Demythify: Gotham City & Court of Owls Fracture Batman & DC New 52 Psyche With Owlman & Talon

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The Court of Owls has changed the world of DC Comics, and most particularly the Batverse, in ways we haven’t seen in a generation. The last time a storyline had this kind of impact was with the seeming death of the Jason Todd / Robin in the classic 1980s Death in the Family storyline. The Court Owls, through the Night of the Owls, has left physical and mental scars across several characters in the DC Universe and it is a richer world for it.

At the center of all of this is a new, vibrant, and mysterious Gotham City. A place that has become a character in it owns right and a major force of character progression in the DC Universe.

The Rise of Gotham City & Haly’s Circus

I will have to make an admission before I delve into this column: I did not read writer Scott Snyder’s much-loved Detective Comics series. I was aware of the buzz around his work, but never willed myself to pick up the book. However, with the DC Comics New 52 relaunch – and because I picked up all the #1 issues last September – I experienced his literary mastery and fell in love with his storytelling from the first page of Batman #1.

However, earlier in 2011, I was reading Batman: Gates of Gotham, a mini-series he co-wrote with another writing fave of mine Kyle Higgins and drawn by Trevor McCarthy. As you may know, Higgins helms Nightwing’s solo New 52 series, with Eddy Barrows on art, which chronicles the adventures of Batman’s now grown up first Robin, Dick Grayson.

Gates of Gotham was the telling of a secret history of Gotham City and its four founding families: Waynes, Kanes, Cobblepotts and Elliotts. And the offspring of those families have major impacts on the modern DCU: Waynes (Batman), Kanes (Batwoman), Cobblepotts (Penguin) and Elliotts (Hush). It was a great mini-series that told the story of how Gotham was built at turn of the century in the early 1900s and tying it to then modern day events.

    When a mystery as old as Gotham City itself surfaces, Batman assembles a team of his greatest detectives – including Red Robin, Owlman [Roy Raymond Jr. / hero on Outsiders], I-Ching and others – to investigate this startling new enigma. As clues are discovered and the mystery deepens, Batman’s team soon finds itself on a journey that explores different eras in Gotham’s history and touches upon notable Gotham families including the Waynes, Kanes, and Elliotts.

While some of the modern day elements of the mini-series must be discounted, e.g. the hero Owlman and the Outsiders since they don’t appear to be in the New 52, the historical aspects seem to endure as the bible for DC’s batbooks’ portrayal of the history of Gotham and was the fertile ground from which the Court of Owls and their assassin Talons burst from. The mini-series made Gotham City into its own character. And, in many ways, Scott Snyder’s Batman book could just as easily have been named “Batman & Gotham City” in the same way that there is a “Batman & Robin” series since Gotham City as a character is so integral to his yarn.

The Court of Owls storyline also took the lessons of Gates of Gotham and helped elevate Haly’s Circus as a venue – a travelling one mind you – and make Nightwing more integral to the Batverse and DCU. Haly’s Circus was the circus in which Dick Grayson, as a boy, and his parents performed as acrobats. Under that big top his parents died by decree of Boss Zucco and Batman noticed and eventually took Grayson in as a ward.

Through the Court of Owls tale we learn that over several generations Haly’s was the recruitment ground for the human weapons of the Court of Owls, the Talons.

It makes sense since as the circus travelled the world, became home to many a disenfranchised child performer, and provides for a bevy of skilled young’uns: the acrobat, the fire-eater, the human cannon ball, the escape artist, etc.

Writer Kyle Higgins in his own right as Nightwing scribe, brought back Haly’s Circus in the New 52 and that Circus has become its own character and so integral to the recent happenings in that book.

What has also been a nice reveal was that Dick Grayson, a talented acrobat as a boy, was intended to be a Talon. However, after his parents died, he became Batman / Bruce Wayne’s ward and never ascended, or descended depending on your POV, into the servitude of the Court.

Equally intriguing was that those who became Talons, all gained virtual immortality due to the serum they receive that heightens their physical attributes. This allowed for Dick Grayson / Nightwing’s great-grandfather, William Cobb, to be revived from a dormant Talon and become a major part of the Night of the Owls storyline tangling with both Batman and Nightwing. It allowed Snyder and Higgins to tackle the concept of destiny and legacy in a deeper way. In Higgins’ hands we also learned about the origin of Dick’s surname of Grayson. It is a changed named that put two interesting words together: Gray and Son. It is amazing how seemingly self-evident concepts like this become noticed for the first time and become quite relevant to story before us.

Seeing Nightwing battle his descendent as a Talon provided both the physical and emotional challenge that captivated reading audiences and proved why Nightwing as a series is just as important as the Batman series in the New 52.

The Talons Strike & The Owlman Intrigue

Since the first few pages of the DC New 52’s Batman series penned by Scott Snyder and BEAUTIFULLY illustrated by Greg Capullo, I – and I imagine several other readers – were wondering if DC was going to have the Court of Owls as a major villain cabal, where was Owlman? Why were Talons and not Owlmen their chosen weapons?

Certainly through the series that culminated in the Night of the Owls, readers I think soon forgot about the initial pangs of longing for an Owlman or Owlmen and fully embraced the Talons and the Court as major threats to Batman and the status quo of Gotham City and the DCU.

Afterall, Talons also have a history of being associated with Owls in the DCU.

In the recent past of DC Comics, as part of Countdown and a few other books, the Talon was established as an alternate Earth’s noble Robin figure to a nefarious Owlman. The Talon escaped to New Earth as it was then known pre-Flashpoint, because he had more virtuous aspirations and became a Teen Titans in the one year gap. As fans may recall, a few years ago, DC moved all of its series forward one year with characters ending up in very different places after that year, e.g. Oliver Queen, Green Arrow, as Mayor of Star City, the Teen Titans going through almost 30 members in a year including the Talon, etc. In addition, Tiny Titans, a fun all-ages DC book, had some fun in recent times with the Talon. :)

While the Talons were established as villains in the last 10 months of the DC Comics relaunch, I was intrigued with DC Comics announced a Talon ongoing series as part of its third wave titles. One of its co-writers was not surprisingly Scott Snyder who described the book as follows:

    Calvin Rose is a real anti-hero… He’s a new character that we haven’t seen in the Court of Owls storyline. But he has a long and twisted relationship with the Court because he betrayed them and left.

    In the past, everyone who has become a Talon was working in the circus at some point. And Calvin was a kid escape artist, and the Court turned their eye on him very early as someone who might be useful to them.

    But when we meet him, he’s someone that the Court has been hunting for a long time. He’s the only guy who ever escaped the fate of the Talons. And so they’ve been hunting him for years… and is hoping, because of what happened with “Night of the Owls,” that they’re gone. But I think he’ll have a rude awakening…

    …To me, it has that sort of “Bruce Banner on the run” feeling. I loved that TV show when I was a kid, about showing up in different places and hoping you don’t get caught. That sense of a drifter in the DCU really appealed to me.

The concept appears compelling and it will be interesting to be introduced to this new character in September’s Talon #0. With James Tynion IV co-writing, and seemingly going solo as writer after a few opening issues with Snyder, and Catwoman’s Guillem March on art, this has the potential to be a successful book. Tynion’s current co-writing efforts in the main Batman book and Batman Annual #1 have proven to be solid creative outings.

Here’s what James Tynion IV has to tease about the new series:

    The zero issue takes place roughly five years ago, and sets the groundwork of the relationship between our dashing protagonist, Calvin Rose, and The Court of Owls. We’ll learn his story and get a strong sense of where he’s been before the story proper begins in the first issue.

    “Talon” #1 will put Calvin on a mission that will put all of his talents to the test. He’s spent his entire life escaping from certain death, but he never thought actual freedom was in his grasp. “Talon” #1 puts it in his reach, and he’s going to do whatever it takes to get there. It’s going to be a fast-paced/action thriller kind of book.

    “Talon” #0 sets the tone and introduces the character. “Talon” #1 sets the story in motion. I think it works out pretty nicely…

    …Calvin never let the Court break him like they broke the others before him. He’s made of sterner stuff, although his former masters would probably view it as a kind of weakness. Because of that, he’s got a bit more of a personality than the Talons we’ve seen so far. There’s a lot more that will make him stand out from the pack, but readers will have to wait and see when the story begins this September.

On top of all that it appears that it is likely that as Talon travels across the DCU, we may get some interesting guest stars. Time will tell, but this book seems to have a lot plusses. DC should be given kudos for trying something new in an era where, with only very few exceptions, the success of the New 52 has been with established “name” properties. The Talon, while having some limited past DC exposure, really is new fertile ground.

The Owlman Wildcard

With the Night of the Owls over and with the Scott Snyder wrapping his broader initial Court of Owls arc with next month’s Batman #11, the major development in this past week’s Batman #10 was all the more intriguing.

I had totally forgotten about my initial clamoring for an Owlman and was pleasantly surprised by his emergence at the end of Batman #10. The internet buzz has been focused on the character’s not-so-secret identity.

Now, what follows are SPOILERS for BATMAN #10. So, if you haven’t read it, plan to, and don’t want to be spoiled, skip past this section of my column.



I’m serious.

Ok, here we go…

Whether Owlman is in fact Bruce Wayne’s younger brother Thomas Wayne Jr. or just a misguided soul who wants to be or thinks he’s a Wayne, the fact that Bruce Wayne and Batman have a physical and emotional foil that can go toe-to-toe with him is a great addition to Batman’s rogues.

Certainly, Owlman has a long and storied career in the DC Universe. His costume has either been blue or gray and he is either from an alternate Earth or an alternate anti-matter universe. Owlman has also had some cool costumes in DC’s animated properties recently in Batman: the Brave and the Bold and the direct-to-DVD Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths.

(Get your microheroes at DC Microheroes Wiki.)

Now, the last pre-Flashpoint incarnation was the one we already spoke to: Roy Raymond Jr. of the Outsiders. It was nice seeing an Owlman on the main DC Earth. While the hero aspect was intriguing, I’m glad Snyder has a brought us Owlman as a foil to Batman. It doesn’t mean there can’t or won’t be a Crime Syndicate alternate Earth version of Owlman in the future, likely in Grant Morrison’s Multiversity opus, but its nice that the main New 52 Earth gets its “own” Owlman too.

Plus that Greg Capullo costume design treads new ground and is a nice departure from previous costumes for those that were Owlmen. By going a new route costume wise for the New 52 Owlman – which is also beautifully rendered in the variant cover for Batman #11 by Andy Clarke – DC can still use the more classic interpretations of the costume and character in any pertinent multiverse adventure.

It was also pretty cool reading Scott Snyder describing his new Batman foil, the New 52’s Owlman:

    You can’t just introduce a character and have him put on a suit and go, “I’m the new Owlman, and I’m your brother.”
    It had to be something where there was a symbol that was repositioned in a way that’s new — something that revealed itself layer by layer. That’s what we were trying to do with the Court — not just an idea to support Owlman because they obviously still have their own story going forward in “Batman” and in “Talon” the book that starts in September with James Tynion IV and Guilliem March, but also the idea that the Court is part of a larger movement in history that culminates in a moment for Batman where this guy says, “I’m the answer. I’m the final part of this mystery that’s based solely in Gotham. It’s a mystery about Alan Wayne and the architecture of the city and the stuff that haunts you.” All of that funnels into what makes this Owlman scary….

    …I thought for “Batman” #1, what thing would be scary and totally different from anything you’ve seen before? What’s a symbol we could build up to rival the bat? For me, that was the owl. So this really is about trying to construct from the bedrock of Gotham where the labyrinth is up to the tallest towers the notion that someone runs the city that Batman doesn’t know. And ultimately, someone has to step out and say, “This all happened because you only look at what’s in front of your nose. You only look at the present and never the past. If you’d look at the past for one moment, you’d see me. I come from all you don’t know, and I wear the owl on my chest.”

    So really, we wanted to create a villain that took the pieces of villains from the past or owl mythology from the past to make something new and scary and permanent. I have a story in mind for Lincoln should he survive issue #11 for a year from now or so. I’d like to bring him back and show what a formidable foe for Batman beyond his origin story here.

With Batman #11 a month away, readers have 4 weeks to stew on the identity of the Owlman and his fate. The Thomas Wayne Jr. name has been affiliated with the Owlman as identity in his alternate universe incarnations. However, whether the New 52’s Owlman turns out to truly be Bruce’s younger brother, or turns out to “really” be Doctor Hurt as Grant Morrison teased a while ago, the Wayne brother mystery, I hope, will be a long-standing one.

Marvel made Wolverine less compelling by revealing his “hidden” Origin in the same named series. My hope is that the “is he, isn’t he” aspect of Owlman in terms of his Wayne lineage isn’t resolved so soon. That said, in Snyder I trust, so I am intrigued to see what happens next as he wraps up his year one Court of Owls arc next month.

It’s also nice that the Court of Owls are here to stay as an important part of Gotham City and Batman lore, but may be on the back-burner going forward scheming in shadow. It appears that they or their members may pop up here and there over the upcoming year in more than one book, likely Batman, Nightwing and Talon, but not be as prominent, and I’m fine with that.

The mystery of what’s next for the Court after their failure during the Night of Owls seems like a compelling simmering subplot.

The Night of the Owls & Nite-Owl

Readers have for years clamored for self-contained events that do not compel readers to buy every issue if they don’t want to – $$$ afterall. With that, while the Night of the Owls event was a looser one than we’ve seen in years, I liked how it fit that bill. You could read whichever books you wished and not feel like you were missing something by not reading all of them.

I particularly liked the inclusion of All Star Western to the event since it takes place around the same time as the Gates of Gotham and makes sense to have a Talon emerge since the Court was active back then.

And, in an abrupt segue, ;) although not tied to the main DC Universe, if you want more Owl, you can catch Nite-Owl in the Before Watchmen series of mini-series.

Here’s the solicit for its first issue that hits shelves June 27th:

    “The hero known to the public only as Nite Owl announced his retirement today.”

    Plus: Don’t miss the CRIMSON CORSAIR backup story by writer LEN WEIN and artist JOHN HIGGINS!

    Written by: J. Michael Straczynski.
    Backup Written by: Len Wein.
    Art by: Andy Kubert / Joe Kubert.
    Backup Art by: John Higgins.
    Cover by: Andy Kubert / Joe Kubert

Please note that Before Watchmen is not set on DC Comics prime New 52 Earth and that this alternate world’s Nite-Owl is analogue of DC Comics’ Blue Beetle (Ted Kord of Charlton Comics fame) and not of DC’s Owlman. That said, the creative team on the book is amazing and reinforces DC Comics’ 2011-12 as the Year of the Owl.

Ta, ta. :)

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John is a long-time pop culture fan, comics historian, and blogger. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief at Comics Nexus. Prior to being EIC he has produced several column series including DEMYTHIFY, NEAR MINT MEMORIES and the ONE FAN'S TRIALS at the Nexus plus a stint at Bleeding Cool producing the COMICS REALISM column. As BabosScribe, John is active on his twitter account, his facebook page, his instagram feed and welcomes any and all feedback. Bring it on!