Bruce Wayne is dead. In a recent story line called “Final Crisis,” the hero was killed in an epic battle between good and evil, leaving his friends and his city, Gotham, alone and in need of a new Batman. That is the premise of the current mini-series “Battle for the Cowl,” written and drawn by Tony Daniels.
Recently, Batman has found a new wave of popularity in the past year with the release of “The Dark Knight.” The legend of Batman/Bruce Wayne has returned to popular conscience, a tale as old as the medium of comics: Young Bruce Wayne was born into an idyllic world, with loving parents and a golden spoon in his mouth. But all that came crashing down, as one night while coming home from the movies, Bruce’s parents are killed in a robbery. The event causes him to train his mind and body and he becomes the protector of Gotham City, Batman. Over the years, Bruce Wayne’s life has been hard. His back has been broken. He has gone through three Robins, his kid sidekick. The second Robin, Jason Todd, was killed, only to come back to life as a psychopath killer. His other crime fighting partner, Batgirl, was crippled by the Joker. And now he has gone down in the line of duty, but just because Bruce Wayne has died, does not mean that Gotham City does not need a protector.
The three people who are vying for the cowl are the three Robins. Jason Todd, the psycho, is the first to take the mantle, but he also brings a pair of guns with him, throwing out the idea that Batman doesn’t kill. Tim Drake, the current Robin, also dons the mantle to take down Todd which ends with less than stellar results. While this goes on, Dick Grayson, the original Robin, has to figure out if he wants to remain the man that he has become, the one who fought hard to be his own man outside of the shadow of Batman or don the cowl and take over for his fallen mentor. But the looming question over the whole thing is: Who could possibly take over for Bruce Wayne? For 70 years, Bruce Wayne has been Batman. He has evolved from a pulp avenger to a symbol of the will of man. Bruce Wayne can stand up to Superman and not back down. He has fought gods with nothing but his own strength. Who could possibly fill those shoes?
The structure of the “Battle for the Cowl” is compact. The main story line is a mere three issues, but the story of everyone involved is much bigger. There are also two more three issue mini-series, one starring Barbara Gordon, the paralyzed former Batgirl and the other stars Azrael, a religious vigilante who takes protecting Gotham as a holy crusade. There are also seven single issue stories that focus on all the major protectors of Gotham, from Police Commissioner Jim Gordon to Man-Bat, an actual bat man to reporter/Bruce Wayne love interest Vicki Vale. As Gotham crumbles and the Robins fight for the cowl, it is these people who are the ones that have to hold it together in the city. These are the people who the fight the fight alongside of Batman.
As this story line goes on, Batman is given a hero’s funeral in a separate two part story called “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” written by acclaimed writer Neil Gaiman, with pencils by Andy Kubert. The title is a reference to a classic 1980s Superman story “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” by Alan Moore and Curt Swan and serves the same purpose. “Man of Tomorrow?” was viewed as the last Superman story and “Caped Crusader?” is the same thing: the last story of Bruce Wayne as Batman.
The story has a simple premise. Batman has died and a funeral is being held in his honor. Over the course of the story, all the major characters in Bruce’s life are mentioned or appear or even perform a eulogy. It is in the eulogies that the purpose of the story is seen. “Caped Crusader?” is a deconstruction and analysis of the life and importance of Bruce Wayne/Batman. All of the eulogies are about events that never happened, but may as well have. They show the character of what kind of man Bruce was. During Bruce’s butler Alfred’s eulogy, Bruce asks “Do you think [Batman would] give up? That he’d lie down and die?” Alfred responds “No, sir. I do not believe the Batman would EVER lie down and die.” To his dying day, Batman was a committed fighter for what was right and would never surrender. When Superman speaks, he tells of a fabricated time where the villains had teamed-up in Gotham and had turned the city against Batman. Superman tried to convince Batman to not go back, as they would kill him. Batman responded “Well, while they are trying to kill me, they aren’t going to be killing innocents.” That sums up the man Bruce Wayne was. He was still that boy whose parents died and he would do everything in his power to make sure that what happened to him would never happen to anyone else.
But his fight is over…for now. In comics, death has never been permanent. Characters that have been dead for decades have come back recently. Batman’s publisher, DC Comics, has already made allusions to the possibility that Bruce Wayne could/will return eventually. But for the time being, Gotham needs a protector and the only mystery is “Who will end up with the cowl of Batman?”