Batman: Battle for the Cowl #2 variant coverSo, Battle for the Cowl #2 comes out this week, furthering the storyline of the Arkham breakout, the group of supervillains led by Black Mask, and, most importantly, the fight for who’ll become the next Batman.  As you can tell from the picture at right, last month’s picture of Dick Grayson as Batman was just the first in a series – the variant cover for Battle to the Cowl #2 shows Tim Drake as Batman.

In the weeks since #1, a couple of tie-in issues to Battle for the Cowl have been released, following some of the side characters in the Batman Universe that aren’t featured in Battle for the Cowl proper.  So what’s been happening these last couple of weeks?

Click after the jump for our summaries and reviews!

Oracle: The Cure #1Battle for the Cowl: Oracle The Cure #1 (of 3)
Barbara Gordon has just moved into a new location, an apartment in the crappy part of Gotham, where she basically has to take electricity from the entire building to run her systems.  She meets her dad for dinner, but she’s distracted, so the night ends early.  She comes home and contacts her friend Cheese Fiend (that’s her online name), who’s managed to get her hands on part of the Anti-Life equation.  The problem is, the Calculator has become aware of this too, and manages to lure Cheese Fiend online, stealing the remnants of the Anti-Life equation and using it to murder her (her head goes Ka-Blooie!).

While the art by Julian Lopez and Fernand Pasarin was fantastic, I found myself relatively uninterested in this book.  Not that I think the character of Oracle isn’t interesting, but I didn’t follow Birds of Prey, and this seems to be directly following the events of that book, with little or no exposition to help explain what’s come before.  The ending is pretty violent, and the idea isn’t bad, I’m just not sure this book will appeal to anyone who didn’t jump on during Birds of Prey.

azraelBattle for the Cowl: Azreael Death’s Dark Knight #1 (of 3)
A new Azrael has come on the scene, the only surviving member of the three replacement Batmen that the government tried to put together during Grant Morrison’s recent run on Batman.  A splinter group from the Group of Dumas, known as the Order of Purity, has stolen the Suit of Sorrows from the Batcave (it’s not explained how) and have chosen Michael Lane as the new Azrael.  Unfortunately, someone else wants to get her hands on the Suit of Sorrows – Talia Al Ghul, who has hired a group of villains to steal it back.  Michael Lane assumes the role of Azrael, but is quickly confronted by Talia’s group and the Sword of Salvation.

Again, the art on this one was fantastic, but the story, by the usually reliable Fabian Nicieza, doesn’t flow well AT ALL.  I’m not sure if the beginning sequence takes place before or after the events of the rest of the comic, and the time period between the offering of the Suit of Sorrows to Michael and him assuming the role of Azrael isn’t really clear.  Based on the events on the book, it seems to happen pretty much immediately, but again it’s not clear.  Some great ideas, some great art, but the storyline doesn’t flow.

bftc_gcpd-cv1_mediumBattle for the Cowl: Commissioner Gordon One-Shot
Commissioner Gordon has been taken hostage by Mr. Freeze, who wants to kill everyone in Gotham so that they can join Batman in Batheaven.  Commissioner Gordon comes to realize that he’s never had to tackle any of these villains alone before – he’s always had Batman help before.  Still, he manages to overcome the odds and takes down Mr. Freeze alone, using the event as a call to arms to the entire police force – Batman is dead and they need to step up their game.

Whereas the strength of the first two books is the art, and the story was the weak point, that’s reversed in this book.  The story, by Royal McGraw, is really well done, but the art by Tom Mandrake is just a bit sloppy for my tastes.  I will qualify that by saying I’ve never been a huge Mandrake fan.  Though nothing in this book is really something we haven’t seen before, it’s still a pretty good read, if it really does read like more of a filler issue, rather than a necessary part of the storyline.

Man-Bat #1Battle for the Cowl: Man-Bat One-Shot
Kirk Langstrom find out that, upon his death, Batman set up a program that would contact everyone he’s ever helped, setting up a network that would help defend Gotham in his absence.  Unfortunately, the program contacts Francine Langstrom, not Kirk.  And why would it?  Man-Bat is an uncontrollable monster that is more villain than hero, despite Kirk’s good intentions.  His wife missing, Kirk takes the Man-Bat serum, and goes searching for her.  He helps Lynx take down a gang of baddies, before being confronted by the new Outsiders team.  He escapes, tracking Francine to a power station, where he is overtaken by Dr. Phosporous, who’s taken Francine hostage.  Phosphorous is about to kill Francine, and Kirk, without the aid of the serum, turns into Man-Bat and managed to take down the evil Doc.  Alfred and the Outsiders show up as Kirk realizes that he no longer needs the serum to become Man-Bat.

Out of all the tie-in issues (save for The Outsiders), this one was by far my favorite.  The story by Joe Harris is well written, the art by Jim Calafiore is fantastic, and, unlike the Gordon one-shot, this doesn’t read like a filler issue.  Actually, I’d compare it to the Solomon Grundy one shot that came out back in January – this really does read like the beginning of a larger storyline that will either be continued in Outsiders (I’d like to see Man-Bat in that book), or in a Man-Bat mini.  I’d be very disappointed if they didn’t go further with this storyline.

Outsiders !6The Outsiders #16
In the second issue of the new Outsiders team, Metamorpho puts the entire team into perspective, explaining the purpose of each member of the team, before an emergency in Germany calls the team of action.  Meanwhile, a group of wealthy, high profile individuals get the call – apparently, a secret society called The King Makers has provided them with the life they could normally only dream of, but at a cost that is still unclear.  It appears that their bodies are used to power the mechanical monstrosities that have been causing massive destruction in Germany.  While Halo works on crowd control, the rest of the team is attacked by one of the mechanical monsters.

I’m LOVING this book.  Pete Tomasi and Lee Garbett are making a team book that blows away every other team book on the market.  This team works like a military unit – even Owlman notes that they won’t all be going on missions together, so that the whole team won’t be in the same place at the same time.  Metamorpho’s explanation of each team member’s importance to the team dynamic is not only excellent, it’s something I wish every team book did.  If you’re not reading this book, you’re missing out on one of DC’s real gems.  Though I have it listed as a Battle for the Cowl tie-in, it’s really not tied into the event hugely, and it’s a nice place to go if you’re tired of the endless events that seem to shape the rest of the universe.