Battle for the Cowl: The Underground

Written by Chris Yost
Art by Pablo Raimondi
32 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

DC Comics’s Battle for the Cowl feels like—and there’s no delicate way to put this—a bit of a mess. Numerous one-shots and mini-series are released left and right, with the majority of them seemingly having nothing to do with Battle for the Cowl itself. I have to admit that reading the Battle for the Cowl: The Underground one-shot was almost a relief, then, in that it actually has the promised connection that the title claims. At the end of the day, though, it still feels like a truncated story, and I’m not entirely sure it’s fair to the reader.

Batman is dead, and Gotham City is erupting in anarchy. Jason Todd has seized the Batman mantle for himself, killing any who get in his way. A new Black Mask has appeared, and his henchmen are hunting down Catwoman, the Penguin, and any other Bat-villain who won’t bow to Black Mask’s authority. And the Riddler, who went legitimate some time ago, is now being hired to make sense of it all.

First off, there are some nice moments in Battle for the Cowl: The Underground. Chris Yost seems to understand the Riddler, and I enjoy his take on the character (while continuing to keep him on the right side of the law). And likewise, Poison Ivy comes across as a real threat here; she should be a terrifying force of nature, and her brief scenes in Battle for the Cowl: The Underground are inching back towards that depiction. For an all-villain comic, Yost does a good job of trying to keep the reader engaged in a vacuum of heroes.

So here’s the problem—Battle for the Cowl: The Underground doesn’t so much come to an end as it stops abruptly in the middle of a scene. There’s a request from editorial to check out Battle for the Cowl #3 (in other words, the conclusion to the main mini-series) as well as the upcoming Gotham City Sirens monthly title. Battle for the Cowl: The Underground feels in many ways like a massive set-up for the latter, but it’s a little mystifying on going about it this way. It feels like it’s trying to be too many different things at once and not really succeeding at any of them. Is it a book about the Penguin being attacked by the Jason Todd Batman? A book about Riddler, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, and Catwoman working together? The plight of Two-Face? The rise of the new Black Mask? None of the above? I’m not entirely sure that Yost knows the answer to this question either; it feels more like a book plotted by committee than anything else.

On the bright side, Pablo Raimondi’s art is really attractive. I like how he inks his pencils here; it reminds me in some ways of Chris Sprouse’s work on books like Tom Strong, with the sharp edges on characters like Firefly and Poison Ivy. His Penguin looks to be strongly modeled off of Danny DeVito in Batman Returns, but it’s such a good visual reference that it’s hard to argue about it too much. Best of all, Gotham City feels grubby and dirty here; this is a story set in the dregs of a city, and Raimondi brings that visual to life.

Battle for the Cowl: The Underground tries hard, but it’s almost like the deck is stacked against it from the start. I’d have been more interested to see a stronger focus on just one aspect of the comic and see what Yost and Raimondi could have done with it. Like just about all of Battle for the Cowl, though, the pieces just don’t connect with any of the other on the board. Of all of the follow-ups to Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, this entire event has and still feels truly odd and out of place.

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