Comic Discussions: Brubaker’s Cap v Morrison’s Bats #5
By Christopher Franey & Rafael Encinas
After the explosive action of both Civil War and Final Crisis, Grant Morrison and Ed Brubaker continue to unleash their emotive and heart-racing narratives with Battle For The Cowl and Captain America: The Death of the Dream. For the reader’s sake I will be in BOLD font while Rafa will be in ITALIC font. Now we get to delve into the aftermath of all those wild events from our last read so with these tpb we will see in Death of the Dream issues 25-30 of volume 5 of Captain America and in Battle for the Cowl we will get the full three issue mini series along with two Gotham Gazette issues. Luckily Brubaker stays on, but this time we see Tony Daniel go from being the artist to now helming both duties…I wonder if he had any influence from Grant Morrison or not. Alright Rafa take us away!
First of all, considering the expansive and meta narratives that ran rampant in Morrison’s Final Crisis, it is refreshing to delve into the excellence of a more down-to-earth approach to Batman’s legacy. Not as expansive as Batman R.I.P. but just as thematic and important, Battle For The Cowl is a dynamic look into a world, specifically Gotham, without Batman. I love how this trade paperback tells a story centered on the adoptive children of the Wayne Estate, as they battle for the right to take on the mantle and the responsibility of the caped crusader. I love how personal the narrative gets and how each “Robin” gets his moment to shine. Seeing Dick wrestle with the responsibility of putting on the Cowl, exploring Tim’s maturity in understanding the need for a Batman, and watching Jason having something to prove and taking the Cowl for himself are all outstanding moments that really highlights the excellence that is the Batman universe.
Though a smaller read compared to Final Crisis, the magic of this concise narrative is in how it does not need to be extravagant. It is a deeply personal family quarrel. With their adoptive father gone, we see these young men try their best to fill a hole that has been left in both their own personal lives and also the greater world at large. This story is important because it is a foundation to what future dynamics are, and not just in what Morrison’s run will be, but also in what the Batman legacy will be in general. Battle for the Cowl is the catalyst for what allows for future stories to develop and prosper. Without this personal narrative, we do not get Damian’s maturation; we do not get Jason redeeming himself as the Red Hood; we do not get Tim’s growth as his own hero.
Lastly, this story is essential Batman reading because of how it continues to focus on identity. As Morrison did from the very beginning of his Batman narrative in Batman and Son, we see him shine light on Batman’s persona. Is Bruce Batman? Or is Bruce just a part of Batman? As this story has built, Batman is necessary, and it is a mantle that comes with lots of responsibility. And Morrison’s Batman story plays with this concept by taking Bruce out of the equation and implementing the idea of legacy. Battle for the Cowl is the story of Dick Grayson, and how he is forced to step into the role of his father. We have seen his perspective in previous readings from The Great Leap and Last Rites. We know that he struggles with being Batman. He knows Bruce did not want him to do it; how he believed in Nightwing and Robin to blaze their own paths forward. However, we also see a Gotham under fire, and Dick has to do the necessary thing and become the new Batman. It just adds another element to Dick and Bruce’s dynamic, and I love this thematic and symbolic storytelling.
I really enjoyed the points you brought up Rafa and I love how this story is about the growth of the “Bat Boys” and how at that time it really led to them forging their own identity. Tim was in such a flux because of Damian so who would truly be Robin? Jason was back from the dead and could potentially be another Robin the crowd? What was Dick’s direction? This started the Batman Reborn era and really laid out where the boys had their hearts in what life is without Bruce. I feel this is the first time in most of these readings that Tim Drake finally got to shine because he was being a proactive hero again instead of being tempted by Ra’s and the promise of the pits back in Resurrection. Jason had come back just to really be tossed around the DC Multiverse, literally, as he was in Countdown and for a bit was Red Robin there. It was nice to see him take his own path but I still feel the Bat offices didn’t know what to do with him quite yet, but this does lay some great story for later redemption.
Damian really draws the short end of the stick on this one but I didn’t mind back then and I still don’t mind as I know he will get better moments in Batman & Robin later in this series. For me Battle was a great growth for Dick Grayson; it’s like one of those movies where the father dies and the son comes back to a life he left behind and has to run the shop. The responsibility is thrust upon him but he does it; with how he leads the heroes of Gotham and those visiting he jumps into that leader role perfectly which makes sense with his Titans time and how he knows just about everyone in the DCU. The image that Rafa shared from Battle #3 is just perfect as everyone looks to him and some of these heroes have been around or are older than him, but he is the Bat-authority. I just love how he also doesn’t put on the cowl till the very end; he won’t sacrifice himself to save this city and he will still restore both it and Bruce’s Batman. Just such a great story and quick read with it being three issues; my only nitpick would be that in the TPB there are these Gotham Gazette issues that just don’t fit well here…they are good openers and closers for the all of the issues in the complete storyline but they are what they are. This does such a great job of building the hype for the next Batman adventure. Rafa why don’t you start up with your thoughts on Captain America for us.
Ed Brubaker continues to pound in the feels with Captain America: The Death of the Dream. With Steve’s abrupt and shocking death at the end of Civil War, Brubaker ups the ante by not giving us a moment to grieve and instead throws us headfirst into a new chapter of his explosive spy-thriller that feels angry, intense, and intimate. Seeing Sharon try to cope with what Doctor Faustus has made her do and seeing her slowly spiral out of control keeps me invested in her personal trauma. I really liked how she and Falcon joined forces to find Bucky. The scene where A.I.M. agents burn off Falcon’s attire is both fun and something I feel I would see in vintage Arnold Schwarzenegger action flicks. Honestly, this series continues to read like a film, and that really helps it. It continues to be engaging with its action, character dynamics, and twists.
However, the real significance lies in the journey of Bucky Barnes. Like you brought up, Chris, Brubaker’s Captain America story is really the story about Bucky. It is all a wonderful set-piece which allows for Bucky’s redemption, and it is further developed and played upon in these issues. Seeing him struggle with Steve’s death and watching him try to pick up the pieces of his shattered life is harrowing, and Brubaker creates legitimate sympathy and endears the reader toward Bucky’s plight. It is cathartic to see him start his one-man war with both SHIELD and the Red Skull to honor and keep Steve’s ideals alive. In fact, I love how Brubaker incorporated a new element with Natasha’s Black Widow.
The moment we see Bucky and Natasha face off for Cap’s shield was exciting, something you want to feel from reading a comic book. In just a couple of short panels, we see these two “tango” and showcase exactly why they are both agents to fear. In fact, I am just happy that Natasha gets some time to shine. I love how Brubaker really gives her and Sharon some moments to remind the readers exactly how important they are to the Marvel universe. Adding a romantic subplot to this story adds another layer to a story already so rich narrative. It is not too much; it is just the right amount that continues to make Bucky a fully dimensional character. We are seeing him soften from relentless urban legend to actual human being.
And this is the importance of both Daniel and Burbaker’s stories this week; we get to see the prodigal sons, both Dick and Bucky live with the tragic loss of their foundational family figures. DIick loses Bruce. The world loses Batman. Bucky loses Steve. The world loses Captain America. Through this loss, we see how, not just the world itself is shaken to its very core, but how both men are forced to deal with it from both a physical and mental front. These stories really parallel their themes of legacy and identity while at the same time building on the concept of responsibility and how “titles,” whether Captain America or Batman, must endure. We get to see both heroes, Dick and Bucky, have their moments to wrestle with their own personal shortcomings and to ultimately live up to the expectations of two icons in their respective universes. It is truly powerful stuff!
You are totally correct in that manner; like it is easier to see the changes because of the characters. Brubaker started with Steve, Sharon, and Nick only to replace their adventures with Bucky, Natasha, and Sam; with Morrison we will see things go from Bruce and Tim to Dick and Damian. To me that screams so much talent that these writers have as they can change the “secret identity” but they developed so much character that we are excited for their continued adventures. Some of my favorite heroes are Nightwing and Winter Soldier so right now I am on cloud nine with the direction we are heading in.
Brubaker is building this spy thriller with such a slow burn but even that is still too hot to handle. I feel so bad for what Sharon is going through but also I’m so proud of her strength as she manages to play the bad guys while captured. Sam (Falcon) Wilson is such a great voice of reason and I love how he is on both sides of the heroics; he is a registered hero so he is good with S.H.I.E.L.D. and Tony Stark yet still commands enough respect that the underground Secret Avengers still interact with him. Ed Brubaker could write an amazing Falcon story which would be a smart move on Marvel’s part with the upcoming Falcon and Winter Soldier show on Disney+. I also have to say that Brubaker did a fantastic job of writing Tony Stark like this is a man who is haunted and self punishing since he sided with registration; he doesn’t know the full story of what was happening with Cap but he blames himself for all of this.
Then of course the best part of the book, in my opinion is Bucky; Brubaker just keeps building this character up and shoveling on the tragedy. The scene where Buck confronts Crossbones and reminds him that Cap was one of the few friends he has was just so heart break especially after knowing he lost Toro and even himself in a way.
All in all I think both of us had a great week’s worth of comic reading with Battle for the Cowl and Death of the Dream. We are seeing the return and rise of the prodigal son in these stories so rich with character, drama, and action. Make sure to join us next week as we look at Captain America the Burden of Dreams (Captain America vol 5 issues 31-36) and Batman Long Shadows (Batman vol 1 issues 687-691) and always remember to GEEK OUT!
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