"And how exactly are the Gotham police dealing with the absence of Batman?" you may have asked when "Batman: Battle for the Cowl" was first announced. Now, DC has answered: not that well, actually. After Batman's death, Gotham pretty much fell into anarchy, it seems, with Batman's allies and the Gotham PD unable to keep crime under control and, now, with the breakout from Arkham orchestrated by the Black Mask, Gotham is in even more chaos.
Royal McGraw smartly focuses on one member of Batman's rogues gallery here, having Commissioner Gordon kidnapped by Mr. Freeze after a botched attempt to capture the villain. Not only that, but choosing Freeze works really well in the manner that he's used: his role is to 'help' people by forcing them to confront the deaths of those they love and grow stronger as a result -- just like he has. It's a really interesting motive and moves past the expected "villains run rampant because that's just what they do in situations like this" plot.
The problem, though, is that it's not compelling enough to fill an entire issue. The plot here seems more like eight-page back-up fare and doesn't work over a full 22. Gordon's narration adds little and Freeze's dialogue is repetitive. McGraw does do a good job of establishing just how worthless the police and Gordon in particular feel, which works into Gordon's imprisonment at the hands of Freeze. It is Mr. Freeze, so expect a few very bad cold-related puns.
Tom Mandrake may not seem the first choice for a story like this, but his gritty, creepy art is just what's required. He works with shadows so well, not just illustrating a chained-up Gordon, but conveying the horrid feeling of imprisonment. His Freeze is also very spooky, a frozen metal monster with the vague hints of humanity beneath it all. His art captures the tone that McGraw is going for.
"Batman: Battle for the Cowl: Commissioner Gordon" isn't a bad story and does an able job of demonstrating the police's role in a Gotham without Batman. It's also worth it to see Gordon in action, a role he isn't provided nearly enough. Though, it is odd to see the police act so helpless without Batman considering this isn't the first time he's disappeared. After all, he was gone for an entire year during the run of "52." Ignoring that, this issue might have been better served as a back-up story or splitting the duties with a story focusing on another cop like Bullock. Otherwise, a decent read.