Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls

batmancourtowlsMy thoughts on the DC Comics relaunch known as “The New 52” have been documented here at BOOKGASM a couple of times. The best description is probably “mixed bag,” but I hoped for more when I came to Scott Snyder’s critically acclaimed run on BATMAN. It started with COURT OF OWLS and I went in with wide eyes and a hopeful heart. And I found … a mixed bag. Sigh.

Do not take me wrong; for the most part, I really enjoyed COURT OF OWLS. The best villains are always dark reflections of the hero they battle, and the Court looked to be a good example of that for Batman. They are a shadowy cabal focused on protecting and shepherding Gotham into the future with money, influence and, when necessary, a guy in a scary costume setting things straight.

In fact, in a lot of ways, they were doing this better than Batman. Which is fair since they had been at it for almost two centuries and began as group rather than an individual (plus butler). The Court had even managed to convince the World’s Greatest Detective that they were an urban legend, a proposition Batman himself hasn’t been able to get away with since he started hanging out on the moon with the JLA.

There’s also a potential new ally with a weird, reverso version of Bruce Wayne’s life story that led him to be a public servant and mayoral candidate. So even the good guys are shattered mirror reflections of our hero. There is a lot of potential here.

But this Batman book falls into a similar trap as SHAZAM! did. If you’re actually brand-new to DC, then it’s going to be a lot more impressive than if you’ve been reading for several years. Because as different as writer Scott Snyder’s style is from Grant Morrison’s, I could not help but feel like this story was basically a poor man’s version of THE BLACK GLOVE.

The beats were too similar, but happened much closer together. The threat loomed just as large, but without the direct and personal tie that Morrison managed to give Dr. Hurt. And the Talon just doesn’t have the flair that I enjoyed from the Black Glove’s International Club of Supervillains.

What about the rest of the story aside from potentially unfair comparisons? It was pretty good! There were a couple of things that broke me pretty hard, but your mileage may vary. For instance, later on, editorial changed the relationships between Batman and his many Robins. And since I came to this book later after absorbing the other Robin origins, it felt like Snyder had made mistakes.

Also, and this is a massive pet peeve, there is a moment when Snyder writes Batman as though he’s an idiot. It is very difficult to write a character who is supposedly much smarter than you, and the trap is to turn it into a Lassie story. You know, everyone else gets incredibly stupid so your protagonist looks smart. But in this case, there’s a moment in an otherwise powerfully creepy issue when I was knocked out of the story and forced to ask, “If Batman knew all that, why didn’t he do it a week ago?”

Honestly, I read the majority of this run and had a lot of the same feelings until I got to ZERO YEAR. I’ll go into more details on other volumes in other reviews, but the feeling that Snyder accidentally created still enjoyable — yet somehow lesser — cover versions of other Batman stories hung with me for a while.

In fact, the most enjoyable Batman read Snyder gave me came in ZERO YEAR, where he specifically and purposefully zigged when every other Batman story had zagged. But I’ve got to save something for the other reviews.

To sum up, if you’ve been reading Batman books for the last few years, then you could still enjoy COURT. I did. But if you get the feeling you’ve had what this story gives you before and with more spice, it’s probably not just you.

But if you’re more interested in a Batman greatest-hits album instead of a tribute record, you should probably get Morrison’s Bat-Epic, including THE BLACK GLOVE that COURT aspires to.

For the brand-new Batman readers who want to jump on what has been an above-average ride for The New 52, I wholeheartedly recommend COURT OF OWLS. There’s a feeling of eerie scale to this Batman and his Gotham that is a solid shift from recent globetrotting adventures and whatever the hell is going on in JUSTICE LEAGUE. There are also a few twists that I imagine would be truly shocking to someone not steeped in Batlore. COURT OF OWLS delivers on the relaunch concept much better than most. —Joshua Unruh

Buy it at Amazon.

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