Compare and Contrast

May 7th, 2009 by | Tags: , , , , ,

The Battle for the Cowl so far is comprised of three main books, numerous associated mini-series, and a few scattered one-shot tie-ins.  I’m not strongly affected either way by most of these, but this week two of those one-shots loom large in my mind.

The first is an example of the perfect tie-in.  It shows us something we never would have seen if we were following a conventional narrative, and offers us something truly different from the norm while still maintaining the tone of the world for which it was created.  That one was Battle for the Cowl: Arkham Asylum.  Written by David Hine, it takes us on a tour of Arkham Asylum, and for once focuses on the less gruesome aspects of the institution.  Jeremiah Arkham narrates the story, not in the usual hard-boiled tone taken by the Gotham crowd, but with sincere sadness that he hasn’t been able to help the inmates. 

While we sense that he is somewhat unhinged himself, he’s an eccentric and an idealist, not the usual film-noir lunatic.  He finds picks a few inmates who pose no threat, and leads them out of the ruined structure.  In the end, before the final, worrying sting, he expresses the hope that he can rebuild the asylum so that it lives up to its name – so that it can be a true asylum for those who are unable to survive in the conventional world.  It’s refreshing, it’s sobering, and it’s creative.

Sadly, I only really got to thinking about how excellent it was while reading Battle for the Cowl: The Network.  Well, now I know something about myself, at least.  Pissiness is a bigger motivator than honest admiration.

So let’s get to it! 

Well, first thing’s first.  Huntress’s costume has been changed back to a glorified bikini.  And why?  Because the promotional poster for the event, drawn by Tony Daniel, has her back in her Jim Lee costume.  I don’t see why this would necessitate a costume change in the actual book any more than the ‘The Real Power In The DCU’ poster would necessitate putting every woman in the DCU in a white evening dress, but I guess that’s how they’re going to play it.

Honestly?  I didn’t even notice the costume change.  A girl fighting crime in a bikini doesn’t catch my eye anymore.  What made me notice was the characters in the story can’t stop picking at the new outfit.  Batgirl, still with a perfect command of the English language, mentions it once.  Oracle mentions it later.  Both talk about how impractical it is.

I don’t know why.  Maybe it’s a jab by writer at a mandated costume change.  Maybe he’s was trying to have his cake and eat it, too, by putting Huntress in a two-piece bathing suit and still snarking about it.  I’m not sure who made the decisions to regress Huntress sartorially. 

I just know that the decision was also made to regress her personally.  When the villain announces that he will start murdering two hostages if the heroes don’t murder one, Huntress pulls her crossbow and is about to take a hostage out when Batgirl knocks her aside.  This is the deal-breaker for me.  Cass is back on the moral high ground, but she had to knock Helena off it to get there.  Never mind that in continuity we haven’t seen Huntress kill in years.  Never mind that we’ve never seen her kill that casually.  In the end, the plot of this book involves the worst mistake a team book can make: cutting off one character at the knees to make another character look good.  That’s never the way to go.

In short: Buy Battle for the Cowl:Arkham Asylum.  Leave Battle for the Cowl: The Network on the shelf.  And stop making women fight in swimwear.

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8 comments to “Compare and Contrast”

  1. I really liked the Arkham Asylum story, and I really hope they continue it in some manner.

    As for the “Helena MIGHT kill” thing, I think that moment was made for people like me, who don’t read her regularly, but know vaguely she’s the rough rebel who struggles with justice due to the JLU series and other guest appearances. It goes back to the character regression thing David was talking about earlier. I think it happens because writers or editors want guest stars to have something unfamiliar readers can connect with, or more realistically, it’s easier to dig up an old conflict than to recognize a character’s moved beyond it.

    Oh hey, Jason is pretending to be a Batman that kills. That’s neat.

  2. I do believe Huntress was going to kill Prometheus when he was, you know, suffering from cerebral palsy. That’s kind of why she hasn’t been asked onto the Justice League ever again.

  3. It was Tony Daniel’s decision to put her back in the Jim Lee costume for Battle for the Cowl event. He wrote it AND pencilled it. When asked on his blog why he went for the Jim Lee costume, he responded with…

    “Um let’s see – the Huntress I went to Jim’s design for 2 reasons, the first is I feel it is sexier and she pops more. The other costume is too much black, which is fine, but in the book there’s so much black already. And I like showing some skin when I can. I’m having a blast with all the female characters that I’m now getting a chance to handle. Women are easier to draw than men (for me) so I just have a great time whenever they’re featured.”


    My guess is Fabian’s snarking at Tony (They worked together back at Marvel Comics…and judging from his comments on his Q&A at the DC message boards, he’s in the habit of doing that to Tony).

    But yeah, I can see why Helena fans are pissed. Having the other characters pick on Helena for Tony’s decision has to sting.

    This Cass fan though is rather happy since nine out of ten times, it’s Cass who gets the short end of the stick in terms of characterization. This wasn’t perfect, since she’s rather chatty, but it’s the best we’ve seen of her in a few years. Unlike Helena, Cass really can’t afford to go through any more writer abuse. Hence why I’m not too worried for Helena’s character. She’ll bounce back the next time we read about her.

  4. This type of stuff goes on all the time in the Batverse.
    Example 1: Batgirl after One Year Later, she goes from finding out who her mother is and shunning being the “chosen one” of Ra Al Ghul’s League of Assassins to being a crazed killer of hire and a poor man’s Elektra. After she’s saved you have most of the Batverse treating he like a leeper, Dick can’t stand her but he’ll go out on a limb for Jericho anyday, Green Arrow hates her though he’s never done anything morally questionable. I could go on but really don’t want to. I know DC wants to put Barbara back in the costume and that’s fine even though she’s alot more useful as Oracle than she ever was as Batgirl, but i know they won”t show Cassandra the same respect they’ve shown Wally West and Kyle Rayner when they were replaced by their predecessors. Stop hating on Batgirl DCU. Just because they are serving Kool-Aid doesn’t mean you have to drink it.

  5. “Um let’s see – the Huntress I went to Jim’s design for 2 reasons, the first is I feel it is sexier and she pops more. The other costume is too much black, which is fine, but in the book there’s so much black already. And I like showing some skin when I can. – Tony Daniel”

    That’s from Tony Daniel’s blog on the new Huntress costume. I’m pretty sure Fabian was just taking jabs at editorial mandates with the characters commenting on the costume since it’s obviously Daniel’s idea.

  6. You could maybe try justifying the swimsuit as a stylistic choice to be more iconic & recognizable. But we’re talking about the Huntress here. Iconic she is not (no offense). None of her outfits really “pop” on the page as Daniel says, the bikini is just skeezier is all.

    Plus it’s just gotta mess with her tanlines something awful.

  7. I noticed Huntress’s new costume, too. It’s kind of dumb that she went back to it, particularly considering the fact that the stomach is a tempting place to put a knife or a bullet. “It’s sexier” is dumb, too– what’re we, twelve years old, hoping to find a bit of skin on scrambled PPV? Leave the Red Shoe Diaries shenanigans on Showtime or whatever. The redesign with the midriff covered was fine.

    Overall, though, I found Asylum and Network to be the best of the BftC tie-ins, if only because they weren’t terrible or offensively bad. I still found them pretty bland, but Network probably has the most legs. It could end up being a Neo Birds of Prey if done right.

  8. You left out several important items.

    1. Cass is WEARING ***Helena’s*** Bat[female] costume. The one Helena created wore when *she* was the terror in the night for post-cataclysm Gotham’s outrageous criminal element. The one Bruce took away from her. Cass probably doesn’t even know that, so it’s even more grating.

    2. Helena picked out what she felt was an acceptable target, a convicted murderer. He turned out to be innocent in one of those most annoying plot-knots I see used by weak writers all the time. Right or wrong, she’s always been about being efficient in order to save lives. To pretend that’s not a facet of her personality, whether she acts on it every time or not, is ridiculous. People don’t change, except in badly-written comic books.