Looking Back At Batman #1: The Court of Owls

Jeffrey Hull Jeffrey Hull
Expert Contributor
June 18th, 2017

Jeff Hull is the original founder of ComiConverse. He can usually be found behind a computer or the rugby field. He is also the world's biggest Darkwing Duck fan!

Looking Back At Batman #1: The Court of Owls
Comics
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Review of: Batman #1 (2011)
Price:
Masterfull

Reviewed by:
Rating:
5
On June 18, 2017
Last modified:June 19, 2017

Summary:

Snyder did what many lesser mortals would have thought impossible.  He created a completely original Batman story that mixed the new with the familiar and turned Batman's "oldest and truest" friend against him - Gotham City itself.

Review of: Batman #1 (2011)
Price:
Masterfull

Reviewed by:
Rating:

5
On June 18, 2017
Last modified:June 19, 2017

Summary:

Snyder did what many lesser mortals would have thought impossible.  He created a completely original Batman story that mixed the new with the familiar and turned Batman's "oldest and truest" friend against him - Gotham City itself.

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Batman: The Court of Owls has now become one of the most memorable Batman arcs to emerge from DC Comics in modern times. Its themes and plot points have made their way to the small screen on Gotham. The real accomplishment of the arc, however, was in the way it pushed fresh new ideas to the fore, in a corner of the DC Comics universe that is always in danger of retreading old ground.  After all, with a character that has been perched atop Gotham's gargoyles since 1939, how many new challenges could possibly await the Caped Crusader.  What new antagonist could possibly be brought forward these days to exceed those Batman has already faced-down?

Enter Scott Snyder.

Snyder did what many lesser mortals would have thought impossible.  He created a completely original Batman story that mixed the new with the familiar and turned Batman's "oldest and truest" friend against him - Gotham City itself.  Join us, as ComiConverse looks back at 2011's Batman: The Court of Owls by Scott Snyder with art by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion.

A Batman story of the ages.

Looking Back At Batman: The Court of Owls

(Spoilers necessarily lie ahead).

Story continues below

"Gotham Is".   It's a segment run every week in the Gotham Gazette, Snyder tells us in the opening lines of Batman #1; one where the Gazette's readers are offered the chance to define the city they live in.  But surely both Snyder's protagonist and his own readers must have felt they knew the answer to this question by now.  Gotham is dark. Gotham is dangerous. But through it all Gotham has always been Batman's city.  Our hero tells us as much in his internal monologue during the issue's opening pages.

It's a level of certainty we all shared.

Over the years, there have been efforts to see other antagonists dislodge heroes like Batman and Superman as defenders of their respective cities.  Magog famously sought a showdown with Superman, in the Kingdom Come storyline, for the right to defend Metropolis, while numerous foes like Jean-Paul Valley and Jason Todd have all tried to claim Gotham for themselves at Batman's expense. What has remained constant during all of this has been the character of the cities themselves.  Metropolis with its gleaming towers and Gotham with its dark back-alleys, each inherently tied to its protector at an almost spiritual level.  Listening to Batman and Superman speak about their cities, its not hard to see the sense of psychic income they draw from their connection to Gotham and Metropolis.

In particular, I will always remember the sudden surge of energy and purpose that overcame Superman, as he watched Doomsday close in on Metropolis, during the Death of Superman story arc.  These characters are defined by the cities they protect, and that was a thread very few writers had seen fit to pull on, until Snyder tore that fabric wide open in 2011.

Batman #1:  A Perfect Start

Every great detective story begins with the mundane and steams boldly towards the fantastic.  Snyder opens his masterpiece with a day like any other in Gotham.  Batman, with the help of his closest ally, is undertaking a seemingly low-level investigation into a guard at Arkham Asylum who is likely on the take. Having loosed most of Arkham's most dangerous prisoners to block Batman's path, we never do dive any deeper into the guard's activities, are instead left to gaze upon an incredible two-page spread by Greg Capullo, where Batman is  starred-down by a hallway full of his rogue's galleries more prominent members.  To the bottom-right, we see Batman's mouth curl into a thin-smile. Though the odds seem overwhelming, these are familiar criminals whose actions can be easily predicted, and Batman is never without a plan.

There is one arch criminal absent from the scene, however, and we are soon taken inside an adjoining cell, where we find The Joker casually reading a novel.  The two banter back and forth, before we see the Joker helping out the Caped Crusader with some rather acrobatic-looking fighting moves.

Here we see the foreshadowing of several themes that will dominate the Court of Owls arc; friends, enemies and the blurring of the lines between them.  Let's not forget the connection that exists between Dick Grayson and the Joker.  As we learn that Nightwing was, in fact, role-playing the Joker, the more Bat-litterate among us will remember the Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, where we are shown an older angry Tim Drake, who has had his personality taken over by the Clown Prince of Crime.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker

Credit: Warner Brothers

Batman #1 sets a similar tone by dropping numerous hints about the trustworthiness of Batman's closest friends. Seeing Nightwing stroll boldly through the Batcave, still in full Joker garb, leads to a cool bit of dialogue, in which we find that Bruce was eerily impressed by Dick's ability to role-play a psychopath, and that Batman left his side-kick in Arkham an extra day, for fairly questionable reasons. Why? We are not really told.

From there, we see Bruce Wayne basking in his role as one of Gotham's leading citizens. Bruce Wayne may be a role Batman likes to play, however, there is no doubt that both sides of his persona relish their opportunities to help steer Gotham in the right direction.  As Wayne makes a presentation to Gotham's high society, we are shown a light show displaying the 'Gotham of Tomorrow' - it is the Gotham of Bruce's dreams.  As yet, it's a Gotham that both Bruce Wayne and our reader continue to hope for.  Gotham City remains a fairly stable and predictable feature of any Batman story, and its assets and challenges are familiar to all of us.

At least for a little while longer.

Story continues below

We are quickly introduced to Lincoln March, a Mayoral candidate who is also seemingly interested in steering Gotham towards a better future. Bruce is only able to deal with Lincoln's flattery briefly, before Alfred calls to direct Batman towards the scene of a grizzly murder.

Credit: DC Comics

The opening shot of the crime scene sees an outline of Batman rising up from behind Detective Harvey Bullock, reminiscent of scenes from Batman: The Animated Series.  We hear Bullock make a snide remark about Batman returning to "stealth" mode, in contrast to his days in Batman Incorporated under Grant Morrison, when the character's activities were much more public.

From there, we are taken through a marvellous episode of CSI Gotham, as Snyder uses the investigation of the crime scene to accomplish many of the essential functions for this first introductory issue.  We are introduced to the Court of Owls and to Batman's remarkable dismissiveness towards the idea of their existence. Batman is certain he knows his city to its core, although Harvey Bullock is unquestionably less sure.  Bullock's vision of Gotham is that of a street level cop, who feels lucky to have escaped home each night in Gotham's back alleys. The two banter about the crime scene and the legend of the Court, prior to Batman discovering a warning written in linseed oil on the wall. Once lit, the writing reads...

Bruce Wayne will die tomorrow.

With the flaming words still burning in the background, a triphammer series of images and phrases get every bat-fan excited for what's about to come next. First, Alfred calls-in to let Batman know that the DNA testing has come back form the corpse looming before Bullock and Bruce. It shows the DNA of DICK GRAYSON!

Then, as Batman absorbs that information, Bullock rambles about how Bruce Wayne's likely assassin would have to be someone within his inner circle and how Gotham is not a city to be trusted. In the end, Bullock says, Gotham is not a trusted friend, Gotham is "a mystery".

And so, issue one ends with a renewed focus Gotham City's character, a new and exciting notion within the Batman mythology.

The reader is left slightly shaken with a new mistrust of both Batman's closest friend and the city that has been Batman's reason d'être since he dawned the cape and cowl.

And yet, one get's the sense that Batman's faith in both has remained unchanged, for now.

Batman #1 (2011)

  • 5

Masterfull

Snyder did what many lesser mortals would have thought impossible.  He created a completely original Batman story that mixed the new with the familiar and turned Batman's "oldest and truest" friend against him - Gotham City itself.

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