Spoiler Sport: Tony Daniel on Batman: Battle for the Cowl

Review: Battle for the Cowl #3

[SPOILERS for Batman: Battle for the Cowl #3]

After penciling the end of Bruce Wayne's reign in Batman: R.I.P., Tony Daniel has now established who will replace the Dynamic Duo in Batman: Battle for the Cowl.

In the three-issue mini-series that just finished this week, Daniel played the role of both writer and artist, telling the story of what happens when there's no longer a Batman. Cutting his teeth as a DC writer on one of the most-read books of the year, Daniel tackled most of the Bat-universe in a story with lots of action and a few surprises.

The smoke has cleared, and (after we insert another *spoiler warning*)…

…it's not a surprise to most people that Dick Grayson is wearing the coveted cowl. But the way he got there had a few twists and turns that weren't as expected, including a recorded will by his mentor that discouraged him from taking the mantle, and a battle with second-Robin Jason Todd that revealed a secret from the troubled character's past.

Batman #687, June's relaunch of the book by writer Judd Winick and artist Ed Benes, will serve as an "epilogue" to Dick's story in Battle for the Cowl as he takes to the streets of Gotham City in his new role as Batman.

Damian, the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul, has now adopted the role of Robin, becoming the fifth person to officially don the costume. A character introduced in 2006 during Grant Morrison's run on Batman, Damian will be penned by Morrison again when Batman and Robin #1 kicks off the new series in June with art by his All-Star Superman collaborator, Frank Quitely.

Also central to the Battle for the Cowl series was Batman's most recent sidekick and adopted son, Tim Drake, whose detective skills won him the title of Robin in the 1990s. Daniel revealed that Drake is the one Batman character who doesn't accept Bruce's death. After a violent battle with Jason Todd and a rescue by Damian, Tim has chosen a different path, investigating his adopted father's death, presumably in the new Red Robin series by Christopher Yost, which also launches in June.

Readers of Battle for the Cowl also saw a seemingly new, improved version of Black Mask -- a story that is left unfinished, although there are hints that we'll see more of Jason Todd, who claims to know the villain's "shocking" identity.

As Batman fans recover from all the new costumes, action sequences and resulting changes of Battle for the Cowl, Newsarama talked with Daniel about the mini-series, discussing Jason's "secret" and what Tim Drake really wanted to do with that crowbar. And while our interview with the creator before the series began told the story of how Daniel got the job, we find out more about the story's creation, as well as its conclusion.

Newsarama: Now that the series has ended, Tony, how was the experience for you of writing a "big event" comic at the same time as drawing it? Glad for it to be done? Or ready to do more of this stuff?

Tony Daniel: The experience was a great one. It was great to have the opportunity to write and draw it. I didn’t think a year ago I’d be in this great situation so I’m enjoying it and making the best of the opportunity. I’m happy it’s done, but yeah, that’s mainly because I’m ready and excited to do more writing and drawing.

NRAMA: With all of your writing experience – including your successful Image series The Tenth, the other comics series you've done, and your writing for Hollywood -- how different was this series to pull off as a writer? What are the challenges of not only working with well established characters instead of your own creations, but within a shared universe where so much has to be planned for future monthly series?

TD: The main challenge was telling each issue with a different narrator, the three sons, so to speak. I was afraid it would be too jarring. They’re almost like three one-shots that make one larger story.

The other challenge was the length. It was such a big story, when you have the Black Mask sub-plot and the chaotic Gotham backdrop to throw in too. A typical story you would find in a monthly, or longer mini-series, has a bit more set up and eventual pay-offs. The different narratives and story length kept the story extremely linear. It’s really not the typical story approach. As far as coordination, I knew in the planning stages what I had to as to not paint any other writers into corners.

NRAMA: Way back at the beginning of R.I.P., you drew an image of a new Batman and Robin saying, "You're wrong! Batman and Robin will NEVER DIE!" Did you know even then who those characters were? Is that what got you started imagining this story?

Preview: Batman: Battle for the Cowl #1
Preview: Batman: Battle for the Cowl #1
TD: I knew who the new Batman and Robin would be, yes. But I had no idea I’d be writing Battle for the Cowl at that point in time.

NRAMA: Judd Winick has said that he worked on Battle for the Cowl before you got the assignment. In an effort to set the record straight, how much of this storyline was already written? Did you have to work from notes, or a plot, or did you write all this yourself?

TD: The story is 100% mine. Editorial decided who would be the victor, but that was the only element that was decided when I came in. I plotted and scripted everything from scratch. That’s why they chose me to write it, they liked what I had in mind. There is nothing in my three issues that were spawned or inspired by anyone else.

NRAMA: The solicitation for Batman #687 in June calls it an "epilogue" to Battle for the Cowl. Was that coordinated with you so that the two stories would fit together?

TD: No. The coordinating happens with the editorial department. My story was set months prior.

NRAMA: Did you leave some things open-ended for that series and the others coming this summer?

TD: Yes. Black Mask needs to be wrapped up. He’ll have his day soon. Catwoman’s omission in issue #3 was done on purpose as well.

NRAMA: Let's turn toward the story in Battle for the Cowl, starting with something that surprised a lot of readers, because most people saw Dick as Bruce's heir apparent. In Bruce's will, why didn't he want Dick to become Batman? Was it about wanting the darkness of the Bat-legacy to end? Or was it more about him recognizing Dick (and Nightwing) as his own person now and no longer Batman's second fiddle?

TD: I left that open-ended for someone to tackle later on. It’s a heck of a statement to learn, and it will need to be explored with the proper story.

NRAMA: It seems like one of the questions this series asked is, "why does there have to even be a Batman?" Certainly, Batman himself wondered about it, concluding that there doesn't have to be one after he died.

TD: But Batman was wrong. He didn’t realize just how much of an effect he had on the criminal mind. He kept things in check. With him gone, I touched upon it with the Batman Jones scene; it’s as if people found out there is no God. No consequence to their actions. With no one to answer to, all of the smaller crooks and trouble makers got bolder. So Gotham needs a guardian, a fierce one, that scares the shit out of its evil-doers.

NRAMA: It seems like the one character who knew there needed to be a Batman was Jason Todd, and in many ways, he's the one who forced the ending, isn't he?

TD: I think Dick felt it too. He didn’t reveal why he didn’t step into the shoes until the 3rd issue, his issue. He was trying to honor Bruce’s wishes. But after seeing Jason Todd taking the mantle, Dick knew he had no alternative. To hell with what Bruce thought. That’s the sign of a true leader.

NRAMA: After all the evil deeds that Jason Todd has done in this series, he's obviously established himself as a villain in the Bat-universe. And as the writer, what did you see as his motivation for all this? What set him off?

TD: Jason being told by Bruce that he was his greatest mistake for one. Jason has a chip on his shoulder and to be told this by Batman is devastating. He took it as a challenge to prove himself. That he could be Batman and better. His way is much more violent and deadly though. He has a twisted view on what Batman should or should’ve been.

NRAMA: Dick said Jason had a "secret," and it sounded like that secret may be the root of his rebelliousness. Where did that line come from, and what can you tell us about what it meant?

TD: I wanted to get to the source of his pain. Someone who acts like Jason has all his life is troubled. He buried his pain. Bruce dug it up, bringing back that pain and making it fresh. What exactly happened? That’s a future mystery to solve, isn’t it?

NRAMA: Another Jason line that sticks out is that he knows who the Black Mask is. Is it important that he knows the identity and that he said it was "shocking?" Should readers pay attention to anything there?

TD: Well, we’ll have to see. The answer will be shocking. But when will it be answered? Stay tuned.

NRAMA: What did this new Black Mask character represent in this story? And how important is he to how it evolved?

TD: Black Mask represented the criminal mind as an opportunistic animal. If there is ever a time to take over Gotham, it would be right now. With all the chaos around Gotham, no one was paying attention to the little guy. The small infection that turns deadly without treatment.

NRAMA: Where will the Black Mask story continue? Can you tell us anything that is coming with the Black Mask and how it will affect Gotham?

TD: It will continue but I cannot say when and where. But his job is only just beginning.

NRAMA: Why do you think Tim's the only one that suspects something fishy about Bruce's death?

TD: I wanted Tim to play the role of the eternal optimist. He won’t allow himself to fully acknowledge Bruce’s death. He’s also Gotham’s best detective. So maybe he wants to rule out every possible equation.

NRAMA: Tim seemed to really snap during that fight with Jason. He was ready to kill him. Why did this battle with this person set him off like that? And how will the experience of that fight – and the rescue by Damian – affect him going forward?

TD: I originally had Tim yelling to Jason that he was going to kill him while he was bludgeoning him with that crowbar. That was taken out at the last minute so Tim would look to have kept at least some composure. But a guy wearing his father’s clothes, impersonating him and marring everything he stood for would do it. He loved Bruce like his real father.

NRAMA: Will we see Tim's story continued in Red Robin #1? Can you tell us anything about what's coming for Tim?

TD: No clue. I haven’t read the script yet. I’m sure it would have to touch upon the aftermath of this.

NRAMA: The dialogue between Damian and Squire was a lot of fun. Did you enjoy writing that team-up? Why do those characters work together?

TD: I enjoyed writing them as well. Two characters who are polar opposites are much more fun to write than two characters who are similar. They rub each other the wrong way and that always makes for fun dialogue.

NRAMA: Coming into this series, it was tough to like Damian, but he seemed more enjoyable as a character during Battle for the Cowl. What were you hoping to show about who Damian is as a character?

TD: Damian is a flawed character. He has attitude, but look at how he was raised. It will take time for him to fit in around the Batcave and that’s what he ultimately wants. He’s a kid though and will learn how to achieve the respect he feels he deserves.

NRAMA: What kind of Robin do you think Damian will be, and what challenges will he face that will be unique to his character?

TD: I’m not sure. Damian is really Grant’s baby. I’ll be looking to see what Grant does with him in Batman and Robin.

NRAMA: What can you tell us about how these last couple pages were designed? Why didn't the readers see the face of the person putting on the cowl? The words from Dick make it pretty clear he is wearing the cowl, so does the lack of a face have another meaning? And anything you want to share about the design of the pages? They're pretty cool-looking...

TD: Thanks – well, I wanted us to view what Dick was viewing, be Dick, for that moment. Going through the mansion, down to the cave. Putting up the cowl. Yes, his hair is shorter. But it’s been Dick’s captions all the way through issue #3, so I thought it was pretty self-explanatory.

NRAMA: You told us before this series started that you are a fan of action movies, and this series certainly had a lot of action. How do you think those action sequences turned out? Was there a favorite one or favorite fight idea you had that you think turned out well in the story?

TD: It’s hard for me to judge my own work. I always think I could’ve done better. I did enjoy the Tim vs. Jason fight scene very much. It was fun to draw.

NRAMA: Were there any of the main character(s) who became your favorite as you wrote them?

TD: I really enjoyed writing Tim’s thoughts. He’s young and hopeful and full of energy. Damian too. I really enjoyed writing him.

NRAMA: Obviously, we keep saying "main" because there were a lot of other, smaller players in this series. Was that a goal? Did you like how some of the less-known characters got a role in this series?

TD: It was fun touching upon all these smaller characters. I enjoyed writing and drawing them. I wish it was a longer story because I would have liked to have done more with them. Mainly the Network. I just didn’t have the room to do what I would’ve like to have done with them. I needed one more issue. [laughs]

NRAMA: If you had one more issue, what would you have liked to have explored more?

TD: The Network, Commissioner Gordon, more Black Mask and more of the Penguin and Two-Face war.

NRAMA: Looking back, what do you think really worked in this series?

TD: Setting up the new table for what Gotham will be for the foreseeable future. It’s up to others to judge what did or didn’t work for them though.

NRAMA: You've gotten a lot of accolades for your art in this series, with reviews calling it more "bold" and "detailed" than in the past. What is your opinion on how your art turned out in this series? Was there something you were trying to accomplish that you thought worked, or a certain feel you were hoping to achieve?

TD: I wanted a smoother look. I also try to change it up every now and again. I think the new colorist, Ian Hanin, made a huge difference as did my inker from RIP, Sandu Florea. It was a team effort to meet the deadlines and do good work at the same time. Those guys are terrific.

NRAMA: What's next for you? Any more writing?

TD: Yes. I can’t say what yet. But I’m more excited than ever now.

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