Batman Vol. 2: The City of Owls (The New 52!), by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo & the rest — a comic book review

BatmanVol2CityofOwls

 

The rest” are Jonathan Glapion, James Tynion IV, Becky Cloonan, Andy Clarke, Rafael Albuquerque and Jason Fabok in this case. Too many names to include in my title, although I want to give credit where it’s due.

The material in this TPB dates back to 2012 and includes Batman #8-12 and Batman Annual #1. I liked this volume, but not as much as I liked Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls. This has nothing to do with the artwork, which is still amazing. I can’t even say it’s because Snyder failed to deliver a well-written story. It’s a good story but felt somehow disjointed and incomplete in places. I didn’t know why until I read that the entire attack by the Court of Owls upon Gotham was originally a huge crossover event between the Bat-titles of the time, so what we get in this volume is but a slice of the overall story. This keeps the actual setpiece from seeming as epic as I wanted it to feel while reading the story.

I understand that all of these crossover stories were also collected by DC in a single volume titled Night of the Owls. Having read this volume to the conclusion, I doubt I’ll ever read that one. This crossover syndrome keeps occurring to me in these DC trades. I understand the marketing angle and the publisher’s desire to sell more books, but I see how it could quickly become cost prohibitive to the collector. I won’t keep buying trades for incomplete story arcs.

The action setpieces in this volume are still impressive. Bruce Wayne reveals that he has a lot in common with his counterpart across the aisle Tony Stark as he unveils his Owl-Buster armor when the Talons invade Wayne Mansion. While Iron Man may need specialty armor to combat the likes of Hulk or Thor, Batman really needs to bust up some Owls. This part was fun. So was finding out that the T. Rex in the Batcave is more than just a trophy.

After the night of the massive attack, Batman goes on the offensive and begins to target the secret members of the Court of Owls. There is one major reveal during this story thread that is no surprise at all to anyone who has followed Batman’s past adventures with the likes of Hush or Two-Face. There’s a reason Bruce Wayne doesn’t seem to have any close male friends his own age in Gotham.

The solving of the central mystery further deepens and complicates Bruce Wayne’s tragic family history. As does the collected backup stories that make up “The Fall of the House of Wayne,” which weaves the Court of Owls into the classic Batman backstory. I didn’t like Rafael Albuquerque’s artwork as much as I did Capullo’s, but there was something in the style that made it fitting for a long flashback story. I didn’t care for the fact that it was Alfred’s father Jarvis who was the Waynes’ butler when Bruce was an infant rather than Alfred. That just didn’t feel right. However, Martha Wayne gets a chance to show a bit more depth and character than she usually does in retellings of the origin story. As the first season of the Epix network’s Pennyworth has shown us, Martha is much more than a string of pearls and a bad night in Crime Alley.

The story from Batman Annual #1, co-written by Snyder and James Tynion IV, was drawn by Jason Fabok. In this case, I liked the art much more than the story. Fabok has a unique style that is neither cartoony nor realistic, but somewhere magically in-between. I love the detail Fabok puts into his characters’ facial features and how some of his figures are heavily outlined so as to appear rotoscoped. As I said, unique. But, largely effective in this story that gives a different retelling of Mr. Freeze’s origins. I guess that’s where I had a problem with the writing on this one, the different-retelling part. I’ve always found Mr. Freeze to be a bit sympathetic, at least the dead-frozen-wife version of Mr. Freeze. This origin tale turns this into something darker and more sinister. You might argue that this makes Mr. Freeze a better villain, but I’m not so sure. A person committing villainous acts that he believes are justifiable is more effective than one who is merely delusional.

The other story gives us an origin for Harper Row, who first appeared back in issue #7, in Vol. 1, when she rescued Batman from under the ice. This one seems most extraneous and the artwork is seriously schizophrenic. I understand that the character later becomes a Batman family hero called Bluebird, so I guess that’s reason enough for this to be included. I just wasn’t moved by it.

Bottom line time. Was this volume worth reading? Yes. Yes, it was. And, will I continue on with Volume 3 at some date? Yes, I think I will.

What I will add is that Capullo’s art was even better in the volume than in the first. At the same time, it’s reminding me even more of his work on Spawn. I think, after a terrific build up, Snyder fumbled the story just a little. Maybe the missing crossover pieces of the story are what I’m feeling here. It’s hard to say. I do think that the leap from Gotham Illuminati, which I found intriguing, to zombie army in owl costumes was a bit much. It hardly seemed a genuine payoff to decades of secrecy and backroom machinations.

Firewater’s I-Am-Iron-Bat Report Card: A

A

Not as good as the first half of the story, but still pretty darned good, with some additional backup stories and alternate cover art.

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