I feel bad for Judd Winick, here. I say that because I can't think of a more thankless task for the June 2009 Bat-books than having to write an epilogue to "Battle for the Cowl" to be released after "Batman & Robin" #1. A triumphant return to "Batman" for Winick it's certainly not.
Had this shown up between the conclusion of "Battle for the Cowl" and "Batman & Robin" #1, "Batman" #687 might have felt a little smoother. It's a final moment of transition as Nightwing needs to be talked into becoming the new Batman, with his new Robin already waiting in the wings, and Alfred finally getting to grieve for the loss of his beloved Master Bruce. But wait, didn't Nightwing already decide to become the new Batman at the end of "Battle for the Cowl?" And with Batman's death in "Final Crisis" happening positively months ago, shouldn't we have gotten Alfred's, "My son has died" line a little earlier? This comic is a victim of bad timing, through and through.
The interesting thing is, Winick stated in an interview recently that he was originally slated to write "Battle for the Cowl." He'd written over a full issue of script when the contents of the mini-series shifted, and Winick ended up stepping aside for Tony Daniel to take his place. Reading "Batman" #687 feels less like an epilogue to "Battle for the Cowl" (because it doesn't really fit that well) and more like what would have been the final chapter to Winick's version of the mini-series. It's a glimpse as to what we might have seen had the publisher decided to go about things slightly differently, almost like it slipped through from an alternate Earth. So while we might have ended up with a slightly verbose "Battle for the Cowl" (Nightwing's speech about flesh, blood, and bone just doesn't work well on the printed page), I think it might have been a slightly more satisfying version. If nothing else, Winick has a strong grasp on Alfred and Damian, and I think he's going to handle Dick as Batman just fine, too.
On the down side, Ed Benes' pencils are in less-than-fine form here. His figures have an almost creepy musculature to them in places, and Nightwing's face somehow looks bloated in a lot of the panels. There are a lot of vacant expressions on his characters, and sometimes (rather creepily) missing eyeballs too. It's in many ways Benes' weaknesses as a penciller all rolled up into a single issue, and while we've seen a lot better from him in the past, this isn't one of those times.
I'm actually looking forward to seeing Winick team up with Mark Bagley next month, and I think I'm just going to pretend that "Batman" #688 is the real start to Winick's return to the title. This just wasn't fair to everyone involved, unfortunately.