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Friday, July 26, 2013

Review: Batman Volume 2: The City of Owls

When we last left Batman, he was about to face off with a pack of evil-undead-owl-ninjas known as Talons, sent out by the Court of Owls to "take back Gotham City." Wait, that's not quite right. He had just daringly escaped from beating the tobacco juice out of exactly one of those Talons, deduced that Dick Grayson/Nightwing was supposed to be the next Talon via punching him in the face (Bruce punched Dick, not the Talon), and found out that the Talons were, in fact, undead. And now, a posse of Talons have invaded Wayne Manor and the Batcave, and are preparing to return Bruce's favor of beating the tobacco juice out of them. Bruce must not only escape the Talons, but race across Gotham to save the various persons targeted by the Court of Owls, which requires the help of every single member of the Bat-family (resulting in a Bat-family crossover whose trade paperback's review I wrote for Primary Ignition. You can read it here). Even after the Night of the Owls, Bruce's troubles are far from over, a mysterious figure from his past comes to engage him in one final climactic battle! We also get three tie-in tales, each concerning Mr. Freeze, Jarvis Pennyworth (Alfred's dad), and Harper Row (a fan of Batman), respectively, all of which were good.

I had issues (no pun intended) with the villains in The Court of Owls. Here, those gripes are resolved perfectly. The Talons, followed by the latest incarnation of Owl Man, are portrayed as extremely volatile assassins in their manner of speech and action. They're genuinely menacing and hardcore badbutts who present a physical threat to our hero. That's not to say their my favorite villains, but it's always hard to come up with good new villains when we've got such classics such as the Joker, Catwoman, Two-Face, Riddler, Bane, the Penguin and the rest. Either way, I think that the book's writer, Scott Snyder, has a pretty good take on Owl Man (never officially called that, though), with a compelling backstory and a stunning reveal, followed by a long, drawn out brawl that once again demonstrated these villains as a credible, physical threat to Batman. Of course, the greatness of Batman's rouges gallery is that they're all rather... cerebral foils to Batman, who has to use his wits to defeat them rather than pure brawn. We saw a lot of that in the previous trade, but we get the flipside of that here.

There were also a lot of great story and character moments in this trade paperback. Of particular note were the interactions between Bruce and Alfred, Bruce and Dick, and Bruce and Owl Man. My favorite scene is easily the final chat between Bruce and Dick where Bruce places all of his cards on the table and opens up to Dick. It's really touching and heartfelt, and Snyder and artist Greg Capullo both deserves massive props for conveying the emotion of it so well. The character based stories with Mr. Freeze, Jarvis Pennyworth, and Harper Row were all welcome additions to the Bat-canon, though I especially liked the story with Harper because I hadn't seen it before (the Mr. Freeze and Jarvis stories were both reprinted from Batman: Night of the Owls).

On the downside, this story didn't really have much of Batman as the Dark Night Detective in here. We saw a lot of that in the first act, The Court of Owls (Night of the Owls being the second act), but here it's mostly Caped Crusader, with a string of action-packed events occurring at a breakneck speed. That's not to say that those things are bad, it's just not my favorite type of Batman story. I know a lot of the action was also relying on the emotion of the big reveal, but it's not the same if something similar had been done with a more cemented member of Batman's Rouges Gallery. But all of that said, this story develops Bruce in a way we haven't really seen before; his relationship with the city of Gotham City (yes, that is the correct way of saying it, in-comics lines notwithstanding) the city that he has so long thought of as his city.

On the whole, Batman Volume 2: The City of Owls doesn't just match it's predecessor; it exceeds it. It's the fulfillment of the previous volumes, the climactic culmination of the last two trades. It achieves DC Comics' goal of recreating Batman as younger, fresher, and more accessible, even if I would have preferred the reboot didn't happen. Everything about it is excellent. The writing, the art, the characterization... everything. I wholeheartedly recommend that you pick up both The Court of Owls and this trade, and possibly Night of the Owls. I wouldn't call it the next classic Batman story, being put up there with Batman: Year One, Batman: The Long Halloween, and Gotham Central, but it is nonetheless a wonderful piece of work.

RATING: 9/10

Image courtesy of dccomics.com.

Note: I couldn't find an image of the actual cover used for this trade paperback, but since Primary Ignition had to make do with a unsoiled image, I guess I can to.