Following the events of Grant Morrison and Tony S. Daniel's 'Batman RIP' storyline, in 2009 Daniel took on both scripting and artwork with the three-issue mini-series Battle for the Cowl. Batman disappeared and it was up to the Bat-Family to figure out which member would take over the mantle of the Dark Knight. Ultimately, the Batman role went to his first ward, Dick Grayson, launching a new era for the Bat line – including several new titles.
Newsarama took a trip down memory lane and talked to writer/ artist Tony S. Daniel, then-assistant editor Janelle Asselin, then Batman group editor Mike Marts, and retailer Matthew Price of Oklahoma's Speeding Bullet Comics. We discuss how the creative team decided Dick Grayson should become the next Batman, if there were other choices on the table, and the overall fan reaction to a new Batman.
Newsarama: Janelle, how did the idea for Battle for the Cowl come about?
Janelle Asselin: This was well underway when I started at DC -- for an event of that magnitude, the planning starts extremely early and while some of the details weren't squared away until closer to publication, a lot of the broad strokes were set in stone by the existing editorial staff and Grant Morrison when I came on board.
Nrama: Tony, how did the opportunity to both write and draw Battle for the Cowl come about?
Tony S. Daniel: Editorial came to me and asked if I was interested in writing a six-issue miniseries called Battle for the Cowl. Of course, I said yes.
We talked about what it would be. The aftermath of RIP, which of the Robins deserves to take the cowl, and they each felt they deserved it. I think only a few days went by when DC decided to make it a three-issue arc instead of six. Maybe six was too much of a risk or maybe it was a timing for the rest of the titles sort of decision.
It was my idea to tell the story from each Robin's perspective: Tim, Dick, and Jason each had their point of view. Each issue was giant-sized, so I had more pages than the traditional 22. The extra pages allowed me enough room to get what I needed into each issue.
Nrama: Who was your favorite character to write and draw?
Daniel: It's hard to say, I love all of them. But I'm a sucker for Tim because of my Teen Titan days. I also loved Jason as the loose cannon. Fans nicknamed him 'Gatman' because of all his guns and armor. I think some of those scenes were my favorite.
Nrama: Did you decide Dick Grayson was going to be the next Batman or was that an editorial decision?
Daniel: That was editorial. Though the relationship I had with the editor, Mike Marts, was a great one. I'm sure he'd have listened if I was passionate about trying another Robin as Batman. Not that I would've succeeded, but as a Grayson fan, I was happy with that decision and I felt it was a step up for him.
I did come to DC with an idea to 'graduate' Dick to a new character and have Tim slide over to be Nightwing.
I forget the name I had given Grayson, but I had sketches of his new outfit and everything. I felt at the time that Dick wouldn't go back to being Nightwing after being Batman for a year or longer, that he'd have leveled up, making him more A list than B list. That was a bit too ambitious perhaps, and DC wasn't persuaded.
I still think it would've been good to try for a year maybe and if it's a hit, then great. Tim would be Nightwing and Damian would be Robin.
Nrama: And Mike, did you know Dick Grayson would be taking over the Batman mantle from the beginning or was there a debate in the bat office?
Mike Marts: I think Dick was always the front runner. There may have been a little bit of back and forth as we got closer to the ultimate decision, but that more or less had been part of Grant's plans all along.
I think that initially there was probably going to be a story arc where Dick was Batman, and that would have taken place in the regular Batman series, but as time progressed and we realized that we had this monster storyline and monster hit on our hands.
The idea of doing a series like Batman & Robin, where it focused on Dick and his new mantle, that kind of came to the forefront. We realized we probably had more than one series on our hands.
Nrama: What went into figuring out what players should be involved in Battle for the Cowl?
Marts: We took a look at the chessboard and all of the pieces that were in play at the time - thinking back, I remember long conversations with Tony Daniel, trying to figure out how we could have each of those characters participate and interact in their own special, unique way. I think for the most part, we succeeded in giving all the important Bat characters and supporting characters their moment to shine in the series.
Asselin: We had a bulletin board in Mike Marts' office (he was the Batman group editor at the time) where I made little Polaroid-type tags for each character we wanted to track. So, it had an image of the character and a white space below with their name, and we could move and rearrange as needed to plan out what we wanted to do.
It was actually pretty cool, although I'm sure there was a digital way, we could've tried to do the same thing. It worked well for our uses! So that way we could make sure we knew where people were appearing to keep continuity working. And that way we figured out who was in the primary Battle for the Cowl miniseries and who would be in the supporting series as well.
Daniel: Every character within Gotham was at my disposal, and with the story being three issues and not six, I couldn't overpopulate the story. I tried to keep the story simple and fun, and not convolute it with too many characters otherwise I would've really expanded that story and widened the scope. I would've introduced a bad guy who had something to gain pitting one against the other. That sort of thing.
Nrama: What went into building up towards the reveal that Dick Grayson would be Batman?
Daniel: I think looking back, it was hinted at with Dick Grayson finding his cause. Realizing that he shouldn't be reluctant to wear the cowl. He sort of went through a 'Hero's Journey,' through the arc, refusing the call the duty, all that.
In the end, there could be no other. Jason was off his rocker and Tim, while the best detective of the bunch, still wasn't as ready for the mantle as Dick was.
Nrama: If not Dick Grayson, who would you want to see as the next Batman in Battle for the Cowl?
Marts: It's a tough call. Most everyone would probably go to Tim Drake. At that point in time, Tim had really put in the hours and has certainly earned it.
You could also have made the case for Damian at the time. Being that he was such a new, controversial character that had arisen and grew extremely popular. So, one of those two.
Personally, I probably would have picked Tim as the next Batman, if not Dick. But Dick was the logical choice, overall.
Asselin: I honestly thought Dick was a great choice to be Batman, and since, ultimately, he ended up being Batman for a good chunk of my tenure at DC, I feel pretty kindly towards his time as Batman.
Tim Drake is by far my favorite Robin (I know, dangerous to make a statement like that) but I don't think his character was at a place to take on the role of Batman, where Dick was. And anyone outside the Bat-family wouldn't really work, in my opinion.
Nrama: Do you think Batman should have disappeared for longer or was it the perfect amount of time for him to return?
Daniel: I think the length of time Bruce was gone was perfect. I remember asking -[then DC's executive editor] Dan DiDio how long Bruce would be out, and he said something akin to "as long as the fanbase can stand it." Dan wasn't afraid to push things to the max.
Nrama: There were a few tie-ins for 'Batman RIP' and Battle for the Cowl - what made you want to include these and from an editing perspective what went into making them all feel connected?
Marts: That's always been a big part of what I did with the different franchises, whether it was Batman or X-Men. Just kind of taking a step back and realizing what an immense and diverse cast of characters you have at your disposal, and we kind of owe it to the readers as publishers and editors to really give them stories showcasing as many of those characters as possible.
For a storyline like Batman: Battle For the Cowl or Batman RIP, we certainly could have just kept it to the very core Batman family, the inner circle. But for something like this, the absence or death of Batman and the way that would affect the extended Bat-family and also Gotham City, it really called for that everything and the kitchen sink approach. Where we try to bring in all the various characters that were connected, whether it was Huntress, Catwoman, the Outsiders, the Birds of Prey, or Knight and Squire - all the different characters that were in play at that time. We felt we owed it to the readers to bring them into the storyline.
Nrama: What was your favorite tie-in, Janelle?
Asselin: I really liked the Azrael miniseries. I thought it was a good read and very nice to look at!
Nrama: The Oracle limited series has become quintessential reading for Barbara Gordon fans. What made the Bat office want to add an Oracle story for Battle for the Cowl?
Marts: She was and always has been a fan-favorite character and so important to the history of Bruce as Batman and with Dick as Nightwing. Showcasing her in her own series was kind of a no-brainer for us at the time was giving her that series to shine.
Asselin: This was another thing planned already when I came on board.
But, I will say, that I thought at the time and think to this day that Barbara Gordon as Oracle is the greatest use of that character. I know that the cause of her being in a wheelchair sucks, and the character certainly deserved better and I know there's a lot of debate around that. BUT! I think there was something incredibly important about Oracle as a disabled superhero, particularly for the disabled community (of which I count myself a member). So, I think part of including Oracle in this way was a nod to how important Barbara as Oracle was to the Bat-family, even while there wasn't really a chance, she could be more directly involved in the selection of Bruce Wayne's successor.
Nrama: What was the fan reaction like towards the reveal that Dick Grayson would be Batman?
Daniel: I think the majority fans either had a gut feeling it would be Dick or were rooting for Dick. He was the popular choice, and probably the reason DC chose him above the others. Though, I think there would've been some really great storylines hashed out with either Tim or Jason if we went a different way. I took over writing Batman as Grant slid over to Batman Inc. and I wrote Dick Grayson as Batman for over a year, up until the 'New 52' came along.
I think the fans' enthusiasm for Dick Grayson as Batman helped carry me and the series to the end. The sales were as strong as when Grant was on the book, and the fan reaction was more than I had hoped for.
To this day, I still have fans coming up to tell me how much they loved Battle for the Cowl, or that it was the book that brought them back into comics. There is no greater compliment for me to hear that. I'm eternally grateful for that support from DC and the fans over those couple of years, it really lifted me as a creator in so many ways.
Nrama: Matthew, from a retailer perspective, do you remember what type of conversations fans were having about the Batman franchise at the time?
Matthew Price: There was a lot of discussion around Grant Morrison on Batman, as there always is around many of their projects. Toward the end and through Battle for the Cowl, who would be the new Batman was a popular topic of discussion. The interest around both projects led to an extremely strong launch in our case for Morrison & Quitely on Batman and Robin. That entire tier of new launches spinning out of this - including Batwoman in Detective Comics, Streets of Gotham, Gotham City Sirens, and Red Robin - drew quite a bit of interest.
Nrama: As a retailer, were you excited for Battle for the Cowl?
Price: Having someone new under the Bat-cowl is always going to generate some interest, so, yes.
Nrama: What sold better, Batman RIP or Battle for the Cowl?
Price: RIP had the better numbers as I recall, but both were solid sellers.
Nrama: Last question, for anyone and everyone: what do you enjoy about Batman: Battle for the Cowl?
Asselin: I think it's a fun story that shows the big players in the Bat-universe coming together in a variety of ways. I think it makes sense for Dick Grayson to be reluctant to step into the big shoes that Bruce left, but that, ultimately, he has a strong sense of responsibility and so of course he will do it if no one else will.
Is it the most groundbreaking story ever told? Maybe not, but it's big and it's bombastic and it's fun and people punch each other. What more do you want in a superhero comic? Also, I think the covers were pretty great.
Battle for the Cowl almost made it into our list of best Batman stories ever - find out what could've possibly beat it by following that link.