This is it, the last week. Only a few more days until “The Dark Knight Rises” is released in theaters, two if you plan on attending a midnight showtime. To continue our celebration of our love of Batman, we’ve looked at some great introductory stories that any Batman fan can appreciate.
Batman has been a staple of American pop culture for going on 70 years now, and in that time, he has been handled by numerous writers and artists and creators. In any Batman story, he is presented as one of three different archetypes of characters, and we’ve examined two of the three so far:
First we looked at Batman the vigilante, working outside the law in the yearlong murder mystery The Long Halloween.
Then, we examined Batman the superhero with multiple allies and an extended comic history in Hush.
This week, our second to last story is one of particular interest because it’s the newest of the ones we’ve looked at and it the completion of it only happened exactly one week ago.
Today, we’re examining the first part of Batman: The Court of Owls, only half of the nearly yearlong story that jump started Batman’s new adventures in the DC 52. In this story, we examine Batman the detective, as his city is taken away from him.
Batman: The Court of Owls
“…My view is, when it comes to Gotham, you don’t know it, brother. It knows you. And the moment you think otherwise, the moment you get too comfortable…that’s when it stabs you in the back. Because above everything, Gotham is…a mystery.” – Lt. Harvey Bullock
Just when you think Batman has a handle on everything, his city betrays him to another.
I’ve been keeping a close eye on this series all year long, ever since DC decided to restart their entire line of comics and do a brand new Batman book. When all new 52 series were announced, there were multiple Batman comics being put out at once. So what set this one apart from the others? And what continues to make this one of the best comics being published now?
And I’m not just discussing superhero; I’m talking comic books of all varieties.
In the first issue, as a jailbreak causes some of his worst villains to be freed, Batman ponders to himself the nature of Gotham through a newspaper poll. Once a week, they’ll ask a citizen of Gotham what they believe Gotham to be. You answer with the framed answer “Gotham is…”. The answers vary from “damned” to “cursed”, “villainous”, “a losing game”, “Two-Face”, “Killer Croc”, “Batman”, and “Batman’s City”.
The quote leading off is from police Lieutenant Harvey Bullock, as he and Batman examine a crime scene where a John Doe is found impaled to the wall. See, what begins as a typical Batman murder mystery turns into something more.
As it turns out, Batman doesn’t own Gotham City like he believed. Bruce Wayne comes to realize this as he’s thrown from the top of Wayne Tower, the largest structure in Gotham City, with his attacker leaping out after him.
These two keystone moments kick off the momentous “Court of Owls” storyline, written by rising comics superstar Scott Snyder. Recently, in the last few years, many of Snyder’s books have been top sellers
or award winning. His independent series, “American Vampire”, has re-established a creepy place for vampires in the modern world. I already plan on delving into it for the first time and sharing my discoveries here in a few weeks. It’s one that I’ve heard great things about and need to check out.
What makes Snyder such a great writer is his ability to weave story plot points throughout the entirety of his issues without you noticing. Since comics should primarily be remembered as a visual medium, it’s easy to forget about that and just write a superhero story. No, that’s not enough for Snyder.
I’ve already read this story three times through, and each time I do, I notice something else, maybe something in the background or a detail on a suit. A new addition to the tale.
Even from the beginning, the knives that Batman and Lt. Bullock pull out of the victim have a symbol of an owl on them. If you read this issue all by itself, it might be something you miss. But as you read further and further, you notice that all the weapons that The Talon uses have these.
“What is a Talon?” you might be asking.
The Talon is the enforcer for The Court, their silent assassin responsible for hurling Bruce Wayne out of a building and surviving the fall himself.
Snyder introduces us to a truly terrifying foe, as slowly, Batman puts all of the pieces together and discovers that for years, going on centuries, The Court of Owls has ruled Gotham. What started out as a mere children’s rhyme, in the same vein as “Ring Around the Rosey” or “Pattycake”, “The Court of Owls” was a nursery rhyme that all of Gotham’s children know. Yet, their presence is very real.
Still, trying to weave in threads of a story a year in the making is impossible unless you have a strong artistic partner. Greg Capullo has been drawing the Batman series for the entirety of its run, but I’m not the only one in saying that I was a little concerned in his transfer as permanent artist. For years, Capullo was the artist on Spawn, and of course, it was totally cheesy and a little overdone at times. Not completely without it’s merits, but not nearly as great as his Batman work.
Whatever he did in between his time drawing Spawn and picking up the pencil for Batman comics was a massive change. His artwork has come alive and is the perfect fit. It’s animated and full of expression, however, when it comes to the darkness of Gotham’s alleyways and the dread that is needed for new Batman villains, he creates that as well.
Don’t believe me? Look at the motorcycle chase in the second issue or look at the entirety of issue #5, as Batman has to survive the trials of the Court’s underground maze running through the city. As you read the issue, you literally have to turn the book around to keep up with the story. While this may seem like a gimmick, because of Capullo’s intense pencils and distorted panels, it creates a downward spiral that takes Batman’s sanity away. Almost as if it’s drawing you in.
So, what threat is The Court of Owls?
It’s true, and it’s been stated, that Batman has one of the best rogue gallery of villains in modern storytelling today. I think maybe a follow-up, 2nd place would be Spider-Man’s foes, but standing at the top of the pile would be Batman’s.
So, how do you follow up on greats like The Joker or The Scarecrow or Catwoman or Mr. Freeze?
Snyder and Capullo, working meticulously, have crafted a group of villains that fits so perfectly in the Batman universe, you almost feel like they truly have been there for years on end.
Again, I think this series answers the problems that many comic fans have. How do you acknowledge what came before without ignoring the present?
Snyder entwines the Court into the very fabric of Gotham. What this story offers us, besides a grand Batman adventure, is a history of Gotham’s creation, one that stretches back centuries. Batman might not be enough to stop them It’s definitely not enough to be contained in this story.
The Court continues their rein.
Added Note: This past weekend, at San Diego Comic Con, a special gift awaited everyone that attended the Batman Panel that talked about the upcoming stories in the next year or so…
“Beware the Court of Owls, that watches all the time
Ruling Gotham from a shadowed 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.”
Next Week: I think you’ll all still be set for more Batman excitement, so we’ll take a look at Batman’s new origins in Batman: Earth One.
In addition to writing for the column “Comic Matters” for the Tucson Citizen website, Bobby Acosta is also a 5th Grade Elementary school teacher, frequenter of local comic book shop Heroes & Villains, and explorer of the importance of comics. He recommends each and every comic he writes about. Contact him at email@example.com
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