Comicscape: Batman: The Court of Owls- Wrap Up -

Comicscape: Batman: The Court of Owls- Wrap Up

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Comicscape: Batman: The Court of Owls- Wrap Up

Once Upon a Time in Gotham

By Joel Rickenbach     July 25, 2012

We’ve all got Batman on the brain, whether it’s for reasons of geek elation or real world sadness. Pushing past the noise of CNN or Fox News, us geeks have been presented with a vision of Batman that takes the character to new places, and makes no apologies along the way. The opinions of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises run the gamut of love and hate. Regardless of which side you fall on, you can’t deny the ambition on display. Nolan has crafted a Batman, a Gotham city, that at the end of the arc, is most certainly all his own. Many fans cry foul when the films don’t follow the comics, whether it’s story beats or character motivations, but an understanding that this is one storyteller’s interpretation is paramount. In my opinion, Nolan has stayed true to what the core of Batman is. He used some classic Batman tales (Knightfall, No Mans Land) to fuel his vision, and ended up in a place unique to the world of Batman.

With the launch of DC Comics’ New 52, Writer Scott Snyder had the chance to put his own unique vision of Batman forth, and his epic story of Gotham city has finally wrapped up. The Court of Owls has introduced a new mythology to the Batman universe, one of secret societies, reanimated dead and implications of a much more dark and complicated history for Gotham city and the Wayne family. Snyder built his new labyrinth in the first eight issues of the Batman re-launch, before the story exploded to all the other bat-titles in the Night of the Owls crossover (covered in this previous Comicscape column). The climax and revelations came in Batman issues #10 and #11, and have had fans abuzz ever since. What follows below will be a spoiler filled look at how The Court of Owls wrapped up. If you have yet to read this story arc I highly recommend you do, even though I will have some grievances to air below. Once you’ve taken the plunge, come on back and let us know your thoughts, this is the new foundation of Batman after all.

I gushed about all this in my Night of the Owls column, but Snyder’s continual love and understand of what makes a city a living breathing character is phenomenal. It’s the best part of his establishing arc. We learn as much about Gotham as we do anyone made of flesh and blood.  Another of Snyder’s triumphs is his almost manic attention to detail. Nothing we read or see is by chance, everything has a very well calculated reason (sometimes maybe too well, but more on that later). From the nature of Owls and Bats, to the architecture of the city, has been carefully placed on his chessboard. Each move he makes brings another connection or reflection to light, and makes the reader marvel at how much thought has gone into this story.

Speaking of the story- the events are put into motion when Bruce Wayne unveils his plan to reshape Gotham for the future. Mayoral candidate Lincoln March supports Bruce’s vision, and revealed to be an orphan himself, is also a kindred spirit. These plans do not sit well with The Court of Owls- a Centuries old secret society that has been rumored to control Gotham from the shadows. Supposedly made of Gotham’s wealthiest families, with secret lairs hidden in the very architecture of the city, the Court has been made legend by a nursery rhyme that ever child in Gotham knows. The legend, however, is all too real. The Court has been kidnapping children and circus performers for decades, training them as their assassins, known as Talons, and giving them life beyond death. The Court sends their top Talon, William Cobb, to dispose of Bruce Wayne. The Talon strikes while Bruce is meeting Lincoln March atop Wayne tower. Bruce defeats William Cobb, but when he goes to investigate further, is captured by the Court, and forced to survive in the Court’s underground labyrinth for days without food and water. Hallucinations ensue, and secrets about his ancestor, Alan Wayne, are revealed. The Court has sentenced Bruce to die; glad to display his remains with all the other victims from over the years. Inspired by his ancestor and his pledge to Gotham, Batman once again defeats William Cobb, and escapes the Court’s judgment.  This prompts the Court to unleash their fury- activating all their Talons (in stasis until needed) to dispatch almost every major person of influence in Gotham. This is where the Night of the Owls crossover comes in. Each Bat title deals with a Talon trying to assassinate a prominent Gotham figure. Structurally this is a great idea, each tie-in book has a very good reason to be included, and they all start with the same opening- Alfred sending out the call to arms. It really gave all the books a connected feel, unfortunately most of the crossover books are not of the same quality as the core Batman book, and in the end most feel a bit pointless. You could streamline your reading to just a few of the tie-ins and the core Batman book, and be just fine story-wise.

Before I get to the conclusion of the story, I do have one big gripe to address. The Talons, most of which are reanimated from other time periods of Gotham’s history, talk… a lot. Their look is creepy and menacing, and that’s really enough. A stone-cold, merciless killer is a chilling thought, but when they start spouting super villain style dialogue and cringe worthy rejoinders, it just takes the threat right out of them. A random word or repetition a’la the Predator would have done wonders. I wouldn’t mention it if I didn’t think it was a real problem; it literally takes the wind out of the sails from quite a few scenes.

On to the conclusion- Batman #10 & #11- MAJOR SPOILERS- Lincoln March, thought to be dead at the hands of a Talon during Night of the Owls, is actually a Talon himself. In fact, he’s the most important Talon to the Court of Owls, as his public persona of Lincoln March has been groomed and positioned to give the Court a public figure to put forth their agenda. Not to mention an opposite number to Batman. Lincoln has other plans, and poisons the court during an emergency meeting after the events of the Night. Batman, unravels who is on the Court, but arrives to find them all dead and Lincoln March waiting. During their fight, the other shoe drops- Lincoln, removing his Batman-like helmet, reveals himself to be Batman’s younger brother- Thomas Wayne Jr. Martha Wayne was pregnant with Thomas Jr. when the Waynes were in a terrible car accident, which forced Martha into early labor. Thomas Jr. was born with complications due to the crash, and was put into the best hospital money could buy. He spent his days at the Children’s Hospital, anonymous, until one day when he was 4, Thomas and Martha Wayne were murdered. The truth of who he was had been lost, until the Court, aware of his bloodline, found him. Bruce obviously doesn’t believe it, and a battle worthy of a comic book final act ensues.

This is where my problems really begin. I like the idea that Lincoln may or may not be Bruce’s brother; it’s questionable, but intriguing. However, the actual fight almost breaks the story for me. Lincoln, with his jetpack equipped Owl suit, literally has Batman on a rope as he flies through the city pointing out places and things as they pertain to his mania. The idea is grand- use Gotham’s landmarks to draw out Lincoln’s past, and his hatred for Bruce, but flying around with a Jetpack? Really? Unfortunately, it gets even more over-the-top- Lincoln then flies up to a passing airplane and tries to toss Bruce into the jet engine. Planes travel at hundreds of miles per hour, yet Lincoln can keep up, and even have dialogue with Bruce in the face of wind and a jet engine? So how does Batman get out of this predicament? He previously placed a small explosive device on Lincoln when we wasn’t looking… Boom. It’s not the first time that gag has been used, and it won’t be the last, but a story this grand deserved better. But wait, it’s not over! After Batman falls back down to Gotham, using his grappling hook to swing into Wayne tower (which was pretty cool), Lincoln is waiting for him. He pontificates while rigging the tower with explosives, but Batman gets the drop on him by jamming his thumbs into Lincoln’s eyes (old gag #2). Batman narrowly escapes as the tower crumbles with Lincoln still trapped inside, raving (old gag #3). Maybe I’m being overly harsh, but I firmly believe in the pact between the storyteller and the reader. As we read we become familiar with a story’s rules. We are willing to accept plenty of things as they are introduced with intelligence, and we trust the writer to use them well. There are limits, however, and they are usually reached in the attempt to make an ending as big and grand as possible. Writers so often err on the side of spectacle, when a smaller, or more personal ending would have been best.

During the epilogue, Bruce has a very heartfelt conversation with Dick Grayson, during which we find out Bruce has done some digging. The evidence is not definitive, but it seems there was a Thomas Wayne Jr., but he died a day after being born due to the injuries sustained in the car accident. Bruce believes Lincoln March and/or the Court of Owls used the fate of Thomas Jr. to create a persona that could manipulate Bruce like none other. Did Lincoln come up with this on his own? Did the court brainwash Lincoln from an early age to believe he was Thomas Wayne Jr.? Or is Lincoln actually who he says he is? These questions will haunt Bruce for a long time to come, and that is a wonderful piece of character depth Snyder has pulled off. However, I do feel that this could have been used to even greater effect. What if Batman, being the detective that he is, already knew this before confronting Lincoln, and used it to deconstruct him, rather than just plant an explosive on him? It would have given their confrontation that last emotional punch it needed, and you could still have Lincoln disappear in an explosion of doubt, leaving Bruce with unanswered questions.

Despite my issues with the climax of the story, I truly give The Court of Owls my highest recommendation. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have proven everyone wrong, and given us a new Batman that is as every bit as compelling as the pre-New 52 incarnation. They have woven this new Owl mythology into the fabric of the Batman universe, and there will no doubt be plenty of stories involving the Court to come. Hell, DC has already announced a Talon stand alone book, it looks like the Owls are here to stay- let’s hope they are always in hands as capable as Snyder and Capullo’s. 
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krakken 7/25/2012 5:45:51 AM



When Bats is hanging on the engine, all i could think of was the scene in the Incredibles about capes.  :)

And I agree with the review.  Great new mythos, but that ending fight blew chunks.

rogue188 7/25/2012 6:33:10 AM

This was the best Batman story to come out in a long while. I agree that the ending was a bit anticlimactic, but it sold me on the Snyder/Capullo team. I can't wait to see what they do with the new Joker storyline come October!

joelr 7/25/2012 8:30:09 AM

No capes!

shac2846 7/25/2012 10:16:31 AM

 Yeah Joel where's the comic listings?

I have gates of gotham and court of owls, waiting for this in trade but have heard it's excellent. 

Also on a side note but still related to comics, I got that Dinosaurs vs Aliens off amazon and thought it was really good. Artwork and story were great although the story was very short but they make note that it is only the first chapter. It is promising, I would check it out, it's only like 13 bucks on amazon and I think it's cheaper through digital download. 

joelr 7/25/2012 12:01:09 PM

Listings are up, I forgot to send them with the article. Thanks for updating the page, Bob!

@shac thanks for the recommend, I shall check it out.

jedibanner 7/25/2012 1:23:37 PM

Where's my post from earlier!!!

Thanks for posting the listing.

shac2846 7/25/2012 2:16:03 PM

 Thanks joel.

MrJawbreakingEquilibrium 7/26/2012 8:54:54 AM

The first half of Court of Owls is already in trade.  But the second doesn't come till the middle of next year I believe. I'm not waiting for the trades of the Joker coming out. Better get on ordering it now since it takes 10 weeks to start by mail, huh?

joelr 7/26/2012 9:23:30 AM

Qusestion- Will any of you be picking up the Talon spin-off book when it comes out?

shac2846 7/26/2012 12:46:33 PM

 Depends. One of the good things about waiting for trades is that you can always find out whether a storyline was good or bad before you put money down on it. If Talon is good, hell yes I'll pick it up, if it sucks hell no.

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