One of my bookish goals for 2016 related to reading Batman and Superman comics in preparation for Dawn of Justice. It’s weird to think that, before this week, I had never read a Batman comic. I’d read Bat!family comics, sure, but nothing in particular about the Bat himself.
As a kid and teen, I loved the Batman films, but I was too embarrassed to read comics. Being a geek wasn’t very cool then, and I was already that weird girl who wore Batman tees (which I had to find in the boy’s clothing section) and named her car Bruce. I didn’t want to be seen as even weirder by getting into the comics. For some reason, that was one step too far for me. It wasn’t until college that I began reading comics regularly, and it wasn’t until after graduation that I picked up Gail Simone’s Batgirl run—which was the first DC Comics series I got into.
Since then, I’ve read Batgirl (Babs and Stephanie Brown), Catwoman, Nightwing, and Gotham Academy. Batman, however, still seemed so forbidding to start. There’s A LOT of Batman comics out there, and while New 52 seemed like a good place to getting going, I was still overwhelmed by all the possibilities.
With the film release looming, I finally broke down and decided to start with Scott Snyder’s The Court of Owls. I’m passingly familiar with the arc since it intersected with Batgirl’s and it’s a New 52 Volume 1 so I figured it’d be a decent gateway book.
Batman thinks he understands Gotham City and its citizens. He’s been at this Bat-business for awhile and he’s seen it all. He most definitely knows that there’s no Court of Owls—in spite of what the people of Gotham and his own family believe.
Weird deaths and mysterious owl insignias are being found around the city. Somehow these are all tied to Batman by way of Bruce Wayne. He and Harvey Bullock discover a note at a murder scene proclaiming that “Bruce Wayne will die tomorrow.” The Bat doesn’t take the threat seriously, but begins an investigation into the murder and the owls anyway. He doesn’t expect to find the actual Court of Owls. That’s a fairy tale. He does, however, expect to find people using the owls to terrorize Gotham.
What he actually discovers nearly drives him mad.
The Court of Owls met my Batman expectations—mostly because I expected a plot heavy book with violence and not a lot of women. That is exactly what I got. While not necessarily a bad thing, those were some of the reasons it took me so long to get into Batman stories in the first place. I prefer character driven stories (which is why I read a lot of Indie comics) and I like interesting, well-rounded female characters. It’s not surprising then that I’ve stuck so long with Batgirl, Catwoman, and the girls of Gotham Academy.
On the positive side of The Court of Owls, I did like seeing Batman as “The Great Detective” for the first time. In the films, that side of him isn’t really explored since the movies focus on the punching and catching of baddies rather than on his scientific mind. In Scott Snyder’s story, Batman is primarily a detective—almost along the lines of Sherlock Holmes. He’s rational and seems to know everything about everything. I liked his cold rationality and his stubbornness–particularly since both of those things got him into trouble in the end.
Bruce’s relationship with Dick Grayson was also fascinating. You could just feel how frustrated Dick was with Bruce’s coldness, sureness, and lack of selfcare. Dick saw Bruce loosing it, and he didn’t like not being trusted to help. That tension in their relationship is one of the reasons I’d like to keep reading this series. It feels inevitable that these two will come to a breaking point where they’ll either have to part or have to deal with their difficult relationship.
Damian’s presence also warmed by heart. I love Damian. He’s so serious and snarky. I wish he’d been in Court of Owls more (because he’s a favorite), but I particularly loved how distraught he was when the Bat-Signal broke. He’s a little adult so much of the time. It was nice to see a bit of the child in his peak through for once.
Those little moments of emotion with Damian and Dick were unfortunately rare. This comic was more focused on Bruce and his descent into madness. While that wasn’t a bad storyline, I had hoped for more interpersonal focus. Batman really only interacted with Dick and Lincoln (a mayoral candidate) on a personal level, and that was really on the light side too. I’ve never been a huge fan of comics wrapped solely up in plot and that’s what The Court of Owls was. I hope, as Scott Snyder’s run continues, that we’ll get to delve deeper into Batman’s psyche and his relationships. I want to know more about that and not just more about Batman fighting villains.
As for the art, I liked most of what Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion did here. The slightly sepia coloring felt perfect for Gotham City (which was rendered in intricate detail too). I also appreciated the design on the Owl’s costumes and Batman’s suit. The steampunk look of the Talon’s suit in particular was just plain cool. While there are a few artistic choices I didn’t love (like the rotating of the pages and the goopy, red blood), I didn’t find much that was off-putting. One of the few reasons I chose this book was because the art felt accessible to me (i.e. not a lot of fanservice going on). I did think it was funny though that, for once, I had trouble telling the male characters apart rather than the women (Bruce looked like a shorter Lincoln and Dick, Tim, and Damian all looked identical). I could have done with a bit more distinctiveness on the characters and a bit less boxiness in Batman’s jaw, but those are hardly big things. Overall, I definitely liked the look of this comic.
I’ll definitely pick up the second volume of this series. I want to see where it goes from here and how everything develops. I’m truthfully not that interested in the Owl’s plot itself, but I’d like to see it through to its conclusion.
To me, that’s not a bad response to my first adventure in Batman comics. Next up, some Superman!
Do you have a favorite Batman series? What would you recommend reading next? (I have The Dark Knight Returns on hold at the library. So I will get to that one soon!)
Image Source: Kiss Them Goodbye