Debriefing #22: ‘The City of Owls’

cityofowls-cover

Batman: The City of Owls
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Greg Capullo

After narrowly escaping the judgment of the Court of Owls, Batman now faces the full force of the organization as they attempt to forcibly take over the city. Even in his own home, Bruce is not free from the talons of the Court of Owls. As Batman battles the court in his own home, the Court targets people of influence and power around the city. Batman is also force to confront his past and face down a foe with a personal vendetta.

Edgar: And so the story about the Court of Owls comes to an end in this second Batman volume from DC’s new 52. We’ll probably see these villains again at some point in the future but the Dark Knight certainly makes sure to do as much immediate damage to their organization, forcing them to retreat a little and lick their wounds. The first volume really set up the Owls as an omnipresent, ever-watchful force to be reckoned with, one that operated without our favourite hero ever discovering their actual existence until recently. James, after all the brilliant set up from the first volume, does Scott Snyder’s attempt at having the Batman punch the Owls in the gut hit the spot or were you left wanting a little more?

James: Well, I’m actually falling somewhere else on the spectrum with this one. I wish he had dialed it back just a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some great action scenes in here, the first two issues are dense with an absolutely awesome amount of Batman action awesomeness. However, once we get a bit deeper into the conspiracy, I wish the showdown wasn’t quite so large. I think it might just be more of a story thing for me. I do like the idea of the arc, but the way it wraps up felt like it introduced a couple of things just to leave them danglingly, which I found a little frustrating. What about you? Did you feel satisfied by how Snyder tried to resolve it all or were there any dangling bits you found annoying?

E: First things first, I did not enjoy this batch of issues as much as those we read for last week’s discussion. Not that I came away heavily disappointed, but I feel Snyder didn’t hit that sweet spot I was hoping for. The set-up is so good in the first half of the story. In this latter half, we get to witness certain things that just felt a little too obvious for me, most notably their plan to assassinate the various public servants and other prominent Gothamites. I mean, maybe this is something the Owls do on a regular basis historically but I felt it lacked a bit of subtlety even by Batman comic book standards. Murder EVERYONE AT ONCE? I don’t think it works that way… Also, I actually did feel as though it was all a little too easy for Batman and his posse to wrap things up. I understand that the book indicates that Owls aren’t completely dead in the water, but all Batman seems to do is call upon Robin, Batgirl and a couple others while he takes care of the leader and presto, the good guys win. I wasn’t a huge fan of that. You alluded to something I thought was indeed particularly cool which is the fight in the batcave. What stood out for you in that sequence?

cityofowls-tank

J: First off, I love the issue that precedes it where the Wayne Manor gets swarmed and drives Bruce and Alfred down into the Batcave. That frantic sense that they’re on the back-foot is wonderful. We think that Batman has already hit the bottom, but when the privacy gets invaded, he gets threatened in a way perhaps even deeper than in the maze. But then you get that wonderful moment where Batman reveals that he’s got home advantage and Snyder and Capullo pull no punches in letting Batman kick ass and it’s a blast to watch him pull no punches and even admit as much. They get to skirt the killing issue with the Owl’s regenerative serum, so they get quite violent, but never in a grotesque way. It was a super fun action fantasy sequence.

E: Yes, the little bit of dialogue when Bruce reveals that he’s going to pound the stuffing out of these punk Owls is a nice admission on his part. I’m all about the big reveals after solid buildup and this sequence offers one of the craziest reveals we can get in a Batman story action-fantasywise which is when the doors to the armory open up and Batman emerges in some sort of titanic metal suit that can withstand intense cold and heat. He looks like a bloody tank and it was bloody brilliant. I also thought that sequence deftly communicated how intense the Owls are in their attacks. For all of Bruce’s gadgetry and surprises, they still almost manage to kill him. It’s those little touches that get me excited as a reader, when the sense of danger is that palpable. Another topic I’d like to discuss, one semi-tied into this particular story but also more about how DC (and I’m assuming other big publishers too) goes about publishing their stories is the cameos from the aforementioned Batgirl and other secondary Gotham heroes. We all know that they have their own books dedicated to them and I’m guessing there are other parts of this story that are told from their perspective. What are your thoughts on DC hinting at these other vantage points but because this specifically is a Batman issue we don’t get more than that?

J: It is something I had in the back of my mind reading about the assassination attempts. I can see from a larger perspective that it gives a great chance for crossover in the other Batman book (Batgirl, Nightwing, Red Robin, etc…), but it is frustrating that we don’t get a bit more of that story. I do get your criticism of feeling like that whole thing gets resolved too easily. I imagine for the hardcore fans who read all the Bat-related comics, it might have been a more compelling story because they got to see other characters fight the Owls. I do like the idea of a larger Gotham story, but with only so much time and money, taking just this slice does feel like that particular element suffers in the core Batman story. I’d have like to see at least  a page where Batman gets everyone to check in and we get a hint of what happened. But I guess DC wants us to get those issues to get those stories. The beast of big superhero comics these days, and that’s why I tend to read a lot more stuff that is contained in scope when I read most comics. I am interest in your perspective on this. What did you make of it?

cityofowls-crew

E: Apart from the perspective that it provides avid fans of the universe with a chance to delve into a wider vision, a grander scheme of how things go down in Gotham, which granted is potentially interesting, I’m not a huge fan of mega crossover storylines. I see it as a lose-lose scenario for the reader. Comics aren’t given away these days, even when you buy them in volumes as I tend to do. If you want the whole story you have to pay up. If you just want to read about your favourite characters, then by all means do so BUT you won’t get the full plot. I don’t like that very much and I think it’s publishers like DC taking consumers for a ride to be honest. Okay, what with the bitching out of the way, how about we deal with the elephant (or bat) in the room: Bruce’s brother. I mean, BRUCE’S BROTHER!?!? What was your immediate reaction (notwithstanding what we get from Bruce in the aftermath).

J: “Really? Really?” That was my immediate reaction. I was worried Snyder would try to make it personal for Bruce and he did it in a way that I didn’t see coming. My problem is that this twist feels like it’s pulling out a shocking twist from thin air. To my knowledge, there’s never been any mention of Bruce having siblings and it ends up straining the established background of Bruce. Like I said with Court, I was cool with Snyder going a couple generations back to Wayne ancestors, but this felt like something out of left-field and a cheap trick to shock us. I have a bit more to say about it, but I want your gut reaction first as well. What did you think?

E: The key words in your response being ‘out of left-field’. Absolutely, I had the same reaction. They try to minimize the impact of this possibility shortly after the final battle concludes with Bruce sort of arguing with himself about the facts of his family’s history and how it might mean that he does not, in fact, have a long lost brother but by then the reader’s world has already been rocked. It is a lot to handle. The only way in which I can understand where Snyder is coming from is with respect to the fact that this is, as DC keeps hampering, the New 52. A new start provides writers with unprecedented leeway I suppose. Even so, it’s one of those plot points where you have to wonder what the conversations must have been like between Snyder and the people at the DC offices…At the very least we get a solid final fight out of it. Did that at least take you?

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J: The fight was a good fight. I did feel like Batman needed one more showdown, but I was hoping it would be more with the people behind the Court. Still, there is some crazy action. I do kinda dislike that the fight ends with bringing down an entire building. That felt gratuitous to me. I wish Snyder hadn’t gone quite that far. One thing about Bruce’s brother is that Snyder does give himself a back door by writing that it could have been just a story that the Court made up to try to get into the Wayne family. Still, it feels a bit wishy-washy. I’m not opposed to having some mysteries left, lots of my favorite stories leave us hanging, but I felt like Snyder introduces this thread too late in the game and leaves it dangling. Speaking of a family’s past, what did you think of the backstory with Jarvis Pennyworth?

E: I actually kind of thought those were fun. Granted, it’s easy, so to speak, to retcon or invent new material that happened in the past to make it fit in ironic ways with the present. I’m referring specifically to how Jarvis writes to his son Alfred that the Wayne Manor is cursed and how Alfred should never set foot there and bla bla bla. It’s almost winking at the readers because of we know how things happen in the future. Even so, it was interesting to get this completely different perspective, not to mention that Alfred, however much we think we know about him, is really a peripheral character, so reading a short story that tied into the Court of Owls that affected him more directly was kind of cool. I liked how the artwork differed as well.  Nice touch. How about you?

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J: I honestly didn’t care for it. I do like the idea of it. It’s neat to get a glimpse into Alfred’s past, but once again, I think it falls into that introducing something out of left field and making this character only for the purpose of telling this one story. Alfred even admits he doesn’t have any strong connection to his father. It felt a step too removed from the story I was enjoying. I really wish it had worked for me, because it does start off with a really interesting idea, but it just rubbed me the wrong way.

E: We know that the Owls aren’t completely gone. At some point they’ll make a return. At this stage, where do they stand in the pantheon of Batman antagonists? Do they stand toe to toe with some of the greats or is it perhaps a little early to tell?

J: Well, this is something I thought about after our last discussion. In some ways, they are sort of an alternative version of The League of Shadows, a shady organization that has a very extreme view of how to execute justice and order. However, despite that similarity, I think the iconicity and cool factor certainly makes them a valuable addition to the Batman repretor. I do wonder about its sustainability since we didn’t really learn much about Talon, he felt like a bland assassin type. I know there’s a Talon series, but I’m probably not gonna read it anytime soon. In other words, I feel like they’re going to need to introduce the Court of Owls’s Ra’s al Ghul in order to make it a sustainable addition to Batman’s rogue’s gallery. Where do you put them?

E: I’m ready to rank them quite highly to be honest. Comics being a visual medium first and foremost, the look has to go a long way to making a villain memorable and I fell in love with the overall aesthetic from the first moment, both with respect to the Talon, however bland he may be at times, to their underground lair and just those weird masks they wear when the high ranking members convene to discuss matters. As a force to be reckoned with, I agree that another story or two are required before showering too much praise on them. Again, they’re dispatched just a little too easily for me in this story. I like how you brought up the point about there not being a easily identifiable leader who the reader can fear. They should introduce that next time. Anything else you care to add?

J: I really dug the first couple issues of this volume, but by the end, I felt disappointed and underwhelmed by how it all shaked out. Overall, I think this story has way more highs than lows and I’d still recommend it, but the promise of that first volume doesn’t quite carry through into the final act. I think it falls just a rung below being among the best Batman comics, but it’s still great enough that Batman fans should check it out.

E: I mostly agree with that assessment. To me where the story falters a bit is in Snyder’s desire to shake the foundations of the mythology a wee bit too much. After decades and decades of stories, I understand that when a creative mind is given the keys to the car they want to make an impact. That need to invent new material can be a positive just as it can be a negative. The Owls are a wonderful creation, the mystery surrounding Bruce’s family much less so. Even so, a strong start to this new incarnation of Batman books.

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