Monday, May 26, 2014

[New 52] The Night of the Owls [deluxe edition]

Arguably the most successful of DC's New 52 titles since its relaunch, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's BATMAN series continues to rise to the challenge and explore new heights and dimensions for Gotham's Dark Knight and lone caped crusader. I was dully impressed with the first volume The Court of Owls which was gorgeously drawn and poetically narrated, turning Gotham into its own creature and serving Batman with the cold truth that the city does not belong to him at all nor does he know all its dusty corners and deepest secrets which ultimately included the fabled Court of Owls.

The second volume that follows its bold climax and conclusion was not without its flaws and lacks its predecessor's suspense and enigma but it was still a commendable follow-up. Capullo's illustrations on the action sequences are sheer poetry in themselves and had certainly created an air of excitement and intrigue. Synder's writing is at its finest as well even if the direction of the actual plot could have been refined some more. Nevertheless, The Night of the Owls was exemplary and a more definitive crossover event for me, with tie-ins that are more personal to characters than plot-driven. I could say the same for The Joker: Death of the Family which I reviewed extensively before, but I felt that this collected edition had more substantial meat and bones in them when it comes to the tie-ins.

Like in the review of that previous crossover edition, I plan to briefly summarize each tie-in accordingly and decide whether it contributes to the Owls storyline and if you should even bothering picking it up. The thing about these tie-ins is that most of them are simply Owl-themed stories and are better appreciated by themselves since they don't exactly have any effect on Snyder's main arc. Still, there are some great ones worth reading. I would also like to point out that most of these tie-ins all happened during the course of one night and here is a breakdown by the hour, in case you want to read them that way. Right after the conclusion of The Court of Owls, each tie-in explores the events in different corners of Gotham City as the Talons try to assassinate a roster of prominent people.

If you don't know Jonah Hex at all then this story is not for you especially if you don't follow the actual line-up of this title. It's established that the Court of Owls has been around for centuries so this story focuses on that singular event when Hex crossed paths with a Talon assassin. That's really pretty much it.

Easily my third favorite of the tie-ins, this is an issue with action panels that were finely illustrated and the target in question in no other than Lucius Fox whom I believe is the most important character that should be protected, given his role and contribution to the research and development facility for anything weapons-related that equip Batman and his followers.

This had a solid narrative all throughout, making allusions to a previous war-ridden time and the Gotham City now. This is also when readers acquaint themselves with the subplot that these Talons used to be ordinary people before, ones who were captured and twisted into becoming self-sufficient killers. It's worth noting that each Talon that is confronted by a Bat-family member seems to echo the torment and inner demons of whoever one of Batman's surrogate children faces.

In this case, Barbara Gordon meets a female Talon whose life has been destroyed by a tragedy that she can very much relate to on some level, given her struggle with spinal paralysis after suffering in the hands of the Joker (in Alan Moore's memorable The Killing Joke). I think this is the most interesting and heartfelt aspect of the tie-ins; the way the Talons are contrasted with the heroes themselves as if they're merely less desirable reflections of the miseries that plague even the best of us. My second favorite tie-in, hands-down.

BATMAN #8 and #9
The direction of the Owl saga sacking the Gotham City like that was irresponsible and reckless, considering they had operated in the background and subtly at that for decades so I don't really understand why they choose to come to the light after all that hard work. Because they feel Batman is a bigger threat? Perhaps. But the logistics just don't add up. Here is a powerful and historical figure that had been integrated into Gotham City's very foundations and they managed to survive this long because of anonymity. And yet they come out with a force in order to eliminate important people in the city which they could have done easily through the manipulations and control they took pride in. No need for bloodshed, that's what I believe. I think we should all be able to acknowledge how absurd the Owl saga became when Synder decided to play his hand too loosely, essentially undermining the Court's supposedly intimate influence in the process. It had certainly dulled the sharp edge of their intrigue as well.

Still, I digress. Though the direction Snyder chose to do was for me not the most suitable of options, storytelling-wise, the action and suspense he did provide for these two issues were exhilarating. Deft, fast-paced and engrossing in all the right ways, issues 8 and 9 make a turn for the unthinkable and how Bruce Wayne himself must deal with the age-old repercussions.

The collected edition sadly did not include issues 10 and 11 which are for me the climactic ones that were able to give readers a satisfying pay-off while still ominously promising that the worst has yet to come to light. I suggest you pick up said issues and witness for yourself just how ultimately amazing Synder left it open-ended, and how these deadly pieces had drastically changed the way Bruce Wayne views his city.

I'm torn whether or not to commend this issue solely because I love, love, LOVE Damian Wayne as the current Robin. But this issue really didn't give any insightful/personal look unlike the other tie-ins did and it merely placed Damian Wayne in a position of authority and impressive combat skills as he tried to save an assassination target. The action panels were great to peruse through but this story really didn't do much.

NIGHTWING #9 and #10
My most favorite tie-in ever! I don't agree that making a chilling connection between Dick Grayson's origins and that of one of the Talons is an unnecessary complication. I believed it added dimension to his character and the entire plot itself, making the Court seemed more sinister in an intimate level for our heroes. This is such a tantalizing issue in scope, content and style. The art is exuberant and eye-catching all throughout, and the dialogue exchanges continue to make me feel uneasy and tense. I really enjoyed this story so much and you will too.

I feel that it must be said that every time Jason Todd is added in the mix of crossover events in the Batman universe (like with the Joker before), it leaves me very disappointed. Not the most likable of Robins, it's easy to dismiss Jason as the Red Hood to be some black sheep that is only brought in for extra muscle but I would like to believe he is still a significant member of the Bat-family. Frustratingly enough, this potential is never realized in his appearances in crossovers. His presence was taken too on-the-as well; even his interaction with a Talon that is supposed to be meaningful is diluted with the fact that he never truly takes a more active role other than to express his disdain over Batman. For someone who is at constant odds with his former surrogate father, he still keeps coming back to Gotham, forcing the notion that he is not able to cut ties with the city and his past at all. And that serves to weaken whatever character development he had undergone in the company of his outsider allies.

There is also this grave error in detail pertaining to the Talon's only weakness which is subzero atmosphere. Despite their regenerative properties, the Talons can be stopped through cold. And yet no one in the Court felt the need to send as many assassins to eliminate Mr. Freeze, the one supervillain who can defeat them with his power. Meanwhile, they send tons of them to Wayne Manor when they have yet to uncover that he is Batman. It's not nitpicking to point this out. It's really an unsettling part of the story that needs to be criticized.

Batman takes a detour to save Jeremiah Arkham. Clayface and Black Mask make appearances. This was an acceptable story to take a break from but nothing of urgency. You may only read this to know what other messes Batman has to clean up.

The women are confronted by a Talon and readers were offered a glimpse into the mind of said Talon which provided really interesting inner monologues across the panels. I really enjoyed the way the story was structured because it was neatly executed without going over-the-top in apprehending the Talon (like Batman and Robin #9) or completely being shoehorned in for the sake of action (Red Hood and the Outlaws #9). It's just another change in perspective in a corner of Gotham City that was brisk yet enjoyable.

I don't know why this was even included in the mix. I don't even feel like talking about it here. Quite a bit of a ret-con regarding the Talons so just skip this.

Just like with Damian Wayne, my affection for Catwoman makes it hard for me to dismiss this issue altogether. I certainly liked the heartfelt panels regarding Selina's sympathy for one of the Talons, Ephraim Newhouse, because she sees that he had been damaged in a way that she can understand, much like Barbara Gordon in Batgirl #9 with that female Talon. The story is simple enough; a Talon is sent to assassinate the Penguin who turned out to be hoarding bird-related artifacts and one of them was a blade that belonged to said Talon. A truly serendipitous moment, yes? Winick's work on Catwoman New 52 has generally made me uneasy but I would consider this issue to be one of his good ones.
RECOMMENDED: YES because I think that next to Nightwing #9 and Batgirl #9, this story is also quite effective in making us feel something for a Talon. And Ephraim Newhouse is a rather sympathetic Talon for me and I'd like to see more of him.

BONUS MATERIAL: Fall of the House Wayne and Batman Annual #1
I wouldn't like to give away too much about these stories but they were certainly intriguing to peruse tough especially the former. Told in the perspective of Alfred's father Jarvis Pennyworth as he writes his son a letter, this story has a horror vibe going on as we slowly unravel the truth about the early Court and its fixation on the Waynes. There are aspects about it that sort of ret-cons established details in the Batman mythos but I could overlook them. The latter story, on the other hand, was Mr. Freeze-centric which changes and revamps some of his origin story and is beautifully illustrated by Jason Fabok. A worthy read if you like said villain.


I'd like to think that I was able to discuss fairly this collection's merits and flaws, both as a sum of its parts and in accordance to its individual tie-ins. There are irrelevant threads here and there, and some questionable narrative decisions, but it doesn't diminish the fact that Scott Snyder has done us a service on his take on Batman for DC's New 52 and I'm eager to see him refine his duller points when it comes to storytelling and execution. There are plenty of good things that are up for grabs in the horizon and I'm very excited to start reading Batman: Zero Year and Batman Eternal next!

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