Friday, June 15, 2012

Book Review, Graphic Novel: BATMAN, VOL. 1: THE COURT OF OWLS

I really enjoy Scott Snyder's AMERICAN VAMPIRE comics. Those stories are fresh and original. I was first introduced to Snyder's non-AMERICAN VAMPIRE writing in BATMAN: THE BLACK MIRROR. That pre-new-52 story has been heralded by many as the best Batman story in the past five years. Unfortunately, I don't agree. I thought that the initial premise of the story was promising, but then it went to places it wasn't necessary to go (for instance, was it really necessary to make Jim Gordon's son a psychopath?) It reminds me of some of the extremes DC went to in the 1990s to increase readership, but that almost led to the complete destruction of the company. Despite not enjoying, THE BLACK MIRROR, I decided to give Snyder's Batman another chance and read BATMAN, VOL. 1: THE COURT OF OWLS.

The basic storyline is that Batman discovers that an old rhyme that mothers in Gotham City used to tell their children to scare them into obedience, is actually true. For over a century, Gotham has been "watched over" by a secret group of individuals (like the Illuminati) that call themselves the Court of Owls. Nothing happens without the approval of the Court and if the Court doesn't like what you're doing, they send their assassin, named Talon, to kill you. Batman is the Court's next target and he finds himself racing against a clock as he struggles against enemies who seem to know his every move before he even makes them.

I realize with the New 52, the entire DC universe has received a reboot. I don't agree with it, but I understand and accept it. But even with a reboot, with all the villains in Batman's rogues gallery, was it really necessary to create another evil group to pit against Batman? Aren't the League of Assassins, the Club of Villains, the Masters of Disaster, the Misfits, the Network, the New Olympians, Strike Force Kobra, and the more recent introduction of Dollmaker and his family enough?

There's also the level of graphic violence. BATMAN, VOL. 1: THE COURT OF OWLS is the third most violent non-horror comic I've read in the past seven years. Batman comics always were a bit more violent and darker in nature than the rest of the DC universe, but until the late 1980s they weren't all that violent. When DC shifted to more graphically violent themed stories in the late 1980s, it turned me completely off of comics for nearly two decades. It seemed that DC had learned their lesson, but over the past year-and-a-half, the company seems to have forgetten the lessons they were taught and have returned to the type of stories that almost destroyed the company in the 1990s.

The other criticism I have with BATMAN, VOL. 1: THE COURT OF OWLS is the artwork. At one point in the book, you have to rotate the book around in a circle to follow from panel to panel what is happening. This itself isn't new and is more of an annoyance than anything else. However, there are other times where the images are so dark and the lines so blurry that it's difficult to follow exactly what is happening in the story. It's as though the artists decided to copy the shaky-cam techniques from filmmaking and put them into comic form. Shaky-cam usually doesn't work well in movies and is worse when viewed in comic book form.

Therefore, because of the lack of originality, ultra violence, and poor artistry, BATMAN, VOL: 1: THE COURT OF OWLS is hereby, found guilty of being ho-hum.

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