By: James Tynion IV & Scott Snyder (story), Guillem March (art), Tomev Morey (colors)

The Story: Calvin Rose faces off against the violent side of the Empty Nest Syndrome.

The Review: I wasn’t too impressed with the debut of this spin-off character, one who has the distinction of deriving from a mere storyline rather than a proper series.  I don’t think Calvin Rose even actually appeared during the “Night of the Owls.”  That makes this title probably the first in a long time I’ve seen to launch with an entirely brand-new character, or pretty close to one.  In some ways, you have to admire DC supporting a book with so little brand recognition.

But the Court of Owls arc in Batman was so popular a premise that Calvin probably benefits anyway from fans who want to see the aftermath of that storyline.  Maybe that’s why even though I’m not all that enamored of Calvin’s past and its escapist theme (escaped from dog cage, became an escape artist, escaped the Court and escaping ever since), I can muster some curiosity about his future.

Had this series revolved around Calvin squirreling his way out of a Court confrontation every issue, with some innocent deaths along the way, you’d have burnt out fairly quickly.  Having Calvin decide to take the confrontation to his enemies sounds much more appealing.  Instead of passively waiting around for the next ambush, he can take control of his own story.  Going after the Court forces him to work against his instincts and operate differently than he’s used to.  It challenges his character early on, catalyzing his development in a more dynamic way.

That kind of active development is desperately needed, as Calvin himself has a rather bland personality—which is amazing, considering how much time we spend in his head.  Make no mistake; Tynion loves a heavily narrated style, a side-effect of his literary aspirations, and though it works somewhat better here, where he’s not just relaying what you can see before your eyes, it still boils down to a dry mass of exposition.  Buried in that textual pulp, Calvin’s voice doesn’t really come through.

Tynion’s literary bent also manifests in excessive lines which often mark the talented but rookie writers.  Sometimes it’s eye-rolling melodrama, the kind that’d make you laugh if you heard it in voiceover: “Even with no life signs within, I feel the Court reaching out through Gotham’s dark history.”  Other times, it’s the awkward context and rhythm of the dialogue, whether in pointless observations (“…the papers said they locked you all up in Blackgate.”) or over-the-top statements (“Let me slip your throat, and perhaps they’ll let you return as something better than the pathetic little man I see here today.”).

Even though the script regularly provokes my instinct to mark it up with a red pen, the plot does have potential, and the addition of a permanent support character in one Sebastian Clark lays the groundwork for long-term interaction that may better define Calvin’s personality.  This issue is all about setting up the foundation of how things will work from now on, and while that’s not the most exciting thing to read, it is necessary and practical to get it all out of the way now.

March has a very in-your-face style of art.  There is no such thing as “too much” in his book.  If someone gets upset, they don’t just glare; their entire face gets in on the act, the eyebrows stretching upward to the point where you think they might pull a muscle in their temple, and every crack and crease in the skin tenses independently of the others.  It’d be a bit much in other circumstances, but it actually needs to have this kind of intensity to stand out against all the text Tynion throws in his way.

Conclusion: A mostly functional issue that offers the title’s mission statement and primary relationships.  The art works, but the writing needs to be toned back, some.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – It’s telling that Clark states that he was “the only one who slipped through [the Court’s] grasp,” but he doesn’t say how.  Prepare for some “shocking” revelations down the line.