Batman appeals to practically everyone. From Adam West’s campy TV rendition to Christian Bale’s dark and gritty portrayal, there is always an audience for the caped crusader’s adventures. One of the core qualities that reaches across all versions of Batman is that of the self-made superhero. Bruce Wayne went out and learned dozens of martial arts techniques, trained as a master detective, and studied hard to invent so many of his crazy bat-gadgets that many know and love. Another key characteristic of Batman is his indomitable will. Even though the Dark Knight has no powers, he always finds a way to win the day with his cunning intellect, saving the day through hard work and dedication. Above all else, Batman continues in his attempt to create a brighter tomorrow out of the darkness of his own tragic origin. While some would believe that all of Batman is a dark, brooding savior of Gotham, he still cares very much about his city, as well as building a better future for its citizens.
The Court of Owls by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo is a perfect place to start when it comes to this vision of Batman. From the very beginning, the story fully establishes Batman and his world, including villains, allies, and Gotham City as a whole. Another great reason to start with this story is its use of Batman as the world’s greatest detective. The premise centers around a mysterious organization known as the Court of Owls, who have allegedly been hiding in the shadows of Gotham throughout its history, only now revealing themselves in a series of murders. Batman investigates this secret society and its mysterious assassins, showcasing his often overlooked detective skills. Furthermore, the introduction of the court brings in exciting new elements to the Batman lore, in which both new and older readers can invest themselves.
The Dark Knight himself is in top form in this storyline. At the beginning of the first issue, Batman is shown easily taking down all of his major villains during a prison break. This Batman is more confident than ever, tricked out with all of his finest gadgets, fighting like a demon, and using his cunning as the world’s greatest detective. All the while, the caped crusader is backed by a close network of allies such as the Gotham police, his butler Alfred, and all of the various vigilantes of the city. These connections only serve to highlight the close connection which Batman shows to Gotham in this story. From the loving narration about the city, to historical facts about Gotham, Batman is truly one with his city in this storyline. Even as Bruce Wayne, Batman shows his love for his home through ambitious plans to renovate Gotham and build a better city for everyone.
The connection to Gotham carries over to the titular villains as well. If Batman was believed to be the shadowy embodiment of Gotham, the Court of Owls delve even further into the darkness, challenging Batman’s role within the city. The court acts as a very mysterious, shadowy organization, originally believed to be an urban myth told to young children. This mythical status serves to test Batman’s detective skills to their limit, forcing him to look closer at the dark history behind Gotham. More importantly, Batman is forced to face certain aspects about Gotham that he might not understand. On the physical level, Batman is confronted by Talons, who serve as the court’s assassins. These nightmarish figures are quite formidable, challenging the Dark Knight’s fighting abilities like few others have.
The themes of this story primarily deal with Batman’s connection to Gotham. Specifically, for the first time, Batman has to cope with the fact that he doesn’t know Gotham as well as he thought. For much of the story, Batman denies the very existence of the court, indicating a sense of knowledge and ownership of Gotham. In order to move forward, however, the Dark Knight must face what he doesn’t understand: a history that goes far before his time. Batman must accept Gotham’s dark past in order to build a brighter future. More importantly, the detective must let go of his sense of ownership for Gotham in order to truly move forward. To illustrate this point, Gotham itself is given its own personality. Snyder writes Gotham as a living, breathing entity, elaborating on each minute detail and piece of history within the city.
The supporting characters are given much room to shine as well. As usual, Alfred is written masterfully. Bruce Wayne’s butler is given a sarcastic, witty personality to bounce off of the Dark Knight’s cold, calculating demeanor, along with providing a much needed source of guidance for our protagonist. The whole Bat-Family’s presence is felt throughout, without feeling shoehorned into the narrative. At one point, when the Talons begin invading the city, Alfred calls in all of Batman’s allies, showcasing the wide network of heroes which Batman has inspired. Other key players, such as Commissioner Gordon, Lucius Fox, and Harvey Bullock make appearances throughout, contributing to the idea that Batman is truly not alone in his mission to build a better Gotham.
Greg Capullo’s artwork is perfect for Snyder’s writing. Batman is given a dark, foreboding presence from the beginning, as well as a tall, muscular stature befitting his training. The shadowy illustrations also beautifully illustrate the dark nature of Batman’s detective work. Capullo particularly excels when it comes to the court themselves. The court and their talons are illustrated in a horrific, demonic manner, befitting their insidious nature within the story. When Batman is cornered by the court, the reader can see his confusion and terror as the Talons close in on him. The action is also beautifully portrayed. Capullo provides a fast-paced sense of motion straight out of a big-budget action movie.
Batman: the Court of Owls is a terrific read. There is plenty of action, mystery, and suspense to keep new readers and longtime comic book fans satisfied. Beyond that, Snyder and Capullo make an important statement on Batman and Gotham City in general. Batman is always seen as the calm, collected hero who has everything under control. He is prepared for any eventuality. In this case, however, we see a more fallible Batman, one who doesn’t have all the answers. The best thing about a hero without all of the answers, however, is watching him ask the right questions. Batman must put aside all of his pride and preconceived relationship with Gotham in order to uncover the evil within his city. Only through confronting this hidden menace can Batman move toward a brighter future for Gotham.
If you would like to continue reading about the Dark Knight, here are a few other recommended reads:
- Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
- Batman: the Long Halloween/Dark Victory by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
- The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
- Batman: Zero Year by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
- Batman: Strange Apparitions by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers
- Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee
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