The Court of Owls: A Return to Batman’s Detective Side
The New 52. Oh, most dreaded of reboots. I fear to touch thee, lest I be infected by the new age of senseless retcons!
Ok, I might be exaggerating a bit. But that’s how I was when it came to The New 52 for a long time. I don’t like retcons. I don’t like reboots. I think they’re terribly lazy shortcuts for writers who don’t want to take the time to know all of the canon of their material (which, let’s face it, is pretty much all of them). The DC universe has been particularly bad about retcons, even in the Batman universe, changing their minds no less than three times on whether or not the killer of Bruce Wayne’s parents has a name. So, in a typical boy-ish comic book fan way, I was determined to boycott the reboot, and stick to reliving Year One, Knightfall, and A Death in the Family over and over again.
Then I took a peek and my walls came crumbling down. Why? Scott Snyder, that’s why.
To understand what it is that makes Snyder so great, you have to read the first two volumes of his work, which tell the story of the Court of Owls. The first, which collects issues 1-7, is what got me hooked. And it got me hooked for three reasons: originality, grittiness, and detectiveness.
Okay, so that last one probably isn’t a word, but stay with me here.
The Court of Owls begins slowly, with a John Doe murder and old Gotham mythology creeping into the story slowly. It showcases Batman, and really Batman alone, with Robin’s (Damian Wayne) appearances mostly relegated to the Batman & Robin comic. As the story unfolds, we learn more about the old nursery 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 about them, or they’ll send The Talon for your head.
Creepy, right? It gets even creepier when The Talon himself shows up for Bruce’s head. Bruce, up to that point, keeps denying the existence of the Court, even amidst overwhelming evidence that points to their existence. Dick Grayson shows up in the story several times and tries to knock some sense into Bruce, but it takes him a while to get it.
But it’s not just that plot that makes the story interesting. It’s the fact that Snyder weaves it into Bruce’s past and the city of Gotham, the latter being an element that has been all too often missing from some of the Caped Crusader’s more modern stories. It’s that his Batman is a world-class detective first and a vigilante second. It’s that the Court of Owls is an entirely new villain, and is pulled off with chilling results. It’s that the dark vision of Batman still somehow works and still somehow feels edgy years after Frank Miller and Alan Morrison have stopped writing Batman.
It’s that Snyder is a phenomenal story teller.
This is a good story. It’s a good reason to get your feet wet with The New 52, no matter how hesitant you may be about it. And it goes to show that, for once, we have a Batman writer who can show originality with the character without slaughtering his entire canon. That’s refreshing. That’s very refreshing. ~ Logan Judy: Extremis Batman Contributor
Story I Read: Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls
Rating: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great picture of Batman’s detective side, believable dialogue, terrific new villain
Cons: Nearly total absence of Robin
Upcoming Review: Batman Vol. 2: The Night of the Owls