Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thursday Review: Batman: The Court of Owls

Old business:  Craig Edwards was the first to answer yesterday's trivia question.  It was Hawkman and Hawkwoman (I also would have accepted the less-PC "Hawkgirl") who fought Byth so he got the $5.  In the random drawing the number generator selected Dr. Laura Diamond for the $1 participation prize.  You can read her excellent story in the Day of Demons anthology here.

Now on to new business:
In the past couple of years I've read a few Batman comics, though all older ones:  the first anthology of 1939-1940 comics, The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns, the Knightfall/Knightsend saga that is in part inspiration for the latest movie, and Batman: Vampire (all three graphic novels in that series were written 5-10 years before Twilight).  I also at one point read the novelization of the "No Man's Land" series.  So between all that and that I love the recent Batman movies, it made sense if I were going to dip my toe into more recent comic book waters to start with the Caped Crusader.

Batman:  The Court of Owls is a compilation of the first seven issues of the "New 52" relaunch where DC Comics basically started each of their 52 books over again at issue #1.  Though it's not really a "reboot" in the sense we aren't starting over with Batman's origin and whatnot.  It's a good thing I had browsed other recent Batman titles on Amazon and read a couple things on Wikipedia and Tony Laplume's Comics Reader blog that helped get me somewhat up to speed on stuff that's happened before this so I knew how many former Robins were still hanging around (3) and who the current one was (Damian Wayne, Batman's son) and that after Bruce Wayne's "death" back around 2008-2009 the first Robin (aka Dick Grayson, aka Nightwing) had been filling in until Bruce's inevitable return.

Anyway, when this begins, Bruce Wayne has decided to revitalize Gotham by building some new skyscrapers and renovating the public transit system and so forth.  The Court of Owls takes exception to this, which they express at the scene of a murder.  The murder victim has a bunch of throwing knives marked with owl symbols stuck in him and in gasoline on the wall is written, "Bruce Wayne Will Die Tomorrow."  So in the second issue, an assassin tries to kill Bruce, but of course he doesn't die because we can't "kill" Bruce Wayne again so quickly, right?  I mean pulling that same stunt twice in less than 5 years would be extremely lame.

From there Bruce begins investigating the Court of Owls, who were a seemingly fictitious group dating from the 1880s or perhaps earlier.  It's said the Court of Owls watches everything in Gotham and if they don't like you, they'll send their "Talon" to kill you.  As you'd suspect, the court is very real and now making its presence felt.

One thing I was skeptical about was that owls don't seem that badass to me.  I mean I knew they ate mice (and apparently bats) but I never really thought of them as overly vicious.  Mostly when I think of owls I think of Owl from "Winnie the Pooh" cartoons.  Eagles or Falcons or Hawks would seem a lot cooler or just a generic Raptors.  But I digress...

Eventually Batman ends up in the Court's "Labyrinth," where the book takes some weird psychedelic turns, mostly because the only water in the Labyrinth is drugged, probably with some LSD-like hallucinogen.  In some cases the book takes literal turns as you have to turn the book sideways to read the page and then later upside-down to read it from right-to-left.  I found that more irritating than clever.

Despite that, this book did hook me.  I definitely want to read a few more issues and to learn more about the Court of Owls.  I'm curious if it turns out this rich mayoral candidate is in cahoots with them.  If so I'll get a little grumpy because my novel deals with a similar subject though really that was also part of "Batman Returns" which was itself taken from an episode of the '60s series which was probably cribbed from a comic book which was cribbed from somewhere else.  So it goes.

Mr. Laplume says the art looks similar to "The Dark Knight Returns" and I tend to agree, though I think the art in this is a little better.  Not that I'm an expert.  Half the time I have to force myself to really pay attention to it because I'm so busy reading the words, which is a bad habit from 20-some years of reading books without pictures.  I will say the parts in the Labyrinth freaked me right the hell out about as much as the last part of the Batman Vampire one where he's a dessicated corpse going around slaughtering villains.  I'm kind of a wuss about that stuff.  It is a good reminder that most comics are not for little kids anymore unless you want to give them nightmares.  Maybe you're a jerk that way.

So there you go, my first comic book review.  I hope I didn't give too many "spoilers".

Tuesday is another Two-Fer that probably will not give your kids nightmares.  I make no guarantees.


  1. I like how you have to turn the book as you get into the section where you are descending into the labyrinth. That's just interesting and uses the format of comic books in an innovative way. Of course, it's probably been done to death in earlier comics, I just have no idea what those earlier comics are.

  2. One thing that comics do which I think scares off casual readers is cling tenaciously to that backstory and history. I thought "New 52" was meant to avoid that and let in new readers -- and now I find that you have to research to know what the heck is going on?

    That problem might be fixed when comics become more an Ipad-y type of medium, where you could have your story but click through to learn more about something if you'd like, making the whole thing a more immersive experience, kind of like how I can on my Kindle go look up things Dickens is talking about to understand his book better.

    As for the Owls thing: I kind of like it. "Eagles" is a football team. Owls are night predators and considered to be wise, plus they square up nicely against bats.

  3. The Court of Owls is basically about a conspiracy of zombies. That's what the Talons basically are. Slightly less brain-dead zombies.

  4. PT, though I love comics, I haven't bought a comic book in years. This is a nice way of catching up.
    - Maurice Mitchell
    The Geek Twins | Film Sketchr
    @thegeektwins | @mauricem1972

  5. Thanks for the prize and for the shout out! :)

  6. Comic books were made for kids? Huh.


    1. Yeah comics were pretty much for kids until about the 70s. Then they started to get into darker territory. At least that's how I understand it. Others might disagree.

  7. I've been hearing a lot about the Court of Owls, so this seems like a good chance to read up. On a side note, I was disappointed that they didn't truly reboot all the characters like they claimed they would. Okay, so Superman is new on the scene, but Batman isn't, although that makes half his stories where he interacted with Superman non-canon...DC is a bunch of wussies.



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