Batman, Vol. 2: The City of Owls (2013)
Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, et. al
Collecting Batman (2011) #8-12, Batman Annual #1
Hardcover, 208 pages, DC Comics
Retail price $24.99
Amazon price $13.71
I know I’m swimming upstream here, but you can mark me down as disappointed in this second volume of what promised to be an excellent, if not landmark, entry in the Batman canon.
The first volume, The Court of Owls promised much, with the legend of a cult of villains who’ve been secretly haunting Gotham for decades, their presence known only by a nursery rhyme that all Gotham children can recite verbatim. The structure and ultimate purpose of the organization are handled in fascinating ways, giving readers just enough information and clues to keep the pages turning, all the while making us speculate on the massive scale and scope of this evil.
The Court of Owls provided great action, suspense, intrigue, and the sense that something new and important could be happening. Yet, I felt Snyder was in danger of writing himself into a corner. Based on what I read in this second volume, The City of Owls, he wrote himself out of it, but in a very unsatisfactory way. I say that not knowing what tie-ins might be necessary to understanding the full story. (More on tie-ins in an upcoming post.) I suspect tie-ins are part of the problem, since I sometimes felt I’d missed important events in this story arc. Maybe those tie-ins will be included in an Absolute edition, but what if I don’t want an Absolute edition to get the full story? (More on that in an upcoming post, too.)
But let’s talk about what’s there, and not concern ourselves with what’s not there (at least for now). Without giving up too many spoilers, I can't remember when I've ever seen a more talkative villain explaining everything in excruciating and laborious detail. Seriously, I've listened to guys arguing classical philosophy that weren't this verbose. The entire revelation is extremely questionable, which really shouldn’t be all that surprising, since the clues that your suspension of disbelief would be challenged are clearly sprinkled throughout the first volume, the biggest of which is this: Is it really possible that a secret organization such as the Court of Owls has existed for this long without making themselves known? It’s a real stretch. So is the revelation at the end of The City of Owls. It’s a stretch I was not willing to buy for a minute.
The collection ends with two interesting stories, one about Alfred Pennyworth’s father, the other concerning Harper Row, a young woman eager to “help out” Batman after he comes to her rescue. These stories, especially the Harper Row story, help to cleanse the palette somewhat from the disappointment from The City of Owls storyline, but they can’t redeem it.
Capullo’s art is excellent, especially in his fight scenes, but even those can’t add visual credibility to a denouement that lacks story credibility. In such cases, both suffer.
I don’t mean to hammer The City of Owls, but neither can I deny my disappointment in it. I was certainly expecting much, much more. Again, I plan to address this in a future post, but perhaps part of the problem is in the structure and philosophy of how comics are made today, which certainly includes the problem of tie-ins, but also touches on larger issues of story and storytelling. More later.