Monday, January 9, 2012

Batman: Court of Owls

I use to read a lot of Batman titles. Robin, Batgirl, Nightwing, Birds of Prey, ect. Eventually things changed and I began just reading only the main titles. After Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee's famous Batman: Hush storyline, it became a struggle to find a new defining creative team for the character. Luckily Grant Morrison came in and worked his usual insane magic. I've really just been following his work on Batman, Batman and Robin, and then Batman Inc. When the new 52 line of comics began, I was going to continue reading Batman and Robin until Morrison came back to finish up his Batman run with his upcoming Leviathan story. I also picked up issue #1 of the new launch for Batman, curious and willing to give the first issue a try and see why people where raving so much about Scott Snyder. I've since dropped Batman and Robin -- the storyline there was just moving far too slowly, and without clear explanation about things. As for the regular Batman book? I decided to keep on it until issue #6, for one reason: The Court of Owls.

I don't know what it is about the concept for this new group of villains for Batman -- maybe it just strikes the right cord about secret organizations and conspiracies, wrapped up in an Owl theme.

Or, it could just be the invented children's rhyme used to explain the myth about the Court of Owls in Gotham. Supposedly an urban legend (A real urban legend. Not like that Batman fellow!), the Court of Owls are supposedly a secret organization that has watched over Gotham for centuries.

"Beware the Court of Owls, that watches all the time, ruling Gotham from a shadow perch, behind granite and lime. They watch you at your hearth, they watch you in your bed, speak not a whispered word of them or they'll send the Talon for your head."

A pretty evocative rhyme, huh? That rhyme alone sparked my imagination, and prompted me to read further into the series.

Batman has run afoul a mysterious figure claiming to be the Court of Owl's personal assassin, dubbed "The Talon". Batman isn't one for just buying into rumor or superstitions - he just figures this is someone using the myth about the Court of Owls to target and kill certain people. Bruce Wayne unenviably is on the Talon's hit list.

While Batman steadfastly refuses to believe there is such a thing as the Court of Owls - the evidence keeps piling up. Even in Bruce's own family history -- his great, great-grandfather Alan Wayne, who near the end of his life suffered from aggressive senility, became obsessed about birds. He claimed they where conspiring against him, and eventually he was found running in the streets in his nightgown, claiming that they where everywhere - their nests all around and even in his home. When found by the police they turned away for a second, and Alan Wayne fell down an open manhole to his death. The police don't even know wether he had jumped or had been pushed.

One of Alan Wayne's final words that night had been him warning that they where coming; that the 13th hour was coming. Taking this clue Batman stumbled upon a rather large piece of the puzzle. You see, Alan Wayne had been the person who had built and owned a number of buildings in Gotham. Superstition, fear of the 13th floor, was common-place. Buildings would simply skip the 13th floor, and go from 12 to 14. A space was still built inbetween those floors, supposedly to trap all the bad luck. Batman went to all of these locations, and was shocked by what he discovered. Every building, hidden in that tucked-away 13th floor, was a base of operations for the Talon. Building after building, lairs where found dating back to 1891 and all the way to 2006. These places where the nests of every succeeding generation of the Talon. Finding Batman having stumbled upon his lair, the Talon blew the entire floor of the building up, nearly killing Batman.

Still, after all this, Batman refused to believe in the Court of Owls. It's revealed in issue #4 that, after his parents where murdered right in front of him, a young Bruce Wayne began his first investigation, because he was convinced that the Court of Owls must have killed his parents. Making connections, a conspiracy to kill them, was comforting to this young boy - his mind attempting to create structure to his now shattered life. Even though very young, Bruce was determined - and even nearly lost his life when he accidently became trapped in a building he had thought might be where the Court of Owls are. That one case taught Bruce a very important lesson for being a detective: Never let emotion drive an investigation. After being saved by the police, Bruce accepted that the Court of Owls was merely a myth.

Batman still believes the Court of Owls are a myth. Investigating further Batman was once again attacked by the Talon, who was able to smash Batman's head right against the wall. Batman awoke to find himself in a large maze, with a screen showing people with owl masks, welcoming Batman to The Labyrinth!

The story and writing of Scott Snyder is simply gripping. Greg Capullo's art gives an otherwise serious story energy and fun, but while not loosing the dark mystery of the story.

It makes you wonder, also, why the idea of Owls haven't been used before in Batman stories. Apparently Owls hunt Bats. What I once thought at first was going to be a cool new cadre of villains are turning out to be Batman's worst threat ever. This isn't ending at issue #6, and I'm onboard for the ride. Shows you what trying one issue can get you?

Starting with issue #7, the Batman title is going to feature a back up tale, with a price of 3.99, only a dollar more. I don't really like having needless content being added to each issue - but it looks like DC has realized they have a bonafide hit on their hands. So the Court of Owls is expanding into a crossover event - "Night of the Owls". The backup tales in each issue are going to explore the history the Court has had in Gotham over the centuries. Snyder is going to be writing those stories, with Rafael Albuquerque on art. Here are some sketches by Albuquerque:

So while it's going to cost a little more, I'm sticking around until this Owls storyline is over. I do hope reading just Scott Snyder's Batman series will be enough, and won't force you into reading too many chapters in other series.

Still, I'm pretty happy to see that this storyline is getting the attention it deserves. I think Batman is DC's best selling of all the 52 titles. I just hope it doesn't cross-over into too violent a territory. Scott Snyder wrote some pretty disturbing Batman stories, with cannibals, before the relaunch. Those stories where apparently very, very good - getting rave reviews all around; but it seemed like far too mature a subject to see in a Batman comic. I blame the editors for that. So far the Court of Owls storyline has an acceptable, and less disturbing, level of violence. So for me trying that first issue #1 was a risk. But it's happily turned out to be a risk worth taking.

I only wanted to caution you about that, seeing as I recently voiced a problem with DC and violence. Yet I don't want to undercut how impressive and fun this storyline has been! Snyder creates a living world for Batman to occupy, with detail and explosive action you'd come to expect from DC's premiere Super Hero. Even before hearing the official announcement for "Night of the Owls", I was excited about this story - and I absolutely loved this tagline DC's 52 Sneak Peeks:

"Every generation of the Court of Owls employs its own assassin - always called the Talon. The Talons live their lives in their nests, waiting for orders. They only take orders from the Court, who remain faceless to them. And on a single night in Gotham, generations of Talons will attack."
-- Scott Snyder

This year, Batman will discover that the city he has fought so hard to protect... was never his at all.


  1. What a fantastic description it is! I love batman and it's characteristics.

  2. Nice review! I can't wait for #6!