Who does Gotham City belong to – the Bat or his predators?
In DC Comics new 52 series, each of its heroes and superheroes went through a modest rebirth. Costumes were redesigned and origins were tweaked to modernize the stories and open up the characters to new audiences. The new 52 rebooted the entire lineup of DC Comics, with all series renumbered to begin at issue #1. It followed up endless “crisis” events (enough to make your head dizzy) that spiraled out of Superman’s death (which seems like eons ago) and ultimately peaked with Batman’s death and return.
Of all the DC Comics heroes, Batman and Superman are the two heroes most difficult to tamper with. Neither character can ever truly die, nor can they ever retire and pass on the mantle to a protégé for more than a year or two. So when writer Scott Snyder, co-creator of Vertigo Comics’ American Vampire, was tasked with re-envisioning Batman as part of the new 52, he had his work cut out for him.
For over seventy years, Batman – the character – has undergone several changes, from costume and origin to tone and style. Born prior to World War II, the original Batman was simply a street vigilante who didn’t have a problem killing a street thug. Years later, he developed a conscious. We learned that Batman and guns don’t mix. Batman became camp. And inevitably Batman got back to his gritty roots.
In Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls, Snyder takes Batman and his alter ego, Bruce Wayne, through a different kind of evolution. We all know that Gotham City will always need a Batman, whether it be today or decades from now in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about evil, it is that no matter which weed (or how many) you pull out, another (or several) will always be there, buried deeper into the ground, strangling at the roots.
EDITOR’S PICK: Snyder’s Dark Knight Tale Shines in 52
Snyder doesn’t tamper with the tried-and-true formula. Batman is still a brooding, paranoid loner. Yet, he surrounds himself with loved ones (sidekicks, police and a butler), who are both weaknesses and crime fighting tools, depending on the situation. He’s the kind of guy that gives his son (Damian, Robin), adopted son (Tim Drake, Red Robin) and ward (Dick Grayson, Nightwing) high security access to the Batcave, but reserves the “highest” access for his butler, Alfred.
Instead of tampering with the Dark Knight’s innate qualities, Snyder takes a tangential approach to Batman’s rebirth. Gotham and Batman have always shared a symbiotic relationship. In order to change the man, Snyder changed the city, taking Gotham through a new stage of evolution. This isn’t the Gotham City Bruce Wayne thought he grew up in, nor is it the Gotham that Batman thinks he owns. Wayne’s family may have helped to build Gotham, but buried beneath Gotham’s history lies a secret that predates generations of Waynes. The Court of Owls is calling, whether Batman chooses to believe it exists or not.
Volume 1: The Court of Owls is a psychological thrill ride through Batman’s own psyche and vanity. Snyder smartly captures Batman’s intelligence and motivation, before breaking the character down against a new threat. Batman wants the best for his city, but we also see that there is a sense of pride and a hint of arrogance in his character. Years of winning have made him cocky. Artist Greg Capullo captures a Batman who is finally seeing Gotham for what it is – a city that is not his own. Several panels feature a haggard Batman, one that doesn’t fear death but rather fears a truth that he never believed existed. Capullo deftly mixes action with fear and horror. The panic in Bruce’s eyes is alive and real.
However, there are a few panels where Batman and his compatriots are out of their costumes and look a little too goofy. Dick Grayson often has a cavalier smile that sometimes looks vacant and even dumb. As Nightwing, his mouth and eyes often seem overtly mystified as though everything that Bruce says to him is baffling.
Batman Vol 1: The Court of Owls reminds us that even the Batman isn’t infallible, nor is he as smart as he presumes to be. By adding to Gotham City’s origin, Snyder has given Batman boundless room to grow in the realm of DC’s new 52. Batman has returned to a city that is entirely foreign to him – and always has been… even though he didn’t realize it. It’s an exciting voyage and well worth the read.