Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls (The New 52) — a comic book review

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After Flashpoint, DC Comics reset its own timeline in a 2011 event known as The New 52. Batman’s continuity was reestablished in this new universe with the publication of the second volume of the title Batman, beginning in November 2011.

Batman Volume 1: The Court of Owls collects issues 1-7 of this new Batman comic, written by Scott Snyder, and with art by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion.

I’m going to point out that this TPB includes, in the credits, the following:

Batman created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger

After watching the documentary Batman & Bill, this made me feel happy to know that Finger’s legacy has been protected. The truth is that Batman has been created and re-created by a lot of people over the decades, but Bob and Bill were the first.

Snyder and Capullo can be added to that creator’s roster as well now.

One word review: Wow.

Just “Wow.” I know I’m late coming to this party, but this relaunch of the Batman mythos blew me away. The story begins in medias res with some very noir-ish Batman “voiceover” work as we are reintroduced to the city of Gotham, and, in short order, many of the familiar Batman villains at Arkham Asylum, including (but not limited to) Two-Face, the Riddler, Clayface, Killer Croc and the Joker, all of whom Batman has to face in a huge melee brawl. And this is Issue #1.

This is smart writing, because we get to see the Greg Capullo versions of all of these characters, right off the bat (so to speak), so we can get accustomed to some stylistic differences. And there are differences. Capullo isn’t following some musty old DC character style guide here. He makes the characters his own.

A younger version of me would have railed against this. But, the older, wiser version is used to this from the various movies and television series, and in the video games. In truth, I kinda like it. Capullo’s versions of the characters are familiar enough, but uniquely his creations at the same time. The only character design I actively dislike at this point is that of the Riddler. But, I’ll adjust.

I am familiar with Capullo’s work from when he took over the art duties in Image Comics’ Spawn from Todd MacFarlane. His experience with that comic, with its dark, brooding protagonist and heavy blacks and shadows serves him well in this universe also. Batman invented striking an ominous pose atop a building gargoyle. After Batman is captured by the Court of Owls and incarcerated in their labyrinth, the artwork takes on an extra fantastical quality that reminds me even more strongly of Capullo’s earlier work. It also reminds me of the trippy Scarecrow and Ra’s al-Ghul sequences in the Arkham video games. I can’t help the fact that I’m a product of my entertainment choices.

Enough about the art. Trust me. It’s good.

It also pairs well with Snyder’s writing. I enjoyed the story told in the pages of this book. Snyder did something I thought very, very smart. He gave Gotham even deeper backstory that is still tied to Bruce Wayne. Not just Bruce, but also Dick Grayson and the rest. I was semi-familiar with the Court of Owls from the television series Gotham. But, as it did with so many things, that series failed to truly capture the essence of this storyline. As written by Snyder, the Court of Owls is so deftly rendered that it seems obvious that they were always a part of Batman’s backstory. Their soldiers, the Talon, are scary, ruthless and effective. Their network of secret hideouts, hidden inside of all of the Wayne buildings, seems believable. In the course of the story, we learn that Dick Grayson had been earmarked to become a member of the Talon before he became Bruce Wayne’s ward. In both bold and subtle ways, the Court becomes inextricably entwined in all of Batman’s story, past and present. The TV show just had rich people in masks. The real story is much more interesting.

An underlying theme in this volume is that Batman doesn’t know Gotham as well as he once thought he did. This gives the reader the pleasure of finding out the truth alongside the World’s Greatest Detective. And that’s just fun.

This book doesn’t finish up the story of the Court of Owls. I believe that happens with the next volume. Fortunately, I own that one as well, and it’s on-deck.

Firewater’s Holy-Cow-Batman-It’s-a-Reboot Report Card: A+

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There’s no beating around the bush here. This is the good stuff.

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