TV, Harvey Bullock who’s determined to solve a murder case now he’s back on the force, Dr Leslie Thompkins, former friends of Thomas Wayne (yes, Bruce’s father) has returned from Africa to practice medicine again in Gotham, and Stephanie Brown, daughter of the villainous Cluemaster, resumes her career as the Spoiler.
They’re effective glimpses into four inter-related lives, but as stories they’re designed to be teaser preludes for greater events to come.
It’s a varied assortment of artistic talent that shapes these individual vistas. with established names such as Dustin Nguyen (Wildcats, Detective Comics), Chriscross (Blood Syndicate, Capt Marvel), and Mark Mckenna (Batman/Spider-Man) to newer talent such as Guillem March (Powegirl/Azrael), Alex Konat and UK’s Jamie McKelvie. All very different in tone and texture, but serving to enhance the many shades of the one overarching character of the book: Gotham City itself.
Even though the absence of Bruce Wayne is unlikely to be permanent, and despite the benefits of having a practical working knowledge of the Batman universe to know where all the cast members fit into the otherwise confusing bigger picture, Battle For The Cowl offers a divertingly engaging journey into the darker nights of the caped crusader’s legacy.
Batman: Battle For The Cowl is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.