I think it’s safe to say that whomever had to tackle “Batman: Battle for the Cowl” was already in a losing situation. The mini-series felt like a series of editorial notes, told to get the characters from point A to point B, even though there certainly wasn’t three double-sized issues worth of material. With both it and now a short run by Judd Winick and Mark Bagley completed, Daniel’s returning to “Batman” as writer/artist once more. And this time? Well, it feels a little more successful.
The issue starts with Daniel doing his best Batman-monologue, and it’s partially successful. It’s a little too grim and raspy-voiced in places, but at its core it’s trying to hit all the right notes. It’s something that, with time, could easily smooth out and sound a little more true to form. From there, though, it’s business as usual for a Bat-book these days. We get the inevitable “you’re the replacement Batman” scenes as poor Dick Grayson continues to get little respect, and another appearance by the new Black Mask.
It’s the latter that is the largest weak point of the new issue of “Batman.” Up until now, the new Black Mask has primarily stuck to the shadows, a foreboding villain that you never got a strong look at. Now he’s walking around in a long trench coat with buckles and straps galore, and a huge pointed collar that looks absolutely ludicrous. It’s a hideous art choice and turns the character from a potentially creepy character into a comical bad guy. Having a new Black Mask is something that I hadn’t entirely warmed to when he first appeared, but now I find myself hoping that he’s gone in a matter of months. Any credibility the book had built up with Black Mask just got destroyed in one fell swoop, and that’s impressive.
The rest of the book is variable in quality. Daniel has the classic “hunched over Batman” pose down well, but perhaps a little too well. The opening splash page of Batman hunched over a dying henchman looks sharp. When he does it a second time halfway through the comic, one starts to get the feeling that Daniel is using it as a fallback position for the character. When it shows up a third time pages later, well, I winced. Likewise, a poolside meeting between Dick Grayson and Selina Kyle has a great facial portrait of Selina, but it’s matched with an awkward looking Dick that appears to be in some spots channeling Christian Bale in “The Dark Knight.” Daniel draws a great costumed Catwoman, though, and I found myself wishing that he was the artist on “Gotham City Sirens.”
In the end, “Batman” is an uneven book, although one that shows potential. For every surprise character appearance that pleased me in “Batman” #692 there’s another one that I made a face towards. I think with time Daniel can grow into the book, but we’ll see what happens. With creative teams coming and going so quickly these days, anything’s possible. For now, though, it’s a step up from “Batman: Battle for the Cowl,” and for that alone, I tip my hat towards Daniel. It’s a start.