Why was "Batman: Battle for the Cowl" published? And I don't mean this as a rhetorical question casting slurs on its quality. We'll get to that in a minute, but that's not the bigger issue. When the dust settles, why did all the Batman-related titles need to end, go on hiatus, or get renamed so this mini-series could show up? What did this show that we as readers needed to see?
Before "Batman: Battle for the Cowl" #1 even hit stands, I remember a lot of people saying that they were pretty sure they knew what the conclusion would be; who would be Batman when it was all said and done, who would be Robin. But the official PR line from the company was to not assume anything, to prepare for a surprise, that no one would predict the end to "Batman: Battle for the Cowl." And unfortunately for readers, that wasn't the case. The most-common prediction I heard (at the comic store, on blogs, on message boards, in casual conversations with friends) was just it.
Now, just because you know what the end of a story is doesn't mean it's necessarily a bad thing. After all, everyone knows the end to classic plays such as "Romeo and Juliet" or "Hamlet" and they're still being produced and enjoyed. But there are two big problems with "Batman: Battle for the Cowl" and its predictable ending. The first is that after being told, "It's not what you think!" for months on end and then discovering that it is just what you think, it makes you a little wary about believing that source of information again. But the second problem is that in order to get away with a predictable ending, there needs to be an interesting journey in getting there.
When the dust settles at the end of "Batman: Battle for the Cowl" #3, what has happened aside from the obvious suspects taking the Batman and Robin roles? Well, there's a new Black Mask out there who blew up Arkham Asylum. A new Azrael is inducted, although that's in a different mini-series. And otherwise... honestly, that's about it. No one else has a big status change. So once again, did we need this mini-series? If we'd skipped this mini-series and jumped right into Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's "Batman and Robin" #1 next month, I don't think anyone would have noticed. The two obvious suspects would be running around as the characters and at worst it would be a slight in media res opening to the comic. There could be a single line of dialogue saying that a new Black Mask had surfaced and freed all the prisoners from Arkham, and everything would keep moving.
Don't get me wrong, Daniel does the best he can under bad circumstances. Batman's final message to his Robins from over the years is well-crafted, and it's nice to see someone using Squire again; she's a fun character that up until now only Morrison has seemed to remember. I'm not terribly fond of Daniel's action sequences here—of which there are unfortunately a lot—but there are pages like the red-lit Gotham City Police HQ scene which have some good character profiles. Likewise, the single page of the new Black Mask (whose identity never is revealed, but whom I'm really hoping is not somehow Bruce Wayne) is nicely composed, one of the better pieces of art in the comic. But Daniel's clearly been told to move characters from point A to point B, to make it three months long, and it's just not that exciting a route.
Unfortunately, "Batman: Battle for the Cowl" is forgettable. None of the one-shots have stories that are tied up in the main mini-series (despite closing tag lines telling people to tune in to "Batman: Battle for the Cowl" #3), and the mini-series itself isn't anything out of the ordinary. It's a real shame, because this should have been better. Hopefully it won't sour people on next month's revival of all of the "Batman" family books, because it certainly feels like momentum has been lost.