Introduced as the catalyst to launch the tales of the Dark Knight in DC Comic’s “New 52” imagining of the Batman, Bruce Wayne’s world was about to come crashing out from under him when it would seem that the city of Gotham he had sworn for so long to protect had secrets of its own — secrets it was prepared to kill to keep hidden from prying eyes. When premiere Batman scribe Scott Snyder was tasked with the dubious privilege of writing a “first issue” to a Batman series, he decided that the Caped Crusader needed some new adversaries.
The character’s cattle of baddies, 75 years of the most dastardly villains in comic books no doubt, were about to meet their match in the denizens of the shadows, a secret organization — an underworld cabal that has actually been running Gotham since before the Batman started cleaning up the streets. The Court of Owls would prove every bit as predatory, every bit as dangerous to the Batman as they do in nature. It would seem that the hunter would soon become the hunted.
Operating from the shadows, Batman writer Scott Snyder and his visionary collaborator, illustrator Greg Capullo wanted to introduce a threat with some very weighty gravitas able to tear away at the inner workings — an enemy that would cut not only the Batman to the core, but also attack everything that he represents both as the city of Gotham’s protector and as entrepreneur Bruce Wayne. As the story unfolded, and the origins of the Court of Owls were further explored, it would become evident that these schemers have long been working to ensure their interests are met, and nothing — not even the Waynes would stand in their way.
Batman has always been identified by his city. Gotham is as much a supporting player in his mythology; at times serving as a close ally, and at other moments a most treacherous enemy. Gotham itself could be argued is responsible for taking the life of young Bruce Wayne’s parents and inherently giving rise to its most vaunted vigilante. What makes the addition of the Court of Owls so compelling within the legend of Batman is in how both Snyder and Capullo lend texture to the city’s history, coloring Gotham even further still.
Many have always assumed that Gotham City power is in its corruption — but now we learn its much more than that; Gotham corrupts completely — its strength an adverse affect of the greed and grime that have worked their way for more than 400 hundred years into the pavement.
The Court of Owls work clandestinely — they prefer to remain hidden and in order to keep most of the power for themselves, they maintain a close forum. Granting accesses only to Gotham’s elite — the rich and powerful. To enforce their rules and regulations they enlist (or enslave) master assassins they call Talons. Each family has their own, an avenger that does their dirty work and silences anyone that threatens the court’s ultimate power play.
In ernest, one would wonder — why hadn’t the Court surfaced sooner? The Waynes of Gotham have always had a hand in shaping the fate of Gotham. But when DC Comics rebooted the universe at the turn of the last “FLASHPoint” the history of its heroes was “compressed” — or condensed to meet contemporary sensibilities. In today’s paranoid world of terrorists and homeland strife, a villainous organization the likes of the Court of Owls seems like the perfect opposition for a Dark Knight on the hunt for justice.
Introduced over the course of Batman’s first year in an arc within the premiere title Batman (the packaged in one volume format) it began with “The Court of Owls”, leading into the second act in “The City of Owls” and the Batman-family crossover event “Night of the Owls”. Along the way interesting revelations were made, including the fact the Dick Grayson, the Nightwing, was considered a candidate to take up the identity of the Talon. It seemed that many among the legion of Talon assassins were recruited from Haley’s Circus — which is part of Grayson’s backstory. In his youth, he performed with his family as daredevil aerialists, who are murdered by a mob enforcer.
Another shocking plot point reveals that Bruce Wayne may have had a sibling, Thomas Wayne, Jr., whom he was separated from at a very early age. His identity concealed until a particularly vindictive Talon with an agenda of his own, makes the startling claim that he is indeed Bruce’s brother — and that he’ll stop at nothing to destroy him. Whether Thomas is indeed related to Bruce — he first appears as the mayoral candidate Lincoln March before going to the dark side.
The Court of Owls have made such a great impression on Batman mythology that they’ve surfaced in the DC Comics Animated feature Batman vs. Robin an original story that links the history of the court with the arrival of Bruce’s son Damian. The feature also introduces the heroic Talon, Calvin Rose. This Talon had a title of his own, that ran for a short length and expanded on the myth of the Court of Owls. Rose struggles to get out from under the iron will of the court — at a great price.
Without a doubt Batman has always had the most colorfully diabolical cast of characters that have made up his gallery of rogues, but no threat has been more serious than when the Court of Owls arrived on the scene. Whether we’ve seen the last of the Court since Batman toppled their underground empire remains a mystery, but certainly with a legacy as endurable as the enforcers that carry out their threat — the Court of Owls may simply be hibernating, nesting until the time is right to hunt again!