52 Catch Up is a series devoted to looking at issues from DC’s New 52 and seeing how they’re faring now that they’re underway, why they’re worth reading (or not), and places we hope they will go in time.
After many years serving as the protector of Gotham City, Batman learns someone is pulling the strings, manipulating political and criminal events to suit them and has been doing so for hundreds of years. They are the Court of Owls, a group that everyone thought was only a nursery rhyme.
Beware the Court of Owls that watches all the time,
ruling Gotham from a shadow perch, behind granite and lime,
They watch you at your hearth, they watch you in your bed,
speak not a whispered word of them or they’ll send the talon for your head.
MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW
Previously on Batman: Covering Issues #1-#8
Batman infiltrates Arkham Asylum to stop a bribed guard from freeing Arkham prisoners, but when the man sees Batman coming, he opens all of the cells. Faced against dozens of his old foes, Batman is outclassed until none other than the Joker comes to his aid. Once the inmates are put down and the guard is in custody, Batman passes the news over to Commissioner Gordon and retreats to Wayne Manor to get ready for a gala he is hosting later that evening. The “Joker” comes, too, but is revealed to have been Nightwing, Dick Grayson, in disguise. At the gala, Bruce announces his plans to rebuild Gotham, focusing on its run-down and neglected areas. While looking for potential investors, Bruce talks to Lincoln March, a candidate for Gotham’s upcoming mayoral election. They set up a date to discuss contributions to both campaigns further, but Bruce cuts the conversation short when he overhears Gordon on the phone about a homicide.
The victim is filled with dozens of throwing knives, each with a decorated owl on the hilt. Batman takes one of the knives as a clue, discovers a hidden message announcing Bruce Wayne as the killer’s next target, and finds none other than Dick Grayson’s DNA under the victim’s fingernails. Dick explains that he met the victim a week ago and was scratched when the guy grabbed a hold of his arm and wouldn’t let go. The next day, Bruce goes to his meeting with March at the top of Wayne Tower. The two men don’t get a chance to talk when a man, dressed in a stylized owl costume, comes rushing into the room, throwing a knife into March and several into Bruce. Bruce fights back and the assassin and he go tumbling out of the top of Wayne Tower. Bruce manages to catch himself on one of the gargoyles built into Wayne Tower, but the assassin hits pavement. Paramedics load the assassin into the back of an ambulance, but on their way to the morgue, the assassin wakes up, kills the paramedics, and escapes.
With the assassin gone, Batman investigates how the assassin snuck into Wayne Tower. His confrontation with some local smugglers reveals nothing. Batman starts to dwell on a comment the assassin made during the fight, that he “Enjoyed killing Waynes.” This leads him to investigate the death of his great-great-grandfather, Alan Wayne, who grew senile and slightly crazed later in life, constantly speaking about owls and how they were watching him. Batman realizes the only way the assassin could have gotten into Wayne Tower is if he was already there. A lot of buildings lack a dedicated 13th floor for superstitious reasons but there is almost always a little crawl space to contain the bad luck of the 13th floor. Wayne Tower’s 13th floor contains gear and equipment for the assassin, as do dozens of other Wayne Foundation built buildings. Each also contains a picture of a group of masked men and women, the Court of Owls from the nursery rhyme. The assassin is none other than the Talon mentioned in the rhyme.
Batman sets off a tripwire at one of the Talon’s hideouts but manages to escape the blast. He then digs up his ancestor, Alan Wayne’s skeleton, and investigates the connection between his ancestor and the Court. His examination reveals that Alan was stabbed dozens of times by small throwing knives, just like the Court’s most recent victim. Dick confronts Bruce, concerned that he is pushing himself too hard, but as usual, Bruce shrugs it off. Batman returns to the sewers where Alan’s body was found but is ambushed by the Talon and knocked out.
When he awakes, Batman finds himself inside a labyrinth. He wanders for 8 days, forced to drink the drugged water from the fountain he is able to find. He starts to hallucinate that his parents are there and that he is changing into an owl when the Talon runs him through with a sword. The Court are up above the labyrinth watching and are eager for the Talon to finish Batman off. The Talon delivers a brutal beating to Batman, but the dark knight manages to return the favor and is the last man standing. Using some of the Talon’s equipment, Batman blows up the fountain and escapes into the waterway beneath. The Court pushes the body of the defeated Talon in after him. A girl named Harper pulls Batman out, and when he isn’t breathing, zaps him with a car battery to bring him back to life. Recognizing Harper, Batman does everything he can to get away from her.
Barely home, much less recovered from his numerous injuries, Batman resumes his investigation. The Talon’s body was retrieved from the water, and Batman discovers it belongs to a dead man, one William Cobb, none other than the great-grandfather to Dick Grayson. The Talons are selected at a young age to serve the Court, bearing a tooth marked with the Court’s crest. The Talons are reanimated after they die and possess superior strength and amazing healing abilities in order to serve the Court. One of Dick’s teeth is marked with the crest, he was marked to possibly serve as a replacement for Cobb. Meanwhile, the Court decides it is time to change the rules and begin to awaken dozens of Talons they had in storage. A group on them attack Wayne Manor. Bruce manages to take out several, grabbing a data chip off one of the Talons while he and Alfred retreat to the Batcave. There, Bruce suits up in an armored costume and holds off the assassins while Alfred uses the Batcomputer to read the data chip. The Talons are set to hit every influential person in Gotham, political leaders, the rich, higher-ups in the police, etc. Alfred puts out a call to all of their allies for assistance.
Batman’s Narrations: The early issues start off with some really cool internal monologues from Batman, separated over the course of an entire issue. The monologues pertain to the situation at hand and serve as a good comparison point to his shaken viewpoint after confronting the Court.
Detective Work: My summary does not do this justice. Many times Batman’s skills in gadgetry or martial arts is in the limelight, but Batman is first and foremost intended to be a detective. There are a lot of great scenes of Batman doing just that and none of his leaps of logic are so far as to not be believable. Furthermore, Snyder does a great job of keeping these scenes interesting. Commissioner Gordon, Alfred, or Dick are usually around so Batman can explain his findings aloud in between dealing with another matter, such as Dick’s relation to the Court of Owls, Batman’s investigations as a child, or the frequent concern of those around him to take a night off.
Moments of Pure Awesome: The first eight issues are filled with a lot of great cinematic moments ranging from fighting while falling from a tower to using the giant penny in the Batcave as a weapon.
Court of Owls: One of the best new creations of the new 52, the Court of Owls is a shadowy organization that’s been pulling the strings of Gotham for hundreds of years. While there is still a lot unknown about the Court, what’s been revealed so far fits seamlessly within the Batman mythos.
Harper: One of the most confusing moments is in Issue #7 when Batman’s life is saved by a girl named Harper. Batman obviously dislikes her and has some sort of history, but no explanation is given. When I looked Harper up online I learned that she is a new character created by Snyder who hasn’t been explained any further. Given the start of the “Night of Owls” arc, I doubt we’re going to get any answers anytime soon.
Filler: The earlier issues have a bit of filler, with random fights and situations that have nothing to do with the Court of Owls plot. These scenes are still unabated Batman fun and showcase Batman’s occasional dead ends, but, looking back, they add little to the overall tale.
Night of Owls: Batman #8 marks the beginning of the “Night of Owls” arc. The implication at the end of the issue is that this arc will spill over into other titles such as Batgirl, Batman & Robin, Catwoman, Nightwing, Red Hood and the Outlaws, and Birds of Prey. There are also some pretty heavy implications that the Court of Owls is going to be tied back into the Gotham of the 19th Century in All-Star Western.
Wayne & Grayson Family History: The fight with the Court is personal to two of the most important characters in the Batman mythos, Bruce and Dick. It looks like Alan Wayne was killed by the Court for as yet unknown reasons, and there is some implication that the death of Bruce’s parents may have been orchestrated by the Court. Dick has been confronted with one of his ancestors and has to deal with the fact that he was intended to be an assassin. There’s still even a chance that the Court may still want him as a Talon.
Batman’s Faith: After his experience in the labyrinth, Batman is pretty badly beaten, and perhaps more frightening, it shows in his thoughts and actions. While he hasn’t given up and has still pushed forward, there have been doubts about his actions in Gotham. Where in Issue #1 he felt that Gotham was his city, by Issue #8 it’s obvious that Gotham belongs to the Court of Owls and always has.