By: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti (story), Moritat (art), Gabriel Bautista (colors)

The Story: It’s like Yankees versus Red Sox, only with organized crime.

The Review: Now that the Court of Owls arc on Batman has reached its unforgettable end, it feels like a bit of an anticlimax to be reading a tie-in delving into the Court’s history after the fact.  Or, it would but for the fact that the Court of Owls is not meant to be a one-story creation; Scott Snyder clearly made it available to the DCU as a whole to mine its potential.  Palmiotti-Gray have an opportunity to enmesh the Court of Owls into the world beyond Batman.

It seems pretty natural, then, that their first thought would be to pit one Gothamite secret society against another, and you’d be a fool not to choose the Religion of Crime as the Court’s opponent.  Considering the biblical origins of the criminal cult, they have a venerable history which, as they claim with a condescending sniff, “predates Gotham.”  While the Court has already become an urban legend in the city, inspiring old wives’ tales and nursery rhymes of their presence, the European-born followers of the Crime Bible see the Court as American rookies in their game.

One interesting thought that comes to mind is how the Court of Owls may be responsible for instilling Gotham’s innate madness.  Remember the paranoid whispers of Arkham’s prospective patient last issue?  Turns out he’s not the only one.  Arkham notes, “There have been whispers among some of my patients that this woman is called a Talon, in service of the mysterious Court of Owls.”  Kind of makes you look at the Court’s influence in a new light, doesn’t it?

With all this intrigue going on, Hex, Arkham, and newcomer Tallulah Black seem small, almost inconsequential, but we all know they’ll be major wild cards in the Court vs. Crime Bible showdown.  Unfortunately, we all know that both groups will survive in the end.  If our heroes manage to eke out some kind of victory, it’ll be mainly personal and mostly hollow.

That’s especially true for Tallaluah, who not only loses her prey by the interference of the Crime Bible and the Court’s pissing match, but also gets caught in the crossfire.  This issue lets us get into her head a little bit—a hair-raising idea, I know—but honestly, her inner voice is no less ball-busting and crass as her outer one, so there’s little point.  The most telling bit we have is her bemused perspective on woman in bondage, both literally and figuratively: “Men got a peculiar interest in tyin’ women ta things…  Truth is, men got it in their heads that they’re stronger, an’ that a woman is property like a horse.  Ah ain’t nobody’s property.”

Moritat continues to draw some of the best male characters in the business.  These fellows display so much personality just from their faces, from the lily jowls of Evan Charles, Lord of Extortion, to the hollow cheeks and fleshy lips of Jackson Duggar, Lord of Assassins.  There’s still a bit of stiffness to his sense of movement that stunts action sequences, but his sense of timing and drama makes up for it.

Much as I like the concept of placing Dr. Thirteen semi-steampunk attire and Industrial Gotham settings, it takes far more nuanced, imaginative writers than Gray-Palmiotti to sell it.  Thirteen just comes across loud and obnoxious, not at all likable, so you’re more inclined to root against him than anything else.  The character needs a National Comics treatment, not a feature in a series of forgettable back-ups.  On the plus side, Scott Kolins and Mike Atiyeh find another genre which fits their style: cheesy Western.

Conclusion: Just get rid of the co-feature and this would be a solid monthly indulgence of the Western genre.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Seriously, how often is Tallulah gonna get stabbed?  Let’s hope the Rule of Three doesn’t apply this time.

– It’s good to know even Hex isn’t completely immune to a kick in the nuts.