By: Gail Simone (story), Ardian Syaf (pencils), Vicente Cifuentes (inks), Ulises Arreola (colors)

The Story: Once again, another childhood classic becomes a twisted instrument of fear/panic.

The Review: I should say this right from the get-go: I don’t really know what all is happening in Batman with the whole Court of  Owls bonanza.  I know enough from news and rumor to have a general grasp of the situation—secret Illuminati-type society sending highly trained, unkillable assassins to take down the Bat-family and assert control over Gotham—but I can’t say I know much of the specifics.  I figured I’d catch up once the trade inevitably comes out.

For that reason, I’m even less affected by the “Night of the Owls” stamp on this title than I would be normally.  One-shot tie-ins, those awkward situations where a title hops onboard some major crossover event for one issue, never seem to work out all that well.  Most of the time, these stories completely derail whatever ongoing plot the writer has in mind, and then the stories themselves wrap up nearly as soon as they start, leaving you feeling short-changed.

And although Simone does a fairly good job making use of the crossover, ultimately the story she tells shares the same problems as all these one-shot tie-ins.  It brings you right in the middle of the Event as it happens, so if you weren’t following the main plotline (like me), you’re left a bit bewildered as to what’s going on, and then the issue concludes just when you’ve officially hopped aboard the premise.  The issue simply breezes through the “Night of the Owls,” and you have no reason to believe any part of it will have any lasting effect on the series.

It doesn’t help that little of Simone’s beats has any real emotional resonance.  There’s the featured Talon, Mary, an apparently disfigured and traumatized woman brought up to be one of the world’s great killers.  We’re meant to see a connection between her and Batgirl, but what the nature of that connection is, we have no clue.  Even though Mary herself explains that she has a mask too, and that she “understands,” this doesn’t seem to have any bearing on why Barbara wears the mask, since her opponent wears it for completely different reasons.

Even more unusual and incongruent is the parallel narrative of Ayumi, a WWII-era Japanese schoolgirl who helped make “fire balloons” in the name of patriotism.  While the Court of Owls winds up using these same weapons in their war upon Gotham, you can’t see the connection here, either.  For the Japanese, these fire balloons represented a rather foolish last hope, an act born out of desperation and blind nationalism.  That doesn’t bear much resemblance to the seemingly omnipresent and omniscient nature of the Court.

In fact, Simone’s best work in this issue is showing how invasive and powerful the Court really is.  They know exactly how to manipulate the people they choose, and they know where to hit so it hurts the most.  Their string-pulling of Commissioner Gordon really brings home the idea that not even Gotham’s finest can out-maneuver these owlish folk, making you truly believe at the end that there’s a real possibility “we just lost Gotham.”

Syaf is a fine artist, but little more than that.  While he has equal talent at depicting the dramatics and the action, he doesn’t impress in either area.  The height of his emotional depth is to drape the characters’ faces in shadow, and the most you can say about his action scenes is they manage to convey a strong sense of velocity.  But at times his choreography is plainly confusing; where exactly is Batgirl shooting her grappling hook when she saves herself from falling to her death?

Conclusion: I understand that this issue is a one-shot tie-in, but the quality of this series has been degrading for a long time, regardless.  I’ll stick it out a while longer because Simone’s attached to it, but I might as well say right here I don’t have much confidence she can turn things around.

Grade: C

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – At one point are we going to see Batgirl fight on par with the opponent of the day?  I feel like she’s been on the verge of death pretty much every arc since this title rebooted.

– Incidentally, the use of Haly’s Circus as an audition ground for the Court’s assassins is both a terrible and intriguing idea at the same time.