Monday, 17 March 2014

Batman Vol.2: The City of Owls (The New 52) Review

Batman Vol. 2: The City of Owls (The New 52)

Batman's football team is going all the
way this year.
Writers: Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV

Artists: Greg Capullo, Jonathon Glapion, Rafael Albuquerque and Jason Fabok (Phew!)

Collects: Batman #8-12 and Batman Annual #1

Background Information:

Welcome to Scott Snyder Week! 5 books by Snyder over five days!

If you haven’t read Scott Snyder’s spectacular Batman Vol. 1: Court of Owls, then this is book might go over your head. What’s worse, though, you’d be missing half of one of the greatest Batman stories of all time!

But, if you’re stubborn, the Court of Owls are a group of wealthy Gothamites who secretly rule Gotham from the shadows. They also have a penchant for sending assassins named Talons to kill people they don’t like. In the last Batman volume, the court uses a special regenerating formula to bring back the Talons from the last two hundred years with Wolverine-like healing powers (theory: the dude’s in so many books that he’s spilling over into DC) to boot and sending them out to “take Gotham city”.


For a book called The City of Owls, this collection spends a lot of time either in Wayne Manor, or in Gotham after the court has been defeated. When Gotham is a city of owls, we’re not in the city and when Batman is in the city, the Owls have pretty much vacated. But that’s okay, because The City of Owls is a brilliant end to one of the best Bat-Stories you’re likely to read in years.

So after Batman’s escape from the court, Bruce is left emotionally broken. The Gotham that he once thought was his city doesn’t exist and in its place is a dark entity in which Bruce is just a guest. It’s precisely at that moment that an army of Talons comes to Wayne manner with the intent on murdering the billionaire playboy. It seems like overkill, but Bruce was able to avoid a Talon before (and not as Batman), so I guess the Court really wants him dead.

The Court of Owls established themselves as great villains in the last book, and here is no different. The whole concept of the Court is unnerving. It’s great to see that Snyder understands that the best Batman stories are only 50% action at most- usually only about 30%. The rest is usually equal parts mystery and horror. The City of Owls pulls this off by giving us villains with emotional complexity and a serious mental problem.

Central to the last volume was the theme of control. That theme doesn’t play out as strongly here, instead, themes of privilege and secrecy are central to this one. I won’t give too much away, as it’s pretty essential to how this story plays out, but it ties the Wayne family directly to the Court of Owls.

While there are some pretty dark moments in this collection, they somehow don’t hit the mark the same way that they did in Court of Owls, instead, we’re mostly getting an action story. It’s a pity to see the element of psychological horror that made the previous volume so awesome left out, but the action here is more than satisfying enough.

Admittedly, some of the book tends to drag on a bit, and none so more than the Batman annual that revamps Mr. Freeze’s origin for the New 52. I love Mr. Freeze. When I was a kid, the best news I got was that Mr. Freeze would be appearing in Batman And Robin back in ’97 (don’t judge me). But by the time I got halfway through the annual, I was ready for it to be over. They aren’t moments that make the book awful, but they break the momentum of an otherwise perfect book.

One of the things I’ve been complaining about with the New 52 is the artwork. It’s generally very good, but there seems to be too much that looks the same. Ivan Reis, Doug Mahnke and Jim Lee are all excellent artists, but their art tends to look the same. That’s not something I can say for Batman’s main artist Greg Capullo. The dude has been drawing Spawn for years, and some of that creepiness and gritty lines has rubbed off on Batman. Thanfully, it suits the Dark Knight like a glove and, more importantly, it’s a book that I can say looks like Batman and not like Justice League or Green Lantern.

Overall, this is a series that if you’re not reading, you should be. I now can’t imagine anyone other than Scott Snyder writing Batman (and for the record, I have read work by Grant Morrison and Tony S. Daniel). The City of Owls gets a four and a half out of five Wolverine appearances.

**** ½

+ A seriously well-developed villain

+ Art is distinctive and looks fantastic

+ Works well thematically

- Some parts of the book drag out a bit

Alternate Option: Nightwing: Night of Owls

This book ties directly into City of Owls, so it’s definitely worth a look.

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