07 February 2010

Behind the Scenes of Battle for the Cowl

As I discussed last week, in 2005 Grant Morrison proposed a Batman storyline that would result in Dick Grayson inheriting the role of the Caped Crusader from Bruce Wayne, with a new character—apparently Wayne’s son—as his Robin. DC Comics signed onto that plan.

Morrison was obviously interested in telling the story of Bruce Wayne taken to his limits, and the story of Dick Grayson taking over. But he wasn’t interested in the transition between those stories. Perhaps he didn’t think much transition was needed. After all, Grayson was the first Robin, and Robin has always been Batman’s natural successor.

DC Comics, on the other hand, saw potential in that shift. Perhaps editors felt the characters would need time to work through their grief at Wayne’s apparent demise. Perhaps they thought fans of Wayne’s other adopted sons and Robins—the second Jason Todd and Tim Drake—would want to see them considered as potential Batmans. Most likely the editors saw a boatload of money to be made from a very special miniseries that could keep fans in suspense about how things would turn out.

The company went looking for someone to script a “Battle for the Cowl”! The first choice appears to have been Judd Winick, who had written Grayson in The Outsiders and scripted Todd’s return from the dead in Under the Hood. But that didn’t work out. Last March Winick told Comic Book Resources:

I was writing “Battle for the Cowl.” I actually wrote the first two issues. And I was very, very ahead of schedule. I knew where things were going to end and I was excited to do it, so I decided to get a jump on it. So I had two issues in the can and was moving along while the other six [related] titles were picking the creative teams and getting going.

But once I sat down with the editors for these books, Mike Marts being one of them, because of the immensity of the story I was writing, we found I was actually mining territory that they wanted to touch upon in the other monthlies. I was burning a lot of fire wood, because those were my marching orders. I was supposed to tell this big, gigantic story of what got us here. . . .

All the characters were going to be represented. And I was robbing, inadvertently, all of this great story from the monthlies. And a lot of their motivations for things they were going to come to and what not, I was covering.

So everyone took a breath and they came back to me and first they said, “We have to scale it back.” And then [DC Executive Editor] Dan [DiDio] and Mike Marts just said, screw it. “We’re going to take 1/8 of the story you are working on, just this part, this part right here, and that’s the part we’re doing for ‘Battle for the Cowl.’ You take the rest of what you’re working on and put it in the [Batman] monthly. But let’s take these elements out, so the other monthlies can have it and go to work.”

And I offered to finish “Battle for the Cowl.” And they were like, “No, screw it. Go keep running with the monthly.” And I was pretty much on fire at that point. So instead of me going back and re-working it, they said, “Let’s give it to Tony. He’s geared up. He’s working on this story anyway. He’s right here.” Because Tony and I were going to do it together. “Let him do that. And you just merrily march forward with the monthly.” Which is what I did.
“Tony” is Tony S. Daniel, who was penciling Morrison’s Batman RIP issues. Three months before Winick’s interview, Daniel had told Newsarama how DC editors had decided to hire him to write and draw Battle for the Cowl:
I was casually talking to [editor] Mike Marts about the story and my thoughts on how great it could be. I consider myself a storyteller, so in my mind I guess the wheels of the story were naturally spinning. And in this case, you couldn’t shut me up.

I mentioned how this could be something really great and not just a stop gap before Grant’s or my return to the title. That we can really get behind the feelings and motivations behind the characters with this. But at the same time thinking this should be “John Woo” style, crazy, epic action. . . .

So after spilling my guts for about 10 minutes about the ideas that were pouring out of my head, I jokingly told Mike that I would gladly accept the invitation to write Battle for the Cowl. Only he hadn’t done that and we both laughed. But I emailed him later after thinking about it more and it was too late. I was ramped up on my second cup of Starbucks and there was no turning back. I asked him to consider it.

Dan DiDio called me after speaking with Mike, and he had liked what he heard. So by then I had been thinking over the weekend more about the story, and at that point, it started to really come together as a story. So I relayed some of the same ideas I told Mike, but much more in depth since I had the advantage of the 48 hours of the story percolating.
DiDio and Marts thus took Winick off the transition story because they wanted to spread the changes over a larger number of titles, and probably a larger number of issues. After all, their job is to sell the maximum number of magazines. Just how many titles and characters orbit Batman can be seen in the pair of interviews Marts granted to yet another comics-news site, IGN, in the same period.

The editors narrowed Winick’s focus, and he produced some well-regarded Batman issues after the transition before moving on to other heroes. Daniel got the tough assignment of pumping out a “Battle for the Cowl” miniseries, both script and artwork, on a fast schedule.

In fact, the need to give Daniel time to work might have been why the final issues of Nightwing and Robin were stretched out. In addition, Morrison ended up writing two more Batman issues after Bruce Wayne had disappeared from Gotham.

That time also allowed a big marketing build-up for Batman RIP, Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert’s elegiac Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, Daniel’s Battle for the Cowl, and a largely unnecessary Battle for the Cowl Companion, collecting stories of other characters’ reactions to the change.

Daniel’s story showed Dick, Jason, and Tim sitting down and talking about what Bruce Wayne meant to them and how they would carry on—No, of course it didn’t! This is the superhero genre. Characters work out problems by hitting things, particularly each other. If they can make long speeches about their values while hitting, that’s fine, but they have to hit.

Daniel’s story consisted of Robin #2 hitting crooks harder than a real Batman should, Robin #3 hitting Robin #2, Robin #2 hitting Robin #3 back harder, Robin #1 getting upset about Robin #3 and hitting Robin #2,… Lest that seem too much to read, last month J. Caleb Mozzocco at Every Day Is Like Wednesday summed up those developments succinctly and completely in three panels, of which this is the first.
Those are Robins #1, 3, and 2. Click on the panel to see how this gets resolved.


collectededitions said...

Very interesting summation of Battle for the Cowl's genesis. I liked the story, though I think it shows Daniel as a writer still in transition; I'm curious to read his later work. And given how momentus Winick's Batman story is supposed to be (at least according to him), I'll be curious to read that also. If only trades were 75 cents ...

J. L. Bell said...

It looks to me like the great majority (7/8?) of what Winick drafted as “Battle of the Cowl” was scrapped, and the rest went into his issues of Batman, focusing on Dick Grayson’s internal adjustment to his new role.

One unfortunate effect of how momentous DC is presenting these developments to be is that most of the collected editions are coming out in hardcover first, for a higher price. But again, the company’s job is to make the most money that it can.

J. L. Bell said...

In yet another interview, Daniel added another detail about his Battle for the Cowl story: “The page count and the fact that each issue was to be told from a different Robin's point of view were part of that set frame-work.”

He also discusses his current working method on a Batman storyline. As both artist and writer, Daniel plots his narrative, then draws it, and finally goes back to write dialogue.