When a beloved musician dies, it's usually just a matter of time until there's a tribute album released, as other artists re-record songs by the original performer. I can't help but feel like "Batman: Battle for the Cowl" is somehow following that path, but like most tribute albums it makes me just grow nostalgic for the original.
It's hard to not look at "Batman: Battle for the Cowl" as a strange marriage between "No Man's Land" and "Knightfall," two of the more prominent Batman stories in recent memory. Like "No Man's Land," the villains are massing for control of Gotham City now that Batman has vanished, with only a small handful of heroes left to try and fight. And, like "Knightfall," the role of Batman is being seized by an outsider, the battle for the cowl mentioned in the title. The problem is, these two stories don't connect very well.
Even with extra pages in each issue, "Batman: Battle for the Cowl" feels cramped and overrun. The story leaps from one scene to the next with such speed and abruptness that it's a little disorienting, but not in a good way. Most of this issue alternates between Batman's allies going up against the new fake Batman, and the villains plotting, but the sole intersection of the two goes by so quickly that it feels fake and artificial. It's frustrating because the basic ideas aren't bad, but the actual execution of them is falling apart. In an industry where so many comics could some speeding up, "Batman: Battle for the Cowl" is one where it's instead needing to slow down and decompress.
Tony Daniel's art, unfortunately, doesn't click for me either. I liked some of his work on Grant Morrison's scripts on "Batman," but when illustrating his own scripts most of Daniel's artistic strengths are curiously absent. There's an early two-page splash where Nightwing and Damien are attacking the new Batman... or at least, that seems to be the intention. They're both at impossible angles and poses as they soar through the air, and it's actually more confusing the longer you look at it. What is Nightwing pushing off from? Is Damien moving in the opposite direction or is he trying to hit Nightwing in the head? Maybe it was the additional pressure of three monthly oversized issues, but I don't ever remember having these problems with Daniel on "Batman" or "Teen Titans." Even the lettering is off here, with Jared K. Fletcher's choice of font for the new Batman's thought process being so small and cramped that it's actually hard to read.
Last but not least, a small complaint about something that "Batman: Battle for the Cowl" is hardly the lone offender. Is it too much to ask that the cover of a comic has something to do with the interior? Of the seven characters on the cover of "Batman: Battle for the Cowl" #2, only two actually appear inside. I understand all three covers form a triptych, but this still feels like false advertising to me.
I went into "Batman: Battle for the Cowl" with an open mind and high hopes, but everything seems to have fallen apart in short order. The ideas aren't bad, but somewhere along the way it ended up feeling uninspired. Until then, I think I'd rather just re-read the old "No Man's Land" issues for the next month. Hopefully June's relaunch of the Batman family titles will have more spring in their step once "Batman: Battle for the Cowl" has come to an end.