By: Marguerite Bennett (writer), Jorge Lucas (artist), Brett Smith (colorist)

The Story: When owls are finished with their meals they regurgitate the bones, claws, and hair in the form of dense masses called owl pellets. This particular pellet is named Jonas.

The Review:  I was on the road when Wednesday came, one week in January of 2012. A few days later I arrived at college for January term, and stopped in to see a friend. He tended to get his comics online (legally), but when I mentioned that I hadn’t picked up my pulls for the week he gave me as serious a look as monthly superhero comics deserve under normal circumstances and told me ‘don’t get Batman #5 digitally. You need to read it in print.’

He was right, of course; issue five was a fantastic, torturous look at how monstrously effective Scott Snyder’s new creations could be. And now, two years later, Marguerite Bennett takes us back into the Labyrinth and the twisted heart of the Court of Owls.

It’s worth mentioning, right off the bat, that this issue is only vaguely related to the Talon series we’ve gotten for the past seventeen months. If anything it’s more of a much belated addition to the “Night of Owls” crossover. Some fans of Calvin Rose may be disappointed to hear that you won’t be seeing him this issue, but that also means that the issue encourages anyone who’s at all familiar with the Court of Owls to pick it up.

Bennett introduces us to another Talon of the Court; the Talon of 1925, successor to Batman’s famous William Cobb. The issue traces his past, delivering a simple story whose narration transforms it into a mesmerizing character study.

Bennett has an arresting writing style, more like graphic poetry than a novel. Those who’ve read her work before will find it familiar in many ways, but the focus present in the piece definitely sharpens her writing. As ever, the strongest elements of Bennett’s writing are the fullness and detail she puts into the thoughts and, perhaps more accurately, nightmares of her characters. The unique brand of madness planted within Jonas blooms beautifully, the descriptions of his present self contrasting sharply with his history. These disparities provide a tantalizing window; not only into Jonas’ past; but also into the Court of Owls, their ‘theology’, and the fundamental horror of the organization.

Particularly over the past few months; the emphasis in Talon has been on the callousness of the Court and the potential of their Electrum serums; however Batman, Calvin, and Sebastian’s successes have chipped away at the sense of omnipotence that they possessed in their original appearances. This story does a lot to remind a reader of just how scary the Court is, and it does it without ever actually depicting any of their crimes.

That said, Bennett’s script does rely on a couple of tricks a little heavily. It’s interesting to note the contrasts and meaning of these repeated elements but, if they should happen to leave you flat the first time, I don’t know that the rest of the issue will convince you to change your mind. Particularly as some increase in frequency towards the end of the book, I couldn’t help but wonder what other fascinating horrors lurk in Bennett’s mind that were cut for space.

Jorge Lucas’s solid pencils and inks are a fine fit for the claustrophobic innards of the Court’s designs. From the Labyrinth where they test their killers to the circus where they groom them, the Owls’ machinations are balanced between clean comforting lines and detailed grit to great effect.

Bennett’s restrained dialogue allows Lucas great opportunity to put his mark on the story. For the most part, Lucas adheres to the old wisdom that the best choices are the ones the reader never notices, rendering everything the script requires with confidence and attentiveness. Small details and conscious omissions make up much of Lucas’ art. But when unreality threatens to consume Jonas, Lucas tips his hand. The emphasis on feathers is fitting: such simple shapes, made of so many tiny other shapes.

The design of this latest Talon is also fantastic. Though it doesn’t quite jive with the others we’ve seen, this new suit mixes elements of the William Cobb and Calvin Rose designs with its new ideas to create a beautiful costume for the newest assassin of the Court.

Occasionally, however, things do look amiss. There are a couple of visual cheats that weren’t hidden well enough and hurt the book’s sense of perspective. There are also some instances where Lucas makes things too simple. However, by a wide margin, the biggest artistic issue in the book lies in the scenes set in 1918. Though they’re visually striking and the backgrounds are gorgeous, the characters end up looking bug-eyed and cartoonish, not befitting  such crucial dramatic moments. Like the Owls, Lucas does his best work in the darkness, when the monsters come out.

The Conclusion: Though it’s a strange addition to Talon, this issue is certainly a welcome one. The writing depends almost entirely on the force of Bennett’s ideas and diction and this bold choice pays off in a big way. Jorge Lucas is an able partner and seems to relish the chance to bring the beasts in Bennett’s imagination to life.

The book leans on certain elements a bit harder than it probably should, but it’s such a unique and interesting issue that many will be willing to overlook such minor missteps. Unfortunately, I worry that others will be put off by a story that is so self-contained as to be divorced from most of the DCU.

Though it’s hardly an event, fans of psychological depth, one-shot story-telling, or Bennett’s previous work should definitely pick this one up.

Grade: B

Some Thoughts:

  • I will admit that this issue was at least 5% creepier having recently read another comic about a boy from Georgia who cared about the family chickens.
  • A question for all the Egyptology fans out there: what did you think of the Anubis symbolism? For a concept that provided the name of the story, it appeared only briefly. Did it speak to you?
  • It was also really interesting to read this issue after speaking to Ms. Bennett last month. Especially if you’ve already read the issue, I’d recommend checking out our interview with her; it seems like some of the same ideas she mentioned were on her mind when she wrote this tale.

– Noah Sharma