city of owls“The City of Owls” is Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s epic conclusion to their Court of Owls storyline which sees Batman strike back against the Court and overthrow their presence in Gotham. But Snyder has one more twist to his tale as he reveals a long buried secret from the Wayne family’s past…

If you’ve read the “Night of Owls” event book published last month then you’ll already have read half of this book. “City” collects Batman #8-12 and Batman Annual #1 and Batman #8-9 and Batman Annual #1 appeared in “Night” so there’s some overlap between the two books. It’s still worth re-reading Batman #8-9 though as it has the amazing “Attack on Wayne Manor” sequence where Bruce fights the Talons in his pyjamas!

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The 3 “new” issues are brilliant as well. After surviving the long Night, Bruce begins thinking about the Court and figures out there’s a piece of the puzzle he’s missed. It leads him to Willowood Orphanage, a now derelict building where terrible things were done to the children entrusted there, and also to his mother who was a patron of the place before her death and before it went to hell.

I won’t spoil who the villain turns out to be but once again Snyder has gone back into the deep waters of Batman lore and resurfaced with a long-forgotten gem of a character to incorporate back into mainstream Batman continuity. He did it with James Gordon Jr in “Black Mirror” and he’s done it again with “City of Owls” to great effect.

The book also continues his exploration of “dark twins” in Batman. James Gordon Jr was the “black mirror” of Dick Grayson, while the villain in this book is Batman’s dark twin. Through a small twist of fate villains are born when they could have easily become heroes and vice versa. It’s also an indictment of the flawed systems in Gotham that links to Bruce’s attempts to change things – only he’s too late.

I also like how Snyder’s Bruce is an example of arrogance punished, something you don’t ordinarily see the hero go through. In issue #1 we see Bruce declaring a new urban redevelopment of Gotham, a move that will radically change the appearance of the city. This in turn awakens the Owls, a shadowy organisation who’ve been around in Gotham far longer than the Waynes and now make their presence felt in the wake of his announcement. Bruce discovers he doesn’t know the city he thought he did and the Owls are Gotham’s answer to Bruce for his arrogance in thinking he understood the city and that it was his to change.

This theme comes full circle by the end of the book with Bruce coming to a new understanding of Gotham – though he wouldn’t be Bruce Wayne/Batman if he didn’t keep trying to change Gotham for the better. This new appreciation of Gotham has been Snyder’s biggest contribution to the Batman canon so far and it’s a really interesting concept that he’s developed brilliantly over the course of this arc.

The Becky Cloonan-illustrated issue is also included and closes out this volume. Cloonan is, astonishingly, the first female artist to draw the main Batman title and she does a wonderful job here. The issue features Harper Row who “saved” Batman at the end of “Court of Owls” and we get to see more of her character’s world, living in a run-down area of Gotham that Bruce is trying to gentrify while surviving amongst thugs who beat up her gay brother. It’s a really great story and I hope we see more of Harper in future Batman stories – there’s been talk about her replacing Damian as the new Robin but, because of her engineering background, this issue makes me think, if anything, she might be the New 52 Harold!

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There’s also this great scene between Harper and Alfred. Harper attends a dinner at Wayne Manor and sneaks off, loading up her bag with treats from the buffet and Alfred appears behind her: “You’re making a serious error, young lady…” and she thinks she’s busted until he says, smiling “… if you leave the dessert table without tasting the brownies.” It’s a small touch but I really like it when the characters are nice, especially Alfred who’s brilliant. If DC want to start a New 52 Alfred series, I’m buying every single issue (hint hint!).

While Cloonan’s art is top notch (why aren’t DC putting her on to another of their titles?!), huge credit goes to Greg Capullo for producing yet another gorgeous-looking Batman book. His Bruce/Batman remains one of the best representations of the character ever and the “Attack on Wayne Manor” sequence is perfectly executed. The tension is ratcheted up nicely and the action feels fast and brutal. Snyder’s writing has been consistently superb and Capullo’s art has complimented it perfectly. This series would’ve been something else in another artist’s hands.

And Scott Snyder… man, if you haven’t heard of this guy before, you need to look him up. In his work on this Owls storyline, the “Black Mirror”, and the recently completed “Death of the Family”, he has quickly cemented his status as one of the greatest writers Batman has ever had. He’s got Batman’s character down cold and seems to somehow put something fresh and thoughtful into each issue – it’s an extraordinary quality, and it’s not hard to see why Batman has been such a big seller. Check this guy’s books out wherever you can, you know you’re picking up high-quality comics when you see Snyder’s name on the cover.

“The City of Owls” closes out one of the most interesting Batman arcs in years and is a great conclusion to this epic. It’s an exciting read for longtime Batman fans while also being very accessible for new readers, accomplishing the very goal that all of the New 52 titles set out to achieve and which so few series did. It’s a wonderful Batman story that’s got everything, great writing, great art, mystery, action, fun, excitement, tension and brains – it’s the full package. For anyone interested in Batman, bump this up to the top of your reading list today.

“Batman, Volume 2: The City of Owls” by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo is out now in hardback

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This article was first posted on March 25, 2013