Amateur Batfan: Vol. 1 – The Court Of Owls

Hello and welcome to Amateur Batfan, a series of blogposts here where I try something new. Instead of writing exclusively about music, I’m dipping my toes into the field of writing about comics. I’m fairly new to comics. I bought about 6 issues of The Beano in about 1995, I bought 3 issues of Batman in about 2005, I read each one once, maximum twice, and then never really bothered. Something about comics just never connected with me. I loved watching Batman, Spiderman, Ironman and Fantastic Four cartoons on TV as a kid, I loved the Judge Dredd PS3 and Rougue Trooper PC games to bits when they were new, but when it came to comics I just didn’t get it.

It didn’t really help that I really didn’t like most superhero films made when I was a teenager. Batman & Robin was too cartoony. Spiderman 3 really put me off too. Seeing a bit of Fantastic Four where the over-endowed (chest-wise) blonde supermodel ends up in her underwear in the middle of the street for NO REASON insulted my intelligence.

I got given about 5 Spawn Graphic Novels in about 2009 by my comic’s enthusiast mate (and go-to source of knowledge and recommendations) Magnum and I enjoyed them. I liked how vivid and colourful they were. I was more impressed, but still a bit too skeptical to really commit

Then The Watchmen movie came out. I loved it. I still love it. I got given the book for my birthday. I loved it. It was a turning point for me when I realized comics could actually have genuine emotional depth and cultural significance. Then I bought about 10 Collections of the earliest Judge Dredd in stories in 2010 and they were so bad I felt like I had wasted the money so profoundly that it really soured me to comics. The Sin City movie occasionally made me reconsider, but not for long enough for anything to change.

Almost at the insistence of my good friend Magnum, I’ve decided to give the medium another chance recently, and get over some of my prejudices and preconceptions about it. How did he achieve this? Well; I began to warm to Batman a lot with the first Arkham game then again with second viewing of the first two Nolan movies, and started a conversation with Magnum reading the wikipedia on Batman after seeing the third Nolan movie. When I finally got the second Arkham game I was really sold on the whole idea of Batman and consequently Magnum, who surely must have a financial stake in this, used the opportunity to pounce on me when I was vulnerable (I jest) and sent me some Batman novels, including Year One and The Man Who Laughs. That pretty much did it for me.

I have spent the better part of this year reading a lot of Batman Graphic Novels and now I’m going to blog about each one. I’m going to tell you who made them, which characters are in them and what I think about them.

First off, the first one that I ever paid for with my own money:


Batman Court Of The Owls TP

– Writers: Scott Snyder
– Art: Greg Capullo/Jonathan Glapion

– Continuity: New 52
– Timeline Position: Late Career but in New 52

– Villains: The Court Of Owls, Talons

– Cameos: The Joker, Two Face, Scarecrow, The Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Ventriliquist, Mr. Zsaz, Clayface, Killer Croc, Harley Quinn, Black Mask, James Gordon Jr, Professor Pyg, Big Top, Firefly

– Batman is: Bruce Wayne

– Allies: Dick Grayson as Nightwing, Damien Wayne as Robin, Tim Drake as Red Robin, Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, Alfred Pennyworth, James Gordon (Police), Harvey Bullock (Police), Vicky Vale (Reporter), Bill (Coroner), Harper Row (Bystander)

– Historical Character Cameos: Alan Wayne, William Cobb

– Look: Not cartoony, Not gritty and photorealistic either. As each issue that makes up the book comes, the art gets better and better. I think its a really high standard and I have to admit I like it when the art is good, maybe that’s shallow but its how I feel.

– Story: The plot revolves around a mayoral election, a series of grim executions and a possibly-fictional cult, an illuminati-type group that may be causing these murders but may just be a myth. It really concentrates on the city itself. The city is almost like the main character.

The tone is really good. Its adult and entertaining at the same time, you rarely catch a sentence and think “that sticks in my craw, that doesn’t belong in Batman.” Sometimes I read a Batman story and someone will write some sex-joke (mostly Kevin Smith) or some non-swearing insult that takes you out of the story (calling someone a “twit” during a fist fight?), but there’s none of that in this. Everything feels natural. I also like how it balances old and new fans.

When I first read it, I liked how it explained so much, and didn’t make you feel like an outsider for not knowing 80 years worth of Batman history, but when I read it for the second time, after having learned much more about that history over half-a-year’s worth of reading, I then came to appreciate all the references and nods built in for the existing fans. If you didn’t know, this story is the first story in the NEW 52 continuity. What that means is that essentially the characters and story has been going on too long, and the company said “that’s enough. Start again” and so you act as if this is the first Batman story.

I like that they started off with an all new story and an all new villain/set of villains rather than just showing you something you’d seen before in the movies. It would’ve been easy to throw out The Joker or Bane as the main villain, but instead they did something completely new, and best of all, the new thing was actually really good. I like the dark, horrible tone that creeps in at times making it feel like a David Fincher movie, but I especially like how they balance that with Uncharted style adventure and excitement.

I also like how it makes you genuinely fucking despise the villains. There was an old woman I swear I actually wanted to choke to death with my own bare hands. Its powerful writing when you dislike a character that much. I think that’s why Game Of Thrones is so good, because of how much it makes you want to harm the villains. I remember when I was a kid, wondering about the WWF Wrestling and why they even bothered with the bad guys like Triple-H, because I hated them so much, and having it explained to me why that was actually the point, and how it was an example of good writing.

My favourite part of this book is the psychedelic, proggy bit in the middle where you have to physically flip the book around in your hands to figure out what’s going on, mirroring the emotions in the story. I like the idea that the story is interesting enough that the reader can start to actually feel claustrophobic or paranoid. Sometimes, you actually get so sucked in that you can feel cold, or start to yawn when a character yawns. Its the comic equivalent of the crime-scene level in Heavy Rain. Its a long way from Adam West getting eaten by a giant clam.

I also like how, right from the off, they start exploring strained relationships between Batman and Dick Grayson, exploring the psychology of Bruce, and generally writing the characters with depth. You land straight into a fully developed and populated world, many years into Batman’s career. You think you aren’t going to like it because you don’t like magic and children (eg. Robin) and are skeptical of a non-Nolan take on Batman and then it hits you with such a well written, intelligent take on it, making all the things you were skeptical about fit in, that it really turns you around. I’ll admit wasn’t expecting comics to be able to handle such depth of character. I’m glad they do.

I like the introduction of the Harper Row character and her brother. Its would be good if they become recurring characters from now on. It would be good to see female and gay characters handled tastefully. Also, its just good to know that there are more people in Gotham besides the villains, the cops and Batman’s crew. Having some citizen’s point of view considered is refreshing.

Overall; I think its well thought out, well written, well drawn and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to read a Batman comic. I think this was what really made me see that the medium was worthwhile, and made me want to start a collection. Check it out if you like the sound of it.

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