Friday, March 13, 2009

Splash Page: Battle for the Cowl #1 Part I

[After spending so much time discussing Grant Morrison's Batman run, it seemed fitting for Tim and I to take a look at Batman: Battle for the Cowl #1 this week. Gee, will we like it? I don't know...]

Tim Callahan: I have to admit that even though I came home with a big stack of comics on Wednesday (and a Jack Kirby hardcover), the first thing I read -- the thing I ended up being the most eager to read -- was Batman: Battle for the Cowl #1, written and drawn by Tony Daniel. I just couldn't wait to see how Daniel dealt with the post-"R.I.P." post-Final Crisis aftermath. I'm not the biggest fan of Tony Daniel's art, but I certainly didn't go into this book with any negativity. I went into this comic with a completely open mind, and I absolutely...

Well, I'll let you go first. What did you think of it?

Chad Nevett: I also read it first out of all my comics. Unlike you, I went in with all sorts of negativity. Tons of negativity. I went in expecting a comic that can only be described as "godawful." And I was disappointed, because it's just regular old bad. Not very bad, not the hoped-for godawful, just bad. (Oh, and to answer the obvious question of why I would buy a comic I expected to be godawful: for this column.) It's not a good comic. The art is typical Tony Daniel work, which is among some of the better heavily Image-influenced work out there right now, but it's still heavily Image-influenced, so... The writing wasn't nearly as bad as I expected, but it wasn't anything special. A rather mediocre, predictable plot, some moments of odd characterisation (Damian in particular stood out as bearing no connection to previous portrayals), and, really, an utter lack of drama. I was bored reading it, honestly. It didn't make me angry or ready to come online and trash it, it just made me shrug, put it aside and continue on with my other books. I think I'd be a bit harsher if I was a Bat-fan, but since I'm just waiting for June to arrive with Batman and Robin, I can't muster up the energy to care about Battle for the Cowl.

Beyond discussing it with you, of course... What did you think?

TC: I thought the art looked a bit better than it did on "Batman R.I.P." which made me think that he probably rushed to meet deadlines on that title, but he had a little more lead time here so it looked fine. I'm not a fan of the style, but except for a few jarring storytelling moments (like when the Arkham gang is all of a sudden out of the bus from one panel to the next), it was a decent version of that mediocre, post-Jim Lee style of art that some people seem to like.

But I thought the writing was absolutely terrible.

It reminded me of early Todd McFarlane writing, circa Spider-Man. It was all sentence fragments and on-the-nose descriptions. It was like reading Twitter messages from the most inane people imaginable. "This is what I'm doing now. I am doing it."

And though the plot may have been editorially imposed -- I don't know how much of this is actual Tony Daniel's story, and how much this is just connecting the dots established by DC higher-ups -- it's too packed with characters at the expense of story. And it has that Countdown feel to it, too. That feeling of, "oh, Grant Morrison's going to pick up with this new status quo in a few more months, so let's be really obvious about how we're going to get there, step by step."

One of our colleagues at CBR gave it 3 1/2 stars, but I would have given it maybe 1 star. 1 1/2 at the most. It's weak, and the only thing that saves it is the use of the Black Mask (who isn't used well, but I've always liked the Black Mask) and the way the Third Policeman Batman is tearing up the city. At least, I assume it's the third Batman doppelganger from Morrison's run who we see at the end of this first issue. I could be wrong.

CN: I think the solicitation for the third issue says that it's Jason Todd. I thought it was the Third Policeman when I first saw the teaser image for Battle for the Cowl, but, yeah, I remember the solicit saying that it was Jason. I figure if it were the Third Policeman, he'd just keep wearing the same costume from Morrison's run -- although, it's hinted that he may be the new Azrael or something.

I can't believe you hated the writing more than I did! I think we hated it equally or thereabouts, but my low expectations made it seem not quite as bad, while your neutrality made it seem worse. Yeah, it's bad, but it's that workmanlike going from point A to point B sort of writing. I think that because it so utterly lacks in ambition, I can't fault it too much for being so bad, because I don't think Daniel was shooting for anything beyond this (aside from thinking it's good). I don't think he's trying to be anything but obvious in dropping obvious hints and insultingly basic narration. While Todd McFarlane's writing always had a hint of pretention, like he thought he was a great writer, Daniel's work almost screams, "Hey, I know this isn't up there with Morrison, but I'm not trying to be that good! I just want to write an action comic that ends with someone as Batman!" Not good, but it could be worse. I would have probably given it two stars...

One element of the writing that really bothers me is just how messed up Gotham is despite there being so many costumed vigilantes. I get that Batman is the goddamn man and all, but considering he kept the city under control alone, are we to believe that his not being there is having such an impact despite the dozen or so people that have stepped up in his place? Was the terror of the Batman that strong, or is this just a lame attempt to make the idea of Batman more important than it really would be?

TC: And, really, how long has he been gone? He was gone for 12 freakin' months just a couple of years back, and Two-Face totally cleaned up Gotham pretty much on his own during that time. Now, Batman's gone for three hours and the city is overrun by baddies? Yeah, that's silly, but I don't have a problem with it because it's the whole basis for the story. (But it is a silly contrivance, given recent Gotham history.)

[To be continued on Tim's blog!]