Review: Batman: The Court of Owls (The New 52)

Batman_Vol_2_1 coverAuthor: Scott Snyder
Artist: Greg Capullo
Publisher: DC Comics
Genre: Science Fiction, Crime Drama, Superhero
Rating: Teen
Millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne used his incredible wealth to become Batman after he witnessed the double-murder of his parents as a child. He doesn’t have super-powers, but he strikes supernatural fear in the hearts of Gotham City’s criminals. As the Bat, Bruce patrols the city like a sinister specter, protecting citizens from the most villainous characters the rat-infested streets have bred. He is a detective, a martial artist, a brawler, a technical expert, and much more as he pursues justice and walks the thin line between good and evil.
The creative team behind Batman, The New 52 is Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. Complex Magazine claimed that Snyder might be the defining Batman writer of our generation. He wrote the best-selling series, American Vampire, worked on Swamp Thing and now lends his abilities to the Dark Knight (Batman).
Greg Capullo is a famous artist most known for his 80 issue run on Image Comic’s Spawn. Other popular comics work include Marvel’s X-force, Quasar, and the horror series Creech.
Batman content cover

Content Guide

Violence: A lot of typical comic book action, however there are some graphic depictions of death due to the detective nature of the series. A corpse is propped up after being tortured. It is a sign to Bruce Wayne that he is next. The autopsy of the body shows entrails and a bloody gaping chest. Knives are frequently thrown in skin by the attacker, an explosion occurs, and an owl crawls out of a woman’s’ mouth in a hallucination. Batman is stabbed through the stomach, he uses electric cables on his attackers, he is hurled out of a window, and he is mobbed by a devilish group of villains who claw at him. Throughout the story, there is a lot of bloodshed and nightmare scenarios. 
Language: There is some swearing; God’s name is taken in vain and D**** and H*** are used.
Spiritual Content: N/A
Sexual Content: N/A
Drug/Alcohol Abuse: Cigars and cigarettes are enjoyed by the cops.
Positive Content: Batman pursues truth and justice and seeks to protect the weak from evil people. The cops are on the side of righteousness. Bruce Wayne is a man searching for the truth. The villains are unspeakably evil, drunk off of power and control.
Negative Content: Although Batman fights crime, he often threatens to kill criminals unless they give him information. This is a tactic that separates Batman from heroes like Superman or Spider-Man. He constantly struggles with personal demons which put him on the verge of becoming evil himself. In a few panels, as a hallucination, Batman turns into a monster.

Review

Batman’s wide appeal as a hero comes from the idea that it is possible he could exist in our lifetime. After all, he is just a man wearing a dark suit of armor with a plethora of crime-busting gadgets. He uses his wits and his training as he hovers over the smog-ridden streets of Gotham and employs fear tactics that shroud him in mystery.
But like any great detective, he also depends on scientific theory and practical war tactics to create this effect. What keeps Batman fresh and his movies ongoing? It is the idea that he is a man against incredible odds and evil masterminds while using his keen mind and his fists.Batman detective
Unlike some capes, Batman is ruled by rational thought – a detective. So when he goes out at night, he may not come back. He can’t rely on Spider sense or the sun to restore him, or a healing factor where he can regenerate himself after a few minutes. He showed us how fallible he was when the venom-fueled beast, Bane, broke Batman’s back over his massive knee.
So intelligence and strategy is something Batman relies on to stay alive. 
However, in The Court of Owls, a paranormal murder takes place. It brings Gotham’s old superstitions to life, challenging Batman’s logical worldview. Like any person first confronting the supernatural, Batman struggles to explain it away. The answer lies in the nature of the city he patrols every night, the streets he thought he knew so well. We are asked: What is Gotham?
Snyder’s writing is superb as he shows us how the man behind the bat mask denies his emotions to follow the eerie crime trails. As in any great crime story, he puts us in the detective’s shoes. The  research here makes it easy to believe that Batman is a true detective, the thing that sets him apart from other heroes.
For example, Batman sees the murder victim has “extensive scar tissue around the ribs and calcification.” He locates the entry wounds  utilizing old-fashioned methods to discover the foreboding message from the killer, relying on his senses and experience as a sleuth.
These details make this story not just about a guy in tights slugging it out with a bad guy, but a compelling crime drama to draw us in. We are doing the autopsy right along with him. The plot is engrossing.
Batman finds an owl insignia on the daggers at the murder scene. His mind travels back to a nursery rhyme about a group of secret men who rule Gotham behind the scenes, described as owl creatures. He gets warnings from everyone to take them seriously.
Throughout the story, we further believe in the gravity of the case because Snyder adds some eerie foreshadowing that dates back to the Wayne family legacy. His script puts Bruce Wayne in situations that forces him to believe as a frightened child once more. And the closer Batman gets to solving the case, the more intense the action becomes.
batman motorcycle
It reads like an epic movie, alternating from mystery to fast paced action. That is why Capullo was an excellent choice to illustrate it. He is widely known for Spawn,  a dead Marine that was resurrected after he made a deal with a dark being from Hell. So Capullo is well accustomed to taking dark supernatural themes and putting a superhero spin on it. His art maintains the seriousness of the plot while giving us beautiful panels of larger-than-life action poses and emotional cuts.
Batman rips a guy out of a helicopter while on his motorcycle. Next, he is bathed in bright color and dodging falling debris inside of a building that has just been blown up. Then he gets trapped inside of a freakish underground maze of flickering lights where he battles his hallucinations and  a killer in ancient armor.
Sometimes Capullo’s art in normal situations can be bland. At times, Bruce Wayne looks like Buzz Lightyear, a big chin and hardly any distinctive features. But there are only a few times where I can say that. Most of the panels are crisp and move the story along nicely. His line work is well-balanced and is complimented well by the inking skills of Jonathan Glapion. The colors pop on the page, especially during the action sequences.
But where Capullo really thrives at is in the realm of the fantastical. The less normal things become in Batman’s world, the better the art gets. And this story pushes Batman to his physical and mental limits. There are even a few panels that read upside down as a way for the reader to echo the hero’s torment.
This story asks the question: How do we respond to the supernatural when it calls out to us “rational” beings? Do we doubt the voices of mystery? Do we walk away and try to forget their haunting clues, even though there is an unsettling truth behind it? 
Court_of_Owls_attackBatman pursued this truth because it got too uncomfortable for him to deny that the paranormal world didn’t effect his natural one. He started seeing owls everywhere and when he researched the mystery, he discovered there were things watching over Gotham even before there was a Batman. Their nests were inside the habitats of their prey.
Only after many sobering and painful lessons, Batman — Bruce Wayne — could truly be broken. He had underestimated those old stories and the warnings of everyone around him. He thought he was rock solid with his belief that man could control his environment. He had the latest technology to depend on, such as a photogrammetric scanner, an E.M.P. mask, or even a contact lens with a remote access processor linked to the bat-cave computer.
But none of those things could save him against powerful occult psychopaths. It was only when he gave in to the mystery, when he finally believed, could he fight against it.
Similarly, there was a time when I thought I could handle my practical life. I had big dreams of being a success through my own creativity. But only when I had everything stripped away by mysterious unseen forces, and I was left trembling on the ground crying out to an unseen God, did I discover the truth that set me free. Those forces were from God guiding my life, even though at the time I didn’t know what it was.
In the beginning of this story there is a question, “What is Gotham?” Some answers posed were “Gotham is its criminals,” or “Gotham is Batman.” However, the real answer was given by the cop, Harvey Bullock, after warning Batman about the killer:
“Above everything Gotham is…a Mystery!” he said
It is that mystery, those supernatural forces in our lives, that we should search out with all our heart. For it is only through belief in that unseen world of faith that we can find the good news of Jesus Christ. 
For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known.      
I Corinthians 13:12
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Positives

+ Great action + Excellent story + Original theme

Negatives

- Some non-action scenes look flat - Though creative, there are a few pages which read upside and right to left

The Bottom Line

Batman is known for his creative criminals. Often, the criminal overshadows Bruce Wayne and his struggles. Not so with this villain, who remains in the shadows and strikes at Bruce's heritage at a distance. When you buy this volume, it would be almost impossible to not buy volume two. Excellent variety of detective drama and action.

 

Story/Plot 9.9

Writing 9.8

Editing 10

Art 9.5

9.8

William Bontrager

William Bontrager fostered his imagination by tromping through the Maryland woods, fervently drawing when he should have been paying attention in school, creating comic books, writing short stories, and crafting adventure novels. Bible -length Steven King books allowed him to develop a strong vocabulary which the Lord Jesus used later in his writings. His experiences have led him down many paths and he strives to put Jesus Christ before all other things.

3 Comments

  1. LJ Lowery on January 20, 2017 at 9:35 pm

    So, is this the first volume of the graphic novel? I bought a Court of Owls one recently that says it covers #1-#7. Haven’t read it yet though I hear it’s great.

    • William Bontrager on January 21, 2017 at 1:39 am

      Yeah man. It was a little confusing to find out, but it is the graphic novel which is composed of the first seven issues of Batman The New 52. I think you’ll enjoy reading it.

    • William Bontrager on January 24, 2017 at 3:16 pm

      Yeah, we bought the same one. When you read it, I’d be interested to get your thoughts on it. There was so much there it was hard to narrow down what to write about. Thanks for the comments.

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