All of the buildup and hype surrounding the death of Batman now enters phase two with today's release of Battle for the Cowl #1. Some very essential questions are answered in this wonderfully scripted and rendered issue, written and drawn by Tony S. Daniel. Questions such as what does Gotham without a Batman look like, who's around to try and keep the peace and where are the villains, are given equal time, and then some, in this first issue.
SPOILER ALERT!!! MAJOR DETAILS OF THE FIRST ISSUE ARE REVEALED! READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!!
The story, mostly narrated from Robin's point of view, shows he and Squire, his UK counterpart, sailing across the Gotham night, trying to help quell the gang violence that has sprung up with the disappearance of Batman. Violence is running amok, the police are overburdened, and the citizens are crying out for something to be done, from someone, somewhere. In the thick of these battles we see glimpses of Robin, Squire, Nightwing, Batwoman, Catwoman, Huntress and even Man-Bat helping out in order to stem the raging tide that has gripped the city in the wake of what, everyone suspects, is a dead Batman.
Someone in Gotham though would like others to think differently. A mystery that quickly reveals itself is who is going around Gotham posting "I am Batman" on criminals and walls? As Robin shows off his ever-developing detective skills, it becomes clear that the wearer of the emblem is leaving a trail, filled with some degree of death, but why, and more importantly, who?
Another story that quickly develops is the assisted escape of all of Arkham Asylum's inmates, during a prisoner transport, by none other than presumed dead villain Black Mask. Can this really be him? Of course, anything is possible if we are to believe the events of Batman RIP, where Dr. Thomas Wayne, Bruce's father, supposedly was back from the grave to torture his son as part of the Black Glove. This reminded me quite a bit of Knightfall, when Bane broke out all the inmates in order to wear Batman down before breaking him. Perhaps Black Mask has some similar plan in mind, this time though it's Gotham City that's being broken.
Bruce and Talia's son Damian even makes an appearance, and has a rather frightening encounter with Poison Ivy and Killer Croc. I appreciated this scene, mostly because it's the first time I've ever seen Damian truly scared of anyone or anything. Nightwing comes along to save him, and after getting blasted out of the air, they find themselves face to cowl with someone wearing a rather militaristic bat-suit, and so ends our first issue.
One of the more interesting things to watch as this story unfolds is Dick Grayson's unwillingness to even consider someone else wearing the cape and cowl of his beloved mentor versus Tim Drake's insistence that that would be what Bruce wanted. The grim tone established by this issue also works nicely with that dynamic and the discussion surrounding it, as the chaos of Gotham City makes perfect sense when put against the chaos surrounding Wayne Manor.
A slight disappointment in this issue was the lack of involvement from the supporting cast. Perhaps, and hopefully, this will be fleshed out in the future issues of this series, with each given a chance to lend their perspective on events in the same way Robin was in this issue. On the grand scale though, this issue is an excellent piece to begin a highly anticipated event. The artwork and dialogue add just the right amount of despair and emotional tension to make this a success and not overwrought.