Batman is quite simply one of the most recognizable characters in fiction. While not all Batman stories are perfect, DC usually gets the best creators out there to helm the latest caped crusader story. Batman’s villains are vital to making his stories worthwhile, but sometimes writers get a little too comfortable revisiting the same ones.
Back in 2011, DC Comics essentially rebooted their entire line and branded it TheNew 52. Writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo were placed in charge of creating a brand new Batman run. Snyder proved he can write a compelling Batman story with Batman: Black Mirror, but to be in charge of a new comic book run that lasts for years starring DC’s most important character must’ve added a ton of pressure on Snyder, Capullo, and the rest of the creative team.
What would the duo start with? The New 52 Batman run could’ve started with any recognizable Batman villain like the Joker, but instead they went in a more ambitious direction. The first twelve issues revolve around a new threat: The Court of Owls.
Who are the Court of Owls?
There’s an old nursery rhyme that perfectly describes them.
“Beware The Court of Owls, that watches all the time, ruling Gotham from a shadow perch, behind granite and lime. They watch you at your hearth, they watch you in your bed, speak not a whispered word of them or they’ll send The Talon for your head.”
The Court of Owls are an underground society of people who’ve secretly been ruling Gotham since its beginnings. All the members have a distinctive look of wearing suits with white owl like masks, covering their face.
They also kidnap children and transform them into lethal assassins called Talons. The Court uses a serum combined with electrum to bring back their dead victims to use as their assassins, resulting in them being almost impossible to kill with their only weakness being extreme cold. The Talon’s armor is heavily inspired by an owl’s appearance, while also having a deadly arsenal of weapons that are meant to kill with precision.
Impact on Batman Mythos
My first exposure to the Court of Owls was the Batman vs Robin animated movie. Since then it seemed like I was seeing The Court pop up more often in Batman media. After reading The Court of Owls Saga for the first time, I immediately understood why this relatively recent addition to Batman’s mythos was so important.
Owls are the natural predators of Bats. A Batman enemy based on that knowledge is genius.
The Court throughout their history has always gotten rid of people who they believe to be a threat to their order. They see Bruce Wayne as a threat because of the change he wants for Gotham. When he investigates a crime scene, he discovers the Athenian Owl symbol, where Commissioner Gordon brings up the nursery rhyme and Batman insists they are just a myth. A Talon then attempts to kill Bruce in broad daylight and as the story goes along throughout the twelve issues, dark secrets are revealed about Gotham’s history and Bruce’s family.
The Court, in a way, represents the old Gotham fighting back against the change Bruce/Batman has made to Gotham City. Snyder himself explained that he wanted The Court to represent the fear of your home becoming an unrecognizable place.
In most Batman stories, Bruce is able to separate the two lives he lives. The effects of leading a dual life definitely take a toll on him, but he tries his best to keep up appearances. The Court of Owls is an enemy that struck an immediate personal chord because they managed to directly affect all aspects of Bruce’s psyche.
Bruce at first vehemently denies The Court’s existence. After the death of his parents, Bruce as a child wanted to blame The Court. He obsessively looked into them and reached a dead end that almost resulted in his death. Since then he was always sure they never existed.
When Bruce goes down to The Court’s labyrinth and almost dies, it becomes clear that he was wrong about everything. At that moment Bruce starts hallucinating because he drinks the water, and the creative team *intentionally* disorients the reader, making you feel like Batman by manipulating the panels into unusual positions that force the reader to flip the book to know what’s going on.
Batman is called the World’s Greatest Detective for a reason and he claims to know Gotham from top to bottom. It’s easy to forget that despite all of Batman’s amazing accomplishments, he is still just a regular human being capable of making mistakes.
The World’s Greatest Detective giving up on something while also not wanting to admit when he’s wrong shows that he is still just a person.
Bruce says the following quote towards the end of Volume 1 Issue 7 that encapsulates how human Bruce is.
“You asked me before what the court did to me. What they did was show me the truth. That the Gotham City I thought I knew, my city, doesn’t exist. They showed me that the real Gotham, the Gotham out there, is a city of birds. A city of owls. It’s a stranger and an enemy, it always has been. And I’ll tell you, Dick, if someone could’ve protected me from that truth, I’d have been grateful. “
It’s rare when Bruce admits that he was wrong about something. In this case, he was wrong about The Court’s existence that resulted in him underestimating their threat. The following moment, Dick Grayson tells Bruce that The Court is just another enemy who doesn’t define Gotham. But that realization also proved that even the most skilled detective could let something slip through the cracks.
There are many twists and turns that happen throughout the story. There are connections the Court has to Bruce’s family, and it’s honestly intriguing to see how this secret society has impacted Bruce’s past and present.
The Court of Owls was not only a perfect way to reintroduce Batman to a rebooted comic book line, but it was a great way to attract new readers. In those twelve issues, Snyder and Capullo wrote a story that humanizes Batman while also delivering a thrilling adventure that can satisfy readers of all demographics. It doesn’t depend on the knowledge of eighty years of history, readers can just pick the issues and go along with the ride.
The creative duo injected new energy into an iconic hero who can get easily get stale. It’s almost insane that they started a new run with a completely new villain, but with their care and precision, they managed to pull it off. Future comic book writers of any iconic established hero should take note.
It’s a story that affects not only the Bat-family but the way readers look at Gotham’s history. It’s incredible how this saga explores so much new territory in a cohesive way in such little time. The creative team behind it deserves nothing but praise.
If you’re a Batman fan, The Court of Owls Saga is a highly recommended read. The graphic novels can be bought as Batman Volume 1 and 2 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo anywhere they sell books.