Comic Book Review: "Batman: The Court Of Owls"
In the New 52 DC Universe (known as New Earth) all of the superheroes have shown up within the last few years. They are met with suspicion and skepticism by the world. They are at best distrusted and at worst feared and hated by their detractors. Batman is no different. Much like the recent movies, Batman is viewed as an outlaw and vigilante with few in city law enforcement who trust him. He’s come to public knowledge five years earlier and had been an urban legend for five before that. So Bruce Wayne has been Batman for 10 years by the time of the first issue. The first story arc, "The Court of Owls", written by Scott Snyder with art by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion shows us this new incarnation of the Dark Knight Detective.
In Issue 1, “Knife Trick”, we are reintroduced to the dirty, crime-riddled streets of Gotham City, Arkham Asylum, Batman and Bruce Wayne. This revamped Batman sports a new costume: gone are a blue trunks and oval yellow Bat symbol. His suit is a gray Kevlar mesh and the high-tech gauntlets and boots are similar to the ones in the Christian Bale Batman movies, with projectile claws and hidden gadgets. We are introduced to new bat-technologies, such as a techno-disguise mask and contact lenses that are connected to the Bat Computer. This allows the recognition and documentation of people by facial recognition and can be used for eavesdropping.
This New 52 Bruce Wayne is a younger, 21st century billionaire, philanthropist and father. Instead of being wards of the court, Dick Grayson and Tim Drake, are now Wayne’s adopted children, along with his biological son, Damian Wayne (with Talia al Ghul). He holds a gala, at which he announces that Wayne Corp. has been funding Batman for a years. (This helps the believability of Batman: In the 21st century you can’t hide the research, development and manufacturing of huge technologically advanced cars and gadgets without a paper trail.)
There’s a mysterious murder victim who leave the message that “Bruce Wayne Will Die Tomorrow”, and the clues leads Batman on a classic Philip Marlowe/Sam Spade detective case; Shaking down sewer rat gangs for information and brushing elbows with Lincoln March, a political hopefully running for mayor.
In issue 2, “Trust Falls”, it’s Bruce Wayne, not Batman, who comes face to face with this murderer, an assassin known as Talon, as he appears out of nowhere at the top of Old Wayne Tower to kill Bruce Wayne, proclaiming the Court of Owls has called for his death just as they had other members of the Wayne family in the past.
The menacing Talon is very impressive, both visually and in his stoic character. Cloaked in an owl motif costume (very much like a hooded owl ninja), is very Terminator-like: He has no identity. He is possibly ageless, and even survives a 30-plus story drop from the top of a building seemingly unscathed. Killing for the Court of Owls (a shadow organization as old as, or even older, than Gotham city itself. They’re said to control all of Gotham and have ordered the “deserved” deaths of countless people over the years), with an almost religious zealousness.
In issue 3, “The Thirteenth Hour”, we’re given the last moment of Alan Wayne’s life, Bruce’s Great-grandfather, whose death is apparently an assassination by Talon, in 1922.; setting the stage for a string of unexplained deaths within the Wayne family over the last 100 years.
Throughout issues 4 and 5, “Face The Court”, We are also treated to the retelling of Bruce Wayne’s parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne, deaths. Also we are given a look into a young Bruce’s mind as he, hearing the rumors and old legends of this Court of Owls’ vendetta against the Wayne family, is determined to find out if they were secretly behind his parents death. His young detective work leads to a dead end and he concludes that the Court is just and myth and doesn’t exist. This new emergence of the Talon and the Court frustrates him greatly. Yet, he refuses to believe the Court of Owls exists.
Batman, after comparing 100 years of Gotham Architecture and Wayne Foundation financial records, finds multiple towers around Gotham that have hidden safe houses for Talon and after surviving one that was booby-trapped, travels under the city to find the lair of the owls. Talon surprises Batman and imprisons him in a labyrinth of mazes, coffins and drugged water fountain and a wall of pictures of past Court victims. Members of the Court of Owls appear masked in identical owl masks to taunt the hallucinating Batman while he is hunted by Talon, like Theseus vs. the Minotaur, throughout the maze. Showcasing Batman’s altered reality; you actually have to rotate the comic book as you read each page, which adds to the drug-induced atmosphere of the story and to the enjoyment of reading it. You, as the reader, get to experience his hallucinations in a very clever way.
In issue 6, “Beneath The Glass”, In this trippy owl-inspired nightmare of a Lovecraftian caliber, Talon finally corners, stabs, and beats Batman within an inch of his life, before dealing the final deathblow, saying that the court has called for Batman’s death. At the last second, Batman fights the drug and defeats Talon in an adrenaline fueled rage. He uses his superior detective skills to escape. However; he is badly wounded. This shows how mortal Batman is; how he can be outwitted, imprisoned, drugged and nearly killed. It also shows how he can be naïve, inexperienced and definitely not invincible.
Although Talon is defeated, the decrepit elder stateswoman of The Court of Owls, complete with an owl mask, sitting in an antique wheelchair, reveals that there is a whole army of other Talons just waiting to be awakened and set upon Batman and Gotham City. This cliffhanger ends the storyline and set up the “Night of the Owls” crossover storyline into multiple Bat Family titles starting in May 2012.
With the recent Batman movies and video games that have tried to inject a sense of modern realism and a darker emotional tone to the Batman mythos, it is refreshing to be able to go to the source material (the comics) and get that same rich, gritty feeling. The creative team of Snyder, Capullo, Jonathan Glapion have brought this 70 year old iconic superhero in to the 21st century, and made him fresh and relevant to new and old readers alike. This first story arc is a great re-introduction of the Batman character and the world in which he inhabits. It is great for new readers who are unfamiliar with the character or only know him through the recent movies. It’s also gives aged fan a new, gripping story to enjoy and sets the stage for more adventures to come for the Dark Knight.
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