For those of you who haven’t been paying much attention to the so-called “Batman Universe” lately, the Court Of Owls are relative newcomers to the Caped Crusader’s newly-rewritten-backstory, created by writer Scott Synder and artist Greg Capullo, and represent, as far as I’m aware, the first “original” Bat-villains created specifically for “The New 52.” As a matter of fact, ol’ Bats has been battling them — and their undead assassin known as the Talon — pretty much non-stop for the past two years now. Which means we’re getting a pretty healthy and heavy dose of these guys, like it or not.
Who exactly are they, then, you’re probably wondering at this point? Well, no one knows — and everybody knows. They’re a shadowy organization composed of members of Gotham City’s ruling elite who wear Owl Masks when they they hobnob together in secret to set their city’s fate, so if they sound a lot like the Masons or Shriners — or at least like what the conspiracy crowd would have you believe the Masons or Shriners are like —that’s probably not too far off the mark. Of course, the whole assassin-employed-for-a-larger-purpose angle reeks of another — and frankly better — Bat-nemesis, namely Ra’s Al Ghul, but whatever. All in all the Court’s not a bad bunch of villains even if we don’t know exactly who they are. Which is probably part of their charm, I suppose.
In any case, the Waynes have apparently been bumping into these mysterious string-pullers for a couple centuries now, so there’s some bad blood that’s built up between them and Batman’s “real life” alter-ego, even if we’re only just now (well, now as in over the course of the past 24 months) hearing about it.
Naturally DC’s going to want to showcase this current “hot” property in the ongoing “Villains Month,” and give ’em the full works with a 3-D holographic cover and everything, and so it’s come to pass that Batman And Robin #23.2 has been purposely “hijacked” to become Court Of Owls #1 and author James Tynion IV and illustrator Jorge Lucas have been tasked with presenting something of a stand-alone story featuring these whoever-they-ares doing their thing with no Dark Knight Detective around to scuttle their plans.
I guess I found the whole thing reasonably involving enough as a reader, and Lucas’ rather somber and atmospheric art job is one of the better ones turned in on any of the “Villain” books, but it’s worth pointing out that Tynion is essentially following the same blueprint for this issue as he did for his Ra’s Al Ghul And The League Of Assassins #1 script (I won’t say which came first, since while the books themselves hit the store shelves one week apart, with this one getting a jump on its counterpart, chances are that Tynion probably wrote them at more or less the same time) — namely throw in a few flashback scenes of dubious (if any) import centering around the Court’s past and somehow tie those in with a present-day narrative that sees an emissary of the Forever Evil version of the Sinister Syndicate approaching the Owl-heads to jump on board with his masters’ plans for world domination, only to have his generous gesture of a slice of the action rebuked in rather stark and violent terms.
In short, the two books are the same thing, only drawn by different artists and featuring different bad guys. This one might be the (nominally) “better” of the two, I suppose, but neither feels all that necessary and both are far more competent than they are actually compelling. I didn’t feel the urge to punch a hole in the wall or slit my wrists or something a la the reaction I had to, say, Darkseid #1 or The Creeper #1, but I did feel like I could have done a lot better things with the four bucks and ten minutes’ time this comic cost me.