By Andy Frisk
March 11, 2009 - 20:14
The Death (and Return) of Superman is still one of my all time favorite comic book stories. It helps that my favorite superhero (since I was about six years old) is Superman, but the story seemed, to me, new and fresh and exciting. It was a “must read” that, also to me, was well written and drawn. Heck, I knew that Kal El/Clark Kent/Superman wasn’t going to stay dead, but his journey back, and the story of his would be replacements, especially Steel, was a great ride. When Captain America (Steve Rodgers) died, it was an engaging, as well as socially and politically interesting, analogy for the state of American international politics and standing. Gone was the untarnished Steve Rodgers, and in his place we get the tarnished Bucky Barnes, much like the world’s opinion of America had be replaced, changing from a “shining city on the hill” to a “shining but tarnished city on a hill,” especially over the course of the past 8 years. With the Death of Batman though, and for those of us who read Final Crisis, we know that Batman/Bruce Wayne really isn’t “dead,” but somewhere off in some other reality living through Darkseid’s “omega sanction," or something or other, and will most likely pop back into the DC Universe proper at an opportunistic time in the future (my guess being when the next Batman movie hits the screen). So, this story feels more like a marketing scheme to me. Granted all “death and return” superhero stories, especially nowadays, are such, but Batman/Bruce Wayne’s “death” and inevitable return, feels so much like this is the case, simply because there is no reason for it. Superman dying was the first mega hero to die (arguably), or at least the most high profile one, and Captain America was a political commentary on current times, as much of Marvel’s Civil War can be seen as.
Which brings us to Dick Grayson/Nightwing, and the first issue of Battle for The Cowl. In this well written, scripted, and drawn issue, we see Nightwing, and his beleaguered band of heroes dubbed “The Network,” fighting desperately to hold Gotham’s criminal masterminds and gangs at bay, while at least two pretenders to The Batman’s throne, one looking like a pre-crisis (Crisis on Infinite Earth’s that is) Batman, and the other a gun toting criminal murdering “Batman,” attempt to do the same. We see that Tim Drake/Robin feels that Dick should assume the cowl, as well as Alfred, but Dick is steadfastly against the idea, feeling that “no one can replace Batman.” He’s going to protect Gotham as Nightwing, and there will be no other Batman. Once we get a look at the gun toting “Batman” though and his methods, we can’t help but pray that Dick gets over his Maximus-like “with all my heart NO” emotional turmoil, and puts the cowl on before an insane Commodus-like crazy usurps The Batman’s throne as Gotham’s protector. (To all those reading who got the Gladiator reference-kudos!-to all those who didn’t-why are you still reading this and not renting Gladiator right now! Well at least finishing reading this first then go see Gladiator!)
The emotional complexity and interweaving of characters all fighting to live up to a legend, and one being leaned on heavily to take up this legend’s mantle, makes for great storytelling. Dick’s refusal to take the mantle willingly which makes him the best candidate for it-again a la Maximus in Gladiator- is also a powerful story. But, and there’s always a BUT, all this great storytelling may turn out to be for naught when Bruce pops back up. I can’t see Dick, if he indeed does don the cowl, and I for one will drop the Bat-books if he doesn’t, putting the Nightwing suit back on. I can’t believe that Bruce will never return, so his reassuming the cowl has to be inevitable. Maybe they’ll just kill of Dick, and bring him back later too?
I really hate to feel that this well crafted and drawn story might loose its significance in a few years, but I can’t help it. Sadly enough it makes me want to not read any more of it so I won’t have to face the letdown of the story’s eventual fall into meaninglessness. Hopefully, Dick Grayson/Nightwing will get a new mantle that makes his story still relevant after he dons and returns the cowl to its rightful owner. If so, maybe I’ll go back and re-read Battle for The Cowl as it should be read, as a tale of a young hero who finally becomes and adult hero.
Rating: 9 /10