Monday, April 13, 2009

Battle For The Cowl

With two issues out and one to go, there's some pretty bad buzz around Battle For The Cowl. Opinions vary (which is actually about the best you can expect; unanimous approval is pretty rare), so perhaps there's no need to explain. Perhaps it's perfectly fine and people just like to complain.

I have my own opinion, which is that page-by-page, the series has been just fine (and good-looking), but that the central plot involving the former Robins is far too thin to sustain its end of the series. (Meanwhile, a parallel plot involving the villains Penguin, Two Face, and the purported Black Mask seems just fine, but is a sideshow.)

Every piece of public information indicates very strongly that Dick Grayson will become the new Batman when he realizes, as a result of Jason Todd's violent Batman identity, that someone "good" has to fill the role or someone "bad" will. And this dialectic is taking place at approximately the speed that the last ice age ended. It could happen in one page. In fact, it did take place in one page (to the opposite conclusion) in Adventure Comics #462 when the Earth Two Batman died. But here it will be stretched out over the better part of three issues.

This miniseries is the most high-profile writing stint by Tony Daniel, who has been drawing Batman for almost three years now. When people complain about BFTC, they have often complained about his writing. I think this is misplaced. And within the ranks of recent Batman writers, there is a comparable case: Paul Dini's work on Countdown. Countdown was greatly reviled. It also seemed to take far too many issues (51!) to accomplish far too little. But Dini is obviously a good writer: His work on Detective has been good to great.

So I point to the common denominator in these cases: A story which is ordained by editorial decree is handed to a writer. The decree requires a definite beginning and end and is given a preordained length. Then the writer is asked to fill in the content that gets the characters from Start to Finish in that given length.

This is just a formula for bad results. I also found Grant Morrison's two issues of the Resurrection of R'as al-Ghul crossover to be weak, when Morrison's Batman run as a whole was extremely strong. The key takeaway for me is that writers work best when they write their own stories. Given a start and a finish, they lose the wellspring of their creativity and a weaker product results. We already know from interviews that BFTC was planned before a writer was attached to it. I think a lackluster result was all but certain as soon as that commitment was made, and that Tony Daniel walked into a difficult situation by accepting the task.

I expect little from the final issue of BFTC. I'd like to see Tony Daniel get another writing stint, one where he has a free hand, to compare with BFTC and see if my thesis is correct: That editorial plans lead to a poor product that looks like bad writing.


  1. Don't you think TD's dialogue is terrible though? That has nothing to do with editorial messing about.

  2. I think having too much space and too little plot strains everything, even the dialogue. I would cite Countdown again. Dini wrote wonderful dialogue in Detective, but the formula of editorial fiat seems to me to had undermined every aspect of Countdown.

  3. Actually, I think the opposite. Given the limitations imposed by the editors (making assumptions on what those were since I am not in the know), I think Daniels has done a very good job. I'm not saying he is the greatest writer ever, but how many writers would have been able to turn in a pretty decent read with the limited parameters he was allowed to work in?

  4. I disagree with Steve...

    Editorial mandates aside, the dialogue just seemed to fanboy/hollywood.

    To me, BFTC could have been the "big-dumb action movie" it was supposed to be (which could have been fun) while keeping the correct characterisations.

    To me it is ok to say that TD is not suited to write Batman and shouldn't write Batman either. His art makes up for it...