Night of the Owls Review: Batwing #9 by Judd Winick & Marcus To

Batwing #9
Night of the Owls – You Have Been Judged Unworthy

Written by: Judd Winick
Pencilled by: Marcus To
Inked by: Ryan Winn
Coloring by: Brian Reber
Lettering by: Dezy Sienty

Published by: DC
Cover Price: $2.99

Note: This review is for the digital version of the comic available from DC Comics on Comixology

Warning! This review contains quite a few spoilers!

A quick intro for those who don’t know much about Batwing. When Batman returned from the dead, he decided to expand the Batman franchise by selecting and equipping heroes around the world to become their local versions of Batman. For Africa, Batman choose David Zavimbe, a police officer who spent his childhood forced to be a boy soldier in the Congo after his parents died. Much like Jim Gordon, David is one of the few honest men on a  corrupt police force. He works closely with a man named Matu Ba, sort of his Alfred who runs rescue programs for children soldiers like David.

Summary (contains spoilers): The issue starts with a quick flashback to 1856. The Court of Owls have decided to put one of their Talons (Alexander Stauton) into deep freeze because he’s become out of control, often killing innocent bystanders and putting the Court’s secrecy in jeopardy. Like the other Talons, they have the ability to revive him at a later time if his services are needed once more “when a mission and a worth adversary will be thrust before him.”

After his battle with Massacre, David and Matu are meeting with Lucius Fox at Batman Inc.’s Research and Development center in order to upgrade Batwing’s equipment. David seems to have very specific ideas about what Batwing needs:

Batman Inc is having a gala that night in order to “maintain relations with the nations where the soldiers of Batman, Incorporated are stationed.” David is hesitant, but Matu insists they will both be there. At the dinner, they run across Matthew Kalu, an African Prime Minister. David is disgusted by the man, considering him little better than a warlord who just happened to have American support. Lucius agrees, but points out that “compromises must be made for the greater good.”

Meanwhile, the Court of Owls sends the Talons out on a rampage to kill important figures around the city of Gotham, including Lucius Fox. Building on the events of Batman 8, Alfred sends a message to warn all Batman allies about this. Alexander Sauton seems to be the one coming after Lucius. David changes into his costume, and tries to drug the Talon, but the Talon seems immune.

Batwing tests the extent of Talon’s regeneration, snapping bones and slicing him open to see how he heals. He also comments that “he moves like Nightwing” which is a nice call back to the fact that Dick Grayson was supposed to be a Talon before his parents died and Bruce Wayne adopted him. A friend of mine insists that at some point in this crossover Batman will end up fighting Nightwing.

During the fight, Talon takes the Prime Minister hostage demanding Lucius turn himself over, or he will kill the Prime Minister. Lucius seems willing to make that sacrifice to save the man’s life (even if the man is a vile creature himself).  Batwing quickly comes up with a better solution, using explosives intended to blow off door locks to rip Talon’s arm’s off. When the Prime Minister tries to thank him, Batwing ends up knocking him out. He explains to Lucius, “That is how we compromise in Africa.”

Review: Batwing has the distinction of being my favorite series that I don’t buy the week it comes out. From the first issue, Batwing has always been a “wait a month, save a buck” title for me. It’s a very good comic, but it’s always been a book I felt I could wait to read. That’s why I have never reviewed an issue, by the time I read it, it’s already been out for a month.

But I have loved what Snyder and Capullo have been doing over on Batman to set up Night of the Owls, so I ended up deciding to pick up all the issues of Night of the Owls on their day of release, which meant I actually read both Batwing 8 and 9 this week. Winick has been doing some strong work on this book, and the Night of the Owls crossover was no exception. It’s been fun to see Batwing in a more traditional Batman setting the last few issues (though I can’t wait for him to get back to Africa which seems to have a lot of untapped potential for storytelling). In this environment, it’s been pretty clear that he deserves to have the mantle, but we still get to see that he approaches being a hero from a different angle than Bruce Wayne.

The timing of this issue was especially cruel since last issue ended with some major revelations regarding Batwing’s archnemesis Massacre, and Massacre was still on the loose at the end of issue 8. It’s even worse for me, since I have to wait two months to read issue 9! Why does the comic industry need to front load the month with all the comics I want to read?

I might be wrong, but this is the first time I remember Batman Inc really getting a lot of focus since DC Relaunch. I loved seeing Lucius discuss the different options he could install into the Batwing suit, and why David was against some of them. I have to admit, Morrison’s Batman left me pretty flat when I tried it, so I won’t be picking up Batman Inc when it starts later this month, but I do think it’s a very cool concept and am glad to see it get expanded on.

I also thought that we got a lot of great characterization from Lucius Fox in this comic. From his comments about “dealing with difficult requests from Batman Inc members” to his willingness to sacrifice his own life even to save someone who probably wasn’t worth it, Lucius really stood out. David and Matu’s different perspectives on the role of Batwing was also very well portrayed.

I did think that there was some strange confusion about how much Lucius knows and doesn’t know about Batwing.  The opening scene with Lucius, David, and Matu seemed to suggest that Lucius thought David and Matu were Batwing’s support team.  But in the end, David seems to have no problem revealing his identity to Lucius when he throws Lucius’s “compromise” line back at him.

My biggest problem with this issue is that more and more, Batwing seems to have gotten away from the beautifully painted art Ben Oliver did on the first few issues. The last three issues have been much more traditional comic book art, and while Marcus To did very good work here, I missed the more stylized look.

From Batwing 1:

From Batwing 9:

Like Batwoman, I think having a unique art style helps Batwing stand out in an overly crowded comic market…especially one flooded with Bat-titles.  I hope Ben Oliver will be back on this book soon!

Night of the Owls has been building for months, and now that it’s here I think the execution has been pretty damn close to flawless. Winick really took full advantage here to explore exactly what Batwing’s role is in “team Batman.” I especially loved how ruthless David got when he realized he could cut loose on a Talon without having to worry too much about killing him.

This was a really good week of comics (Amazing Spider-Man, Daredevil, Earth 2, World’s Finest, Animal Man, Swamp Thing were all damn good), and Batwing definitely stands up with those other great comics. Highly recommended!

Final Score: 8.0 – I miss Ben Oliver’s art, but Winick is doing strong work on Batwing, and this was a great part of the Night of the Owls crossover. Definitely worth checking out.

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