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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review: Batman Volume 1: The Court of Owls

Gotham City has always been Batman's city. He's said so himself, and rightfully thinks so. As Vicki Vale has noted pre-New 52, Bruce Wayne owns Gotham at day, and Batman owns it at night. That is, until a mysterious cabal known as the Court of Owls begins to rise up from the dark recesses of Gotham City. This diabolical group, which uses owls as their calling card, employs a deadly assassin known as the Talon, who has began to target various persons of note in Gotham City, including Bruce Wayne! Who is behind the Talon's mask? Who are the Court of Owls, and do they really even exist, as Batman had decided against? And finally, is anyone safe from their reach?

This graphic novel, written by fan-favorite Bat-scribe Scott Snyder, is the first Batman collection of the New 52. For those of you who don't know, the New 52 is the array of titles that DC Comics started producing after they rebooted all of their comic books to issue number one after the Flashpoint event. This decision was met by much criticism, as according to the execs over at DC Comics, the entire superhero community has only been active for about five years in-universe. This strains the versatility of Batman's long and rich history, what with various events such as Knightfall, No Man's Land, and Grant Morrison's entire Batman saga, the last of these three being apparently the only one of the aforementioned story arcs that actually happened in the new continuity. But I digress.

To begin with, this first collection is a stellar example of what could be done with the New 52. It artfully tells the story of not just Batman, but of Bruce Wayne as well. It showcases Bruce's civic minded side, as he collaborates with mayoral candidate Lincoln March to build a better, safer, stronger Gotham. I'll also give Scott Snyder points for writing a genuinely good mystery story. He weaves the plot expertly, probably winging it on the details of the forensics that Batman uses, but I'll give him credit for at least making it look convincing. And the characters, they're all good here. Everyone from Batman to Nightwing to Commissioner Gordon is portrayed finely, in both senses of the word. By that, I mean that I also love the art. It has an organic, vibrant feel to it that makes the story come alive.

But, there were some things I just did not like about this book. Let's start with the villains. The Court of Owls and the Talon... ugh. Aside from being decidedly creepy, the Court of Owls are pretty one dimensional as villains. From what I understand, their only motivation is being evil for evils sake. True, they may see Bruce Wayne/Batman as a threat to their power, but we don't really get that from this reading. The Talon is almost as bad, being little more than an interactive punching bag for Batman. He's more arresting than the Court itself, and it's interesting to see an actual physical threat to Batman, I'll give him that, but I'll take Two-Face or the Riddler any day. That's the problem with these New 52 titles. They all seem bent on introducing new villains every several issues, instead of relying on the endless cache of old villains and making them good. That's something that Gotham Central did excellently, and I'd like to see that continued in newer works.

But wait, remember what I said about our villains being decidedly creepy? Well, I meant exactly that. I don't care what it is about Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder's and even David Hine's pension for creepiness and trippyness that so many fans find endearing, I will say it once and I will say it now, I don't like it. I do like a good Batman mystery, but does it have to be as twisted as we see here? There's lots of blood and disturbing imagery, so I believe I can safely say that this book is not for kids younger than fifteen. If you think I'm blowing a gasket now, wait until I review Batman: The Black Mirror, also written by Scott Snyder.

One last complaint I have is Batman's skepticism about the existence of the Court of Owls. There's a great level of detail given to why he harbors these feelings, including a lengthy flashback scene, but I just don't buy it. He's seen first hand the Talon and their secret bases, uncovering a conspiracy that stretches all the way back to the days of his great-great-grandfather, Alan Wayne. He's supposed to be the World's Greatest Detective, and he just can't see what's right in front of his nose. And then he just decks Nightwing. I know he's recovering from a massive mind-mangle, but really? And how was that supposed to jar loose that one particular tooth? And a contact lense that's actually a computer? Is Snyder suddenly ripping off Eoin Colfer? I understand that Bats has the most high-end tech around, but that's kind of pushing it.

In the end, Batman Volume 1: The Court of Owls is a flawed, but serviceable Batman story. It nicely begins Batman in the New 52, and I am kind of interested in looking into the next few Batman trades covering the Night of the Owls event. It sure succeeded in grabbing my attention at the very least, that's for sure.

RATING: 8/10

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