If there was a pointlessness about Batman: Battle for the Cowl, it does double for Batman: Battle for the Cowl Companion, a trade paperback collecting a half-dozen one-shots, each with two-colon titles beginning with Batman: Battle for the Cowl: that were published around the same time as the main Battle miniseries.
That series focused mainly on the three contenders to be the replacement Batman, and answered the not-terribly-important questions regarding why the most obvious candidate took the job. The stories in these one-shots check in with various Batman supporting characters to see what they were up to while the three Robins were fighting and Black Mask II entered into a gang war with The Penguin, Two-Face and all the random theme gangs Tony S. Daniel created.
As such, they’re even less important than the completely unimportant Battle miniseries, if we’re judging these things by their “importance” to the overall, overarching Batman story, which is, after all, how they were being sold.
I suppose they may work better when read in this sort of trade collection. They seem more like chapters in an anthology, like a collection of vignettes, which relieves each of them of some pressure of having to stand on their own (And this way, we’re not subjected to all those terrible, two-colon titles; each comic is presented as a chapter of an anthology, with the title of the story before it, so instead of seeing Batman: Battle for the Cowl: Commissioner Gordon #1, you just see “A Cold Day in Hell.”)
The flip side of that is, of course, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot binding them together, beyond the fact that they’re stories about Batman’s supporting characters in Batman-less stories.
Anyway, let’s take ‘me one at a time…
Batman: Battle for the Cowl: Commissioner Gordon #1 by Royal McGraw and Tom Mandrake
The worst policeman in comic book history—who went something like 45 years before ever actually closing a case—gets the spotlight, as Gordon is captured by Mister Freeze and then manages to escape, bring Freeze down and save Gotham City from an icy WMD without any help from Batman or any other superhero types.
There’s a panel in the third issue of Battle for the Cowl where Gordon says “After what freeze put me through, nothing scares me anymore.” If you read that were all like, “Wait, what? Did I miss something?” then this is what it is that you missed.
Batman: Battle for the Cowl: Man-Bat #1 by Joe Harris and Jim Calafiore
It was while I was reading this issue that I realized I’ve probably read too many Batman comics in my life; I’ve certainly read all of the Man-Bat-as-tortured-werewolf-type stories I’ll ever need to.
In this story, Dr. Kirk Langstrom is having bad dreams and being angsty about the fact that he sometimes turns into a half-bat, half-man. Then he gets kidnapped by Doctor Phosphorus. Then he gets away.
This one features the Outsiders in it, who look at Man-Bat on one page and then, later, return at the end to look at him again. Also, Alfred is lurking in the shadows during the final scene.
I assume this is some sort of set-up to a story arc in The Outsiders title, but it reminded me of one of Tim O’Neil’s recent-ish criticisms of The Outsiders as a book devoted to depicting the adventures of a bunch of characters who aren’t Batman trying to fill in for Batman.
A couple of months ago, I read Gotham Underground in trade, and I’ve now read all of the Calafiore-drawn comics I ever need to read.
Batman: Battle for the Cowl: Arkham Asylum #1 by David Hine and Jeremy Haun
Just as I’ve probably read all the Man-Bat-as-tortured-werewolf-type stories I’ll ever need to read, at this point I’ve read all the Dr. Jeremiah Arkham-is-in-charge-of-the-asylum-but-maybe-he-should-be-an-inmate-himself stories I’ll ever need to read.
This is one more of those. Set sometime after Black Mask II destroys the asylum and lets loose the inmates, it deals with Arkham returning to rescue a trio of extraordinary patients who were kept in a secret place only he had access to.
Hine does create some new characters, which is a relief–too few Batman writers seem to spend any time adding villains, preferring to play with the same ten or so over and over again. (At least, I think these characters are all new. It’s the first I’ve heard of any of them).
While I don’t think any of them will end up being the next Joker, they’re colorful and seem to fit in with the rest of the inmates fairly well.
This creative team is also responsible for Arkham Reborn, a three-issue miniseries which actually oughta be wrapping up sometime soon. This story reads more like a prelude to that then a tie-in to Battle, but I suppose the point was to serve as a bridge leading from a big Bat-event into a miniseries.
Batman: Battle for the Cowl: The Underground #1 by Chris Yost and Pablo Raimondi
This is one of the two stories that ties most directly into the events of Battle. The focus is on The Penguin, drawn to resemble Danny DeVito in Batman Returns so completely that he looks nothing like The Penguin in Battle, hiring The Riddler, who also doesn’t’ look anything like he does in Battle, to find out what Black Mask II is up to. Additionally, we see a little more of the Penguin/Two-Face/Mask gang war, we see the gun-toting Batman fight Catwoman, and we see Riddler and the gals who will eventually star in Gotham City Sirens come together.
I didn’t find anything terribly interesting about it, but it didn’t really do anything terribly wrong either (outside of Raimondi’s weird character designs). It basically just went through the motions, but it didn’t stumble while doing so.
Batman: Battle for the Cowl: The Network #1 by Fabian Nicieza, Jim Calafiore, Don Kramer and Mark McKenna
This is an issue of Birds of Prey, save with a different title and with art mostly provided by Calafiore. Oracle manages the small army of vigilantes that cameo-ed throughout Battle, while most of her attention for this issue is focused on having Batgirl Cassandra Cain and The Huntress bust up a Saw-like Internet gambling/game show thing that Hugo Strange has set up.
As with the previous one-shot/chapter, it’s nothing worth seeking out, but nothing to be tied to a stake and burnt as a witch either. The writing’s maybe a little better than Daniel’s in Battle, but the story is less eventful. I like Calafiore’s art style less than Daniel’s, but the former has a better sense of story-telling than the latter.
Taken all together, it’s extremely inessential reading, even if you’re super-interested in Battle, and really only fit for people who have read every other Batman-related trade available and want one more.