By: James Tynion IV (story), Jorge Lucas (art), Dave McCaig (colors)

The Story: It’s an owl-eat-owl world out there.

The Review: I once read or heard somewhere that the producer of Everybody Loves Raymond made a comment about the way networks always seemed to glom onto successful shows, spawning lookalikes, clones, and me-too’s that never have the same spark as the originals.  “They think they’re establishing a new formula for TV success,” he remarked.  I think something of that same thinking goes on with comic book publishers as well.

You don’t need to look at the countless Bat-, Super-, X-, Avengers titles to see what I’m talking about.  Just think about a single concept like the Court of Owls—a great idea, but in my view, a one-story idea.  Scott Snyder came up with the Court for a rather specific sort of plot, yet it ended up spreading across the entire Bat-family of titles, spun off into an ongoing series, and even now continues to be stretched well beyond its original purpose.  Bottom line: it’s gotten old.

As grandiose as the Court’s ambitions are, they’re quite small-minded at the same time.  All they want to do, really, is live in a city that caters to their whims.  For whatever reason, they have no interest in branching out any further than Gotham, and it’s not even clear sometimes the principles which motivate them.  At best, you can safely conclude they don’t care much for change, least of all when it’s sudden and chaotic, like that set off by the Crime Syndicate.

Otherwise, the Court is really a very uncomplicated sort of cult, as you can see by Tynion’s chosen vignettes in this issue.  Their pattern is simple and repetitive, almost to the point of tediousness: identify a potential rabble-rouser; eliminate with the appropriate Talon.  You get some variation in the rationale—investigation from the head of police, a mayor’s progressivism, risk of journalistic exposure—but these are concerns for maintaining a status quo, not advancing one.  The Court is thus a reactive force, not an active one; they’re only as compelling as their latest threat.

It also strikes me as funny that so much attention is given to the Court when it’s really the Talons who pull all the weight.  Gothamites don’t fear those masked blue-bloods so much as their assassins.  Only the Talons manage to develop some kind of identity in these stories, even if it’s that of an insatiable serial killer.  Unfortunately, the bulk of the Talons suffer from the same problem as their masters: a lack of individuality.

This whole issue is narrated by one member of the Court recounting its history and power to his daughter, yet both remain nameless and faceless, and it’s not even clear they’re significant enough to return as characters.  Their only importance is, predictably enough, to reveal and release yet another Talon to serve their aims.  Honestly, it’s hard to get excited over “The First Talon!”  The Court already has one taboo Talon in the Gotham Butcher, and it seems redundant to have another.  Since both are Tynion creations, this speaks to a lack of creativity on his part.

Lucas has enough sophistication to his art to fit in with the somber, menacing tones of Tynion’s script, yet his figures are inescapably cartoony, inconsistently so.  Some pages, like his title splash of a Talon looming over two hapless victims, look dramatic, well-formed, and striking; most other pages feature fairly detailed yet exaggerated characters and postures.  McCaig is the real artistic star of this issue.  His pale pastels and splotchy shadows generate most of the story’s tension.  Like the Talons, McCaig may be in service to his superior, but he’s the one who gets the job done.

Conclusion: It’s the gift that really needs to stop giving.  A very good piece of evidence that the Court of Owl’s time has run its course.

Grade: C

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Considering the fact that catching even the tiniest bit of attention from “the national press” can send the Court lurking back in the shadows for ten years, it seems like pure boasting when they afterwards claim that to be destroyed, one would have to “tear Gotham to the ground.”

– Boy, that lady of the Court at the end is dumb.  Just shoot the guy—why announce yourself, only to have his kid stab you to death?