The Court of Owls was written by Scot Snyder, with Greg Capullo as the penciller, Jonathan Glapion as the inker, and FCO, as the colourist. It was originally released in 2012, as part of the New 52 series, and collects Batman #1-7.
This review is SPOILER FREE
What do I need to read before this?
Nothing! You are good to go with this as your first foray, if you want to. I’ll always recommend Year One, or Zero Year, as the best intros, but there’s nothing to stop you.
What do I need to know before reading?
Again, not much. This does a great job of giving you any information you need, which I’ll talk about in a little bit.
The plot begins by introducing us to one of the most important characters in this book, that of Gotham City. It established Gotham as we know it, as a city of crime and violence, but also as Batman’s city, and how Gotham and Batman are intertwined as one within in t consciousness of the common Gothamite. Regardless of the larger Court of Owls ploline, the writer makes an effort to, however briefly, show Batman battling the crimianls he battles on a day-to-day basis. This makes it feel as though being Batman is a full-time occupation, much like that of a MA student, there’s always something to be done. Essentially, he’s not just sitting round in the Batcave waiting for a call, he’s out there day in day out, fighting the good fight, not only as Batman, but also as billionaire Bruce Wayne.
One of the plotting aspects that is most successful in my eyes is how the writer handled the plot twists. Just off the top of my head I can think of three which really knocked me though a loop, giving it that detective-novel vibe, that we all need in a good Batman story. It seemed even when a plot twist was slammed into your face, you’re still left to ponder exactly what it means, and how everything ties together, so you still have to do a little ebit of work yourself.
The third aspect is one that I briefly mentioned before, and it’s the inclusion of high technology. Batman is not a superhero, not in the traditional sense, he doesn’t have what you would traditionally consider to be superpowers. So, unless you count extreme brooding as a superpower, he is a vigilante, and as a result has always shown a dependence on technology. This is the first Batman collection I’ve read where I’ve really appreciated the leap in technology shown. At the beginning he’s testing out some new tech, which includes facial recognition, and ends up introducing us to the Bat-Family, very helpful if you don’t know your Drake from your Dick. This was why I said earlier, that you don’t really need any prior knowledge.
Speaking of Dick Grayson, current Nightwing, I’ve probably mentioned in other reviews that I love his character. I have yet to read anything focused solely on Nightwing, so my knowledge comes from his cameos, and from Batman: The Animated Series. His role in Court of Owls is small, but significant, and leads me to wonder whether his role will get bigger in the next installment, City of Owls. He’s snarky, and always game to call Bruce out on his bullshit, of which there is plenty, which is how it should be.
Unsurprisingly Bruce is the protagonist of the story, and this is pretty much the standard Bruce you expect him to be. Which is fine. Unlike in Zero Year or Year One he’s already established as Batman prior to the beginning to you may think that there’s a lack of a learning curve… well, think again. Bruce starts the book with this whole Gotham is… monologue, and it’s interesting to take a moment by the end of that 7thissue to see exactly how that has changed. It’s a bit of a slap in the face for him.
If you ignored my advice, and have never read an origin story, then fear not because we have two flashback. The first is very brief, no more than a two=page spread that expands on the classic, ‘I will become the thing I fear’ imagery. It does take it a little further, to incorporate the antagonist which was super cool, and ensured that it didn’t feel as though they were trying to fill some spare pages. Also, we get another story from his childhood, emphasizing the mythology of the Court of Owls, and this story explains a lot of his bull-headedness regarding them. Yes, Bruce is usually a bit single-minded, but at least this time he has a fully realised reason for his particular behaviour.
You can probably guess from the title, or the synopsis that The Court of Owls are not here to become new best friend with Batman. In the interest of keeping things 100% spoiler free, I can’t really talk about motivations, and all those fun villainous things. So, here’s what I can say. The Court of Owls are awesome. They’re just a really cool villain. The book all together is around 180 pages, and that’s including some sketches, script, and cover art at the back of the books. Not very long, is it? But Snyder manages to build this really convincing mythology around them, that includes an extensive backstory. He tries to convince you that this is not a new villain, that this villain has always been a part of Gotham, and boy, does he succeed.
Regardless of the mythological aspect, there’s also the physical one, which is represented through the character of the Talon. This is the single guy you’ll commonly see in the art, and who’s involved in some amazing fight sequences with Batman. The violence can get a little gross sometimes, reminding me of Arkham Asylum, though it’s doesn’t quite go that far. But it’s not for the squeamish, and it’s not for the younlings.
The technical stuff…
If you read my graphic novel/ comic review, you’ll have probably seen my whole I’m-not-an-artist disclaimer, and this time I’m not actually going to talk about the art. The art is great, though Lincoln March, mayoral candidate, looks almost a carbon copy of Bruce. No, there were two interesting aspects that I wanted to discuss.
The first is the page layout. 97% of the book follows your regular comic layout. Nothing to see here. However, during a very trying time for Batman, the layout rotates, and then rotates again. Now the first time I read this I wasn’t too impressed. However, this time, I think I really understood the point of this decision, and what an excellent decision it was. It works to disorientate you, the same way that Batman is disorientated at this point. I kept having to remind myself which way to turn the pages, just as he has to remind himself which turns to take. I loved it, and I would love to see more of it, so long as it’s used in this clever way, and not just for the sake of it.
The second element is the lettering used for the Talon’s dialogue. I believe this is down to Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancout, both of whom are credited as the letterers for the comic. It works brilliantly in contrast to all the other styles to really emphasise how alien this creature is. The raggedy look of it, makes me hear his voice as almost rusty with disuse, which then feeds into the whole concept, and backstory of the Talons.
And with that I’ll leave you with this infamous rhyme…
“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”
Have you read The Court of Owls, and if so, what did you think? What’s your favorite New 52 storyline? What’s your most recent review, leave you’re links down below!