COMICS BREAK-The State of the Cowl

Time for another guest post from my man CD . . .

The State of the Cowl

Art from Battle for the Cowl

Art from "Battle for the Cowl"

For those of you that are unaware, Bruce Wayne is dead.  Maybe.  But probably not.

Batman . . . Dead at the end of Final Crisis.

Batman . . . Dead at the end of Final Crisis.

I was a bit surprised when someone commented on my previous comics post on Green Lantern that he had no idea DC had killed off Batman.  It got me thinking—when Marvel did the same with Captain America (though it turns out he wasn’t REALLY dead), it was all over the media, from the Washington Post to the New York Times.  Why didn’t the Dark Knight receive the same kind of coverage?  Could it be because the Bat Family of books has been sucking for a couple of years or so now?  Let’s discuss.

Amidst the latest moves of killing off franchise heroes, DC decided to up the ante by apparently killing off possibly their biggest franchise player, Batman.  Quite frankly, Bats was the only character I even bothered with in the DC Universe, so it came as a bit of a shock.  For those of you that are not hardcore comic book fans, Batman is to the DC Universe what Wolverine is to Marvel in that both characters are in damn near a dozen of their own books.  To get rid of a character that takes up that many titles seemingly would be disastrous.  Not so, sayeth DC, we’ll simply re-title all the books and stock them with new and/or different characters.

To start off this mess, all the Bat books (Detective, Batman & the Outsiders, Robin, Nightwing, Birds of Prey, Batman) went through R.I.P.  Apparently to confuse the hell out of readers, each book dealt with a completely different scenario, from Bruce going insane to Hush kidnapping Catwoman.  Readers weren’t sure which of the storylines would result in Wayne’s actual death, and to be honest, the individual storylines were confusing as hell.  As the ultimate slap in the face, Bruce wasn’t even killed in one of his own books, but in the Final Crisis mini-series, with little fanfare.  SPOILER ALERT: Darkseid blasted him with his Omega Effect.  The reader sees him get blasted and then Superman appears holding his charred skeleton.  Of course, savvy readers know that the Omega Effect doesn’t kill a person, it transports them to another dimension, burnt carcass or not.  After all the R.I.P. build-up, it was a monstrous let down.  Neil Gaiman, one of my all-time favorite writers, did a two-part special to wrap things up, essentially telling a story of a dead Bruce Wayne watching his own funeral (kind of).  Even that was pretty weak, and Gaiman doesn’t make those kinds of missteps very often.*

*Editor’s Note: Ekko here.  I have to forcefully disagree with CD on this one point: The Gaiman two-parter was brilliant–one of the best comic book stories I’ve read in years.

Next up was Battle for the Cowl, and based alone on the promo picture of a bunch of different characters in Batman costumes, it looked like it was going to kick ass.  Sadly, wrong again.  The main mini shows Gotham in total chaos, with criminals getting more and more bold (and crazy) without Bats there to keep things in order.  This led Barbara Gordon, the former Batgirl before Joker shot her in the spine, to start a network of heroes to cover the bases that Wayne previously had handled himself.  A bunch of posers, including the recently resurrected Jason Todd, took up the Cowl.  There were a few other minis, one focusing on Babs, one on Azrael (but not THAT Azrael), none of which seemed to have any impact on the storyline whatsoever.  This led to further anarchy, as most of the “new” Batmen were even more violent than the original, and it was decided that there had to be one, and only one, Batman.  To no one’s surprise, Dick Grayson gave up being Nightwing and donned the Bat symbol himself.

This essentially brings us to today.  As mentioned previously, each of the series re-launched, and now we have Batman & Robin, Streets of Gotham, Gotham City Sirens, Red Robin, Batgirl, Batman, Detective, and Outsiders.  Taking the books one by one, almost all of them quickly are becoming let downs.

Batman & Robin:  Dick takes up the cowl and Bruce’s bastard son, Damien, becomes Robin.  The main problem here is character development.  Quite frankly, Grayson comes across as a whiny wimp, so unsure of himself as to become annoying.  This is problematic for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which being the fact that it makes no sense.  He’s been wearing a cape for years and has led the Teen Titans and Titans for nearly as long.  Why the sudden loss of self-confidence?  The character readers have come to know over the decades has been recast to fit a mold in which he does not belong.  Add the fact that Damien is perhaps the least likeable character in DC, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.  And I say this knowing full well how people felt about Jason Todd.

Gotham City Sirens:  When I first learned of the new titles, I thought this one was going to be my favorite.  Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn team up to…well, what exactly the purpose of their shacking up is remains to be seen.  Apparently, there’s some sort of “safety in numbers” theme at play, but seeing as Catwoman is tortured by Ivy and Quinn in the second issue, this one makes no sense, either.  What could have been a fun beefcake book is just weirdly boring.

Batman:  This one has some potential, as Dick gets to do his thing without the bastard tagging along.  So far, they’ve spent a lot of time showing how he is trying to differentiate himself from Bruce, doing everything from changing the weight of the cape to re-doing the Batmobile.  The latest issue shows Dick actually enjoying himself, which freaks out the villains watching him, as that’s something the former Batman never did.  It’s a nice touch and the only interesting take on the “new” Batman I’ve seen thus far.

Red Robin:  Timothy Drake decides that Bruce isn’t actually dead and begins a worldwide hunt for clues to find him.  Realizing he’s going to do things he doesn’t want associated with his former superhero identity, he dons the mantle of Red Robin.  Because, you know, clearly nobody would think that Red Robin has any connection to Robin.  The action is far more intense than in the former Robin book, but it’s also completely out of place.  The premise itself is kind of dumb, and quite frankly, I’m not buying it.  Plus, he’s supposedly gone underground to do his thing, but he’s seemingly contacted by someone from Gotham in every issue so far.    Raz Al Ghul has entered the picture, which is a nice turn of events, but I’m not holding my breath on this one.

Outsiders:  Alfred now leads the team, which essentially is made up of a number of heroes that somehow embody Batman’s spirit.  Some are founding Outsiders and, at least one is just dumb.  Owl Man?  Really?  That’s the best you could do?  I’ve already let my subscription to this one die.  Simply not good.

Detective Comics:  Batwoman (yeah women’s lib!) patrols the streets, kicking ass and taking names.  It’s really Batman without a penis.  Nothing particularly exciting, and the first story arc dealing with a new Alice in Wonderland killer has been lame.  Katherine “Kate” Kane (a tip of the hat to creator Bob Kane) comes out of nowhere to dish out her own brand of vigilante justice.  Yawn.  Each issue also has a secondary story featuring a female Question character.  Is this what we’re reduced to?  Simply changing the sex of characters to expand readership?  Next, please.

Batgirl:  This title just launched, so I’ve really only got one issue to go on here.  Unfortunately, we’ve got a “new” Batgirl in Stephanie Brown, the former Spoiler, and not the more recent Cassandra Cain (who I personally found far more intriguing).  It appears Barbara Gordon also will be a recurring character, though how the two will “team up” remains to be seen.  Again, judging from only the first issue, it appears this one is going to be slightly more teen-oriented, like the former Robin series.  I can’t rightly say how this one will go, but I’m not stoked so far.  Brown seems a bit too upbeat to take over a cowl, but I suppose we shall see.

Streets of Gotham:  I expected this one to be terrible.  It deals with the GCPD, with a secondary story featuring a female Manhunter.  Of course, it’s turned out to be by far the most interesting book just a few issues in.  Hush, who had reconstructive surgery to look exactly like Bruce Wayne, is pretending to be Bruce, and the adopted Wayne boys are none too pleased.  When he holds a live media conference to announce that he’s donating billions to help solve Gotham’s problems, things become more interesting still.  So far, the action has flowed smoothly, and a variety of characters, including Commissioner Gordon, are given the spotlight.  I was afraid this was going to be Law & Order: Gotham, but that’s not the case.  If you’re going to pick up one Bat book, this probably is your best bet.

Now THIS Batman and Robin, Ill buy!

Now THIS Batman and Robin, I'll buy!

From what I understand from my comic book dealers, at least one of these titles (B&R) is slated for only 12 issues, which says to me Bruce “comes back from the dead” within the year.  Will that actually be the case?  I suppose you can check in, same Bat time, same Bat channel, to find out for yourself, as I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to bother with it.

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