Batman: v.1: The Court of Owls Review

When DC relaunched its entire comic book line in September 2011, one of the clear standouts at that point in time was Batman, written by Scott Snyder and illustrated by Greg Capullo. Snyder was coming off of the well-received Batman: Black Mirror and Batman: Gates of Gotham storylines, and looked to shake things up with his appointment as regular writer of the re-launched Batman title. Snyder didn’t disappoint, as his first year on Batman told an epic story involving new Batman villains The Court of Owls. This long-awaited softcover collection collects Batman #1-7, the first half of Snyder’s epic year-long storyline, as Batman discovers the Court of Owls, and finds himself betrayed by a city he thought he knew like the back of his hand.

Right from the very beginning, Snyder shows that he understands how to write Bruce Wayne as Batman, how to get inside his mind and portray him both in a realistic manner, but also as a force of nature, as a superhero and so much more. In some ways, Snyder would have been well-suited to write Batman in Detective Comics, because he clearly understands how to actually write Batman as a detective. Often that is a character trait that is under-utilized or forgotten in the comics, and belies the additional strengths that lie in the character. The recent Batman films didn’t always make the best use of Batman’s strengths as a master detective, but here we see Scott Snyder finding a way to both play up Batman’s strengths, as well as deconstruct them. His focus in these first seven issues is to show that Batman, for all his strengths, has formed some false confidence as he thinks he knows all there is to know about his city, but his city has in fact some truly dark and horrible secrets that Batman isn’t yet privy to. It’s this journey that Snyder takes the reader and Batman on, as we see Batman come to understand that he’s been wrong all along, that there’s more to Gotham than even he realized, and it exacts a terrible price upon him.

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One of the best issues in this volume is issue #5, as Batman finds himself trapped and lost within the Court of Owls’ labyrinth, unable to find his way out, and dealing with sleep deprivation, exhaustion, hunger, and poisoned water. It’s an intense issue, as Batman confronts his inner demons, as well as the sheer hopelessness that accompanies being trapped within the labyrinth, before finally figuring a way out. This volume also features the first appearance of Harper Row, a character who has increased importance later in Snyder’s run, being the focus of issue #12 and #18, a character who he clearly has plans for.

Snyder can’t do it all on his own though, and although he has put together one hell of a script, it’s Greg Capullo’s artwork which really helps seal the deal here. Capullo is a veteran artist, but this is the first time I’ve truly been blown away by his artwork. He’s having a bit of a renaissance at the moment, and it’s clear to see why as you leaf through this collection. His rendition of Batman is fantastic, when Batman’s on top of his game, but I also love seeing how he renders Batman after a week in the labyrinth, with the damaged costume and bulging eyes. It’s tremendous work, and looks absolutely fantastic. The storytelling is quite crisp, and Capullo proves himself more than capable of being Snyder’s creative partner on this book.

If there’s one thing that’s disappointing about this volume, it’s that it leaves off with a great cliffhanger, as the Night of the Owls starts, bringing havoc upon Batman, his extended family, and Gotham as a whole. This is a fantastic volume, with some excellent action, some great intense storytelling, and some brilliant artwork by Greg Capullo. Snyder and Capullo are a great team, and I look forward to more of their work in future.