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Batman: The Court of Owls Review (2011, vol. 1) – Starting the New 52 Without Skipping a Beat

batman-court-of-owls-cover Batman: The Court of Owls ReviewThe Court of Owls collects the first seven issues of the Batman (2011) series — the first few issues of Batman after the series-wide New 52 reboot. But, you’d be forgiven about not knowing there was a reboot at all if you just picked this up. In a way I suppose that could be the purpose. It’s not a complete fresh start, everything’s just been moved back to the default. Batman (as with other New 52 leads) has been made about 5 years younger. All of the Robins have served their time next to the Bat. And Bruce Wayne is the Batman, and has been operating for about 6 years. Most of the lore remains unchanged. The New 52 wants you to think of it more as a reset to a comfortable, familiar norm than a reboot per se.

– Images in this review only come from Batman #1 and Batman #2 to avoid spoilers! –

The Court of Owls is a fantastic reintroduction to Batman, too. It’s one of those types of stories that takes elements from the past and reinterprets them into something new. The mysterious Court of Owls are Gotham folklore, and as the Waynes are so deeply rooted in Gotham’s history, so too are they linked to the Court. Sometimes those sorts of stories can seem annoying, as if they’re using the past as a shortcut to try and inject certain feelings and emotions into the story, but everything here feels earned, and natural. Opening the New 52 with Batman examining his past and looking into how its affecting his present seems like a great opening to the new series.

Scott Snyder is no novice when it comes to writing Batman, though this is the first time he’s helmed the main series. His run on Detective Comics, collected as The Black Mirror, is phenomenal. And his co-written mini-series Gates of Gotham was also highly acclaimed, the “mysteries of the past” theme of which is definitely one that’s carried over into The Court of Owls. Snyder seems like a perfect fit for writing Batman, striding into this story like he’d always been writing Batman. And he feels familiar too. This just reads as Batman feels like it should. Not only does he seem perfect for Batman, but his run starting off with something like this is great. Snyder doesn’t just want to write Batman comic books, he wants to tell stories about Batman. This is a story so epic that it spills over into a second volume, The City of Owls. Though thankfully, The Court of Owls still sees fit to have an ending that feels “right”, rather than feeling like it cuts off midway. The entirety of The Court of Owls feels like a great book in its own right.

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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.

2015-11-17 19.20.29Batman has the beliefs he’s held about Gotham and his life questioned as he investigates a series of murders. It feels personal, and while Batman is just as badass as ever, he still feels human, which I think is key to a great Batman story. At first he is dismissive of the truth behind a series of killings that seem to be perpretatred by a “Talon”, referenced in the old rhyme about the Court of Owls, believing it to just be someone playing off of the reputation. Batman has to find out how much truth there is to the legend, a secret group controlling Gotham from the shadows. And how does that legend stack up next to his own, one he’s built for years? This is a great Batman story that sees him at his highs and his his lows, and the Talon and the Court of Owls are great new addition to the Batman mythos, and one that will probably be revisited for many years to come.

Scott Snyder was paired with artist Greg Capullo for the new Batman series. Capullo has his own creator-owned series with Image Comics, The Creech, but he might be best known for his long stint on Spawn from the early 90s to early 00s (with a short break somewhere in the middle). His artwork on Batman is fantastic, making it one of the best looking books of the New 52. He handles both dynamic action and lingering, epic shots really well, really matching the pace of Snyder’s writing. He mixes some excellent attention to detail in the minutia of the character design with some sweeping, imposing imagery. Half of the Court of Owls’ appeal is in the design, and Capullo has helped create some truly iconic characters here. Jonathan Glapion makes it all pop with some great linework, and colorist Fco Plascencia brings it all together with some great, bold colours that really mesh with the mood and tone of the story.

While this is a great read on its own, I can’t imagine anyone would not want to read The City of Owls as soon as possible afterwards. The Court of Owls is a great starting point for those who want to get into Batman, but it’s also a great read no matter where you are with reading Batman. It’s one of those great Batman stories that you can truly enjoy as its own entity, something that seems to be true with Batman more than any other comic book series I can think of, and that’s one of the reasons I love Batman so much.

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