Published by DC Comics
The Court of Owls finds Batman and his allies up against a previously unknown threat that claims to have been hiding in Gotham City for centuries. Batman is sure this can’t be true as he knows his city better than anyone. Doesn’t he?
The first collected Batman tale from DC’s new 52, with the idea that he has only been operating for a few years and as such is not bogged down by decades of continuity. While not my first foray into the new 52, being that I have read and enjoyed the new versions of Animal Man and Swamp thing, it felt like a fresh start. Is that because Batman is DC in my mind? The company was after all named after his flagship title, Detective Comics. Regardless, Batman is the DC superhero I know and like best, so I was glad to check out this highly regarded relaunch.
In the opening pages Batman dispatches of a large chunk of his traditional Rogues gallery, letting us know this won’t be a retread of the same old battles. Snyder uses his opportunity to create a new threat in the mysterious Court of Owls and their assassin the Talon. We are rapidly introduced to Jim Gordon, Alfred, Nightwing etc. But also to Gotham City, as Snyder goes deep into the history of Gotham and it’s ties to the Wayne family, setting the scene for this new threat that seems to be using Batman’s city against him.
The art by Greg Capullo has been receiving widespread praise and it’s easy to see why. He draws in a solid, clear manner with a defined line and manages to stop himself from going crazy on the cross hatching. He brings solidness to Batman, a thickness and strength that is often missing and there is a big difference between him and his assorted sidekicks. Nightwing is rightly shown as being leaner and more acrobatic, which suits his circus background. The action scenes can be frenetic and explosive but then there are moments of great calm as Batman coolly attempts the impossible.
Capullo pulls off some challenging stuff later in the book as an exhausted and drugged Batman wobbles through a labyrinth, dragging the reader along with his hallucinations.
Getting the character of Batman right is important to the success of any Bat writer but of equal value is getting the voices of the supporting cast to sound true. Snyder does well with the various Robins and the cops but maybe overplays his hand in trying to make Gotham such an integral character. There is a lot to re-establish in only a few issues, while still keeping it accessible for new readers, and in general Snyder does an admirable job.
Now this is not a book without flaws. I found it to be excessively wordy at times, partially due to the books I’ve reviewed in the last few weeks (Hawkeye and Daredevil), which are tighter, clearer and allow the art to speak more. Batman does need to let us in to his internal monologue, and that I like, but some of the conversations dragged, and the word and text balloons* cover too much of the panels. But in saying that, I did enjoy this new take on Batman and will be getting the second volume.
*Warren Ellis was the first writer I read who mentioned keeping below a certain word count per panel, and it’s always made sense.
Should I buy it? I’m sure I’m the only Batman fan to not have read this story yet. If you aren’t a fan of the Caped Crusader is this the book to change your mind? Maybe not, it’s good but not great, and there are finer Bat books out there. But once you have worked your way through Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, Batman Incorporated (and the rest of Morrison’s work on the character), the Killing Joke and even Snyder’s own The Black Mirror then this is a worthy option. I think my reservations about it are heightened by the contrast with the great, tight Marvel books I’ve written about over the past few weeks.