Tony Daniel - Batman: Battle for the Cowl's Field Marshall
Cover to Batman: Battle for the Cowl
After penciling "R.I.P.", Daniel will both write and draw March's Battle for the Cowl, the three-issue mini-series focusing on how Gotham City – and its heroes and villains – deal with the absence of Batman.
Newsarama spoke to Daniel about the mini-series to find out why he wanted to write the story, what readers can expect from Battle of the Cowl, and where that "Batman and Robin will never die!" image might show up again.
Newsarama: Tony, how did the opportunity come about for you to write Battle for the Cowl?
Tony Daniel: I didn’t pursue it right off. I was casually talking to [editor] Mike Marts about the story and my thoughts on how great it could be. I consider myself a storyteller, so in my mind I guess the wheels of the story were naturally spinning. And in this case, you couldn’t shut me up.
I mentioned how this could be something really great and not just a stop gap before Grant’s or my return to the title. That we can really get behind the feelings and motivations behind the characters with this. But at the same time thinking this should be “John Woo” style, crazy, epic action. Which is exactly my cup of tea. I love action movies but only a rare few can pull off great action and a great story. I’m approaching this story the same way. To have the best of both worlds here.
So after spilling my guts for about 10 minutes about the ideas that were pouring out of my head, I jokingly told Mike that I would gladly accept the invitation to write Battle for the Cowl. Only he hadn’t done that and we both laughed. But I emailed him later after thinking about it more and it was too late. I was ramped up on my second cup of Starbucks and there was no turning back. I asked him to consider it.
Dan DiDio called me after speaking with Mike, and he had liked what he heard. So by then I had been thinking over the weekend more about the story, and at that point, it started to really come together as a story. So I relayed some of the same ideas I told Mike, but much more in depth since I had the advantage of the 48 hours of the story percolating.
But I knew it was a risk/reward situation for Dan and Mike to hand me the keys and offered to break it all down for them so they could make a decision they wouldn’t have to second guess. I knew they could’ve picked anyone to do this – a more experienced writer. So I turned around and gave them a basic first draft. But I made sure to portray all my strengths, like dialogue and pacing. So that pretty much sealed the deal after they read it.
NRAMA: For fans who are only familiar with your artistic skills, what have you been writing? And have you been wanting to write something for DC for awhile now?
TD: I started writing about 12 years ago with my series, The Tenth. Though I didn’t really know what I was doing, I learned a lot about painting yourself into corners. [laughs] But most importantly, I started to really develop a desire and natural instinct for it.
My next writing projects like Adrenalynn, F5, and Silke, were much more planned and well thought out. Adrenalynn and F5 were both sold to Hollywood and Silke was never taken out because I want to write the screenplay myself. But I think that has a chance when I get on it.
For the last eight or so years I’ve been strictly writing screenplays, with my last one in development with Pierce-Williams, the guys who made “The Cooler” and “Chaos” with Jason Statham. But Hollywood is a rough business. Who knows if it will ever be made. There are so many things you can’t control as a screenwriter. But comics writing is different; you have so much more control over your story and the results are pretty quick. A comic book writer gets to see his work in print months after writing it.
But backtracking a bit, when I first met with Dan DiDio, we had a lunch in New York, weeks before I even was offered Teen Titans as a regular assignment – I think I had asked to run two or three issues by Eddie Berganza to see how things went – and Dan asked if I was interested in writing at DC too. He had asked me about my work on The Tenth, which was Image’s best selling independent title until I ended it. At that time I said no, I didn’t want to write then, but instead that I just wanted to concentrate on only penciling. I knew I had a lot of work to do in order to make the kind of progress I needed to be successful as an artist. I knew at the skill level I was at, I needed to get better in a hurry and my personal goal was to meet my potential, which I never felt I had before.
When you’re young and immature and things come too easy for you, it's easy to lose your way. And some humbling experiences really helped me to see things clearly. So my penciling took 100 percent priority for me. But now that I’m writing Battle for the Cowl, I’m looking forward to more and they’re willing to let me do more writing too. So we’ll see how it all goes.
NRAMA: But Tony, this is a pretty big deal, getting to write such a high-profile comic. Was this the kind of project you wanted for your writing debut at DC?
TD: It just worked out that way. Being on Batman for a year and working with Grant Morrison, I really felt that there is no book I’d be better prepared to handle than this one. It’s much easier than, say, starting on a book like Superman, where I haven’t been up-to-date on my reading.
NRAMA: As you mentioned, you've been concentrating on your pencils since coming to DC. After runs on Batman with Grant Morrison, Flash with Marc Guggenheim and Teen Titans with Geoff Johns, what's it like to now write your own story as well as draw the comic? Do you miss the creative process of working with writers like these guys?
TD: I think all three of those writers are terrific, and I’m sure that I learned a thing or two from each of them. I’m fairly confident that I’ll get the chance to work with each of them again at some point. Or I’d like to. We’ve shared those thoughts already pretty much, and it’s flattering and it’s the best compliment. It means I made them happy in my interpretation of their stories, which is how I look at penciling. Like I’m a foreign language interpreter. But I haven’t been away from that kind of writer/artist relationship long enough to miss it. And when I write, I get deeply enthralled into the story and characters and plot points, and I find that very satisfying.
NRAMA: Are there any shortcuts now, or is it still the same general process, only with writing involved? Are there any challenge specific to doing both jobs?
TD: No shortcuts for me. I’m writing full scripts top to bottom. If this was a creator-owned book – sure, there’d be shortcuts. Like one or two sentence panel descriptions. And loose dialogue that would end up being completely rewritten or adjusted before going to print.
NRAMA: What can you tell us about the story you're telling in Battle for the Cowl?
TD: The backdrop of the story is what Gotham is like without Batman to keep things in check. We see the crime rate go up without the fear that Batman instilled. We’ll see Commissioner Gordon struggling to retain order within the police force too.
NRAMA: How has Gotham changed?
TD: The public thinks Batman is dead; it’s almost like learning there is no God and there’s no consequence for your sins, you know? With no one to answer to, the criminals will get worse. And lawlessness starts to take over. Ordinary people take the law into their own hands too. Citizens rise up in the face of adversity, and so do the heroes of Gotham. We have Nightwing and Batgirl establishing a network of heroes who are helping to maintain order in the streets.
And then there’s the cape and cowl, the focus of the story. Should it be retired or should someone take the mantle? Will it make a difference either way? Batman was much more than just a costume, you know; putting it on doesn’t make you Batman.
NRAMA: We've seen some of the characters who will likely help out with the network on covers – like Huntress, Black Canary, Oracle, Bat-Woman, Wildcat, and Catwoman. Are there just a ton of DC characters showing up in this miniseries? What can you tell us about the scope of the story?
TD: I wanted to have an atmosphere of chaos, and I wanted this to read like a big story, so not only do we get to see all the characters in the new network, but also characters outside of that. But they’re mostly Gotham City- or Batman-related. We won’t see the Justice League showing up to save the day. That wouldn’t make for a good story anyway. It would be too easy, and I need conflict. I need Nightwing and Robin to be challenged. There is a sense of "this is our mess, we’ll clean it up,” to the story.
NRAMA: Obviously, Bruce Wayne as Batman will be gone for awhile. How does this affect the characters that are left in the Batman Universe?
TD: Well there’s a big void and he’s missed, of course. But Gotham isn’t the only thing spiraling as a result. Tim and Dick aren’t seeing eye to eye on things lately. And Damien is angling to become the heir to the Wayne fortune. There’s conflicting ideas on what’s the best way to handle the void.
NRAMA: That's the heroes, but what does it do the villains to have no Batman?
TD: They’re emboldened. Even though Nightwing and the network patrol the streets, Batman instilled a certain fear. With that gone, we’ll see many younger and newer gangs sprouting up. Those have been fun to create.
NRAMA: But is the title accurate? Is it really a "battle" for the cowl? If so, can you tell us anything about who's battling?
TD: Yes, I’d say the title is accurate. You’ll have to read it to see the who’s and the why’s though! But there’s an epic battle about to take place.
NRAMA: I'm rooting for Alfred. Is there any chance Alfred gets the cowl?
TD: Alfred dies in the first issue. We wanted to start off with a shock, so….
NRAMA: There are a few other comics about various Bat-Universe characters going on at the same time as Battle for the Cowl. Is this series being coordinated with other series about characters like Oracle and Azrael?
TD: I’m sure events from Battle for the Cowl will bleed over but I’m not sure how much.
NRAMA: Does this all go along with the plans Grant Morrison seemed to be hinting about in his "R.I.P." run? That image you drew to begin your Batman run – the one about how Batman and Robin will "never die" – is that a future you're revisiting? Or will that show up somewhere else?
TD: That’s actually even more in the future than Battle for the Cowl. I’d say that image would, hypothetically, appear at the very end of it.
NRAMA: Not surprisingly, a lot of readers are worried about your time-constraints as you both write and draw the comic. Are you ahead on the series to the extent that there won't be delays?
TD: I’m actually fine. I don’t need six months lead time to be on time. I can do a book a month if I get the script in time. And I’m cracking the whip on this writer so – oh yeah, that’s me! [laughs] Seriously, if anyone thought there’d be any delays whatsoever, I wouldn’t have been given such an important assignment. I think that I’ve built up a level of trust within editorial.
NRAMA: OK, then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell people about Battle for the Cowl?
TD: When this is all over, there’ll be three characters that will be changed forever. Some decisions will just have such irreversible effects that there’s no turning back.