Carl takes a detour to Gotham City for a rendezvous with the Dark Knight in Greg Cox’s fantastical Batman 80th Anniversary adventure The Court of Owls
Say what you like about Batman on film, you can’t deny that he is one of the most iconic characters ever to grace the pages of a comic book or a novel. Created by Bob Kane, Batman is one of the darkest characters in comic book lore. It’s ironic that his first appearance was in Detective Comics for that’s what Batman really is, first and foremost a detective. The character has evolved over time into this superhero that we can cheer for on the big screen but he essentially is an unlicensed private eye, a police impersonator in a suit and cowl, a vigilante who hides in the shadows bringing fear to the fearmongers and defending the innocent.
This year, he celebrates his 80th birthday. To mark the occasion, Titan Books have commissioned writers to create original novels based on the character as well as writing novelisations of some of his greatest comic book stories. The Killing Joke is already out now and others will follow throughout the course of the year.
Batman: The Court Of Owls | by Greg Cox
Batman: The Court Of Owls is an original novel. Written by the New York Times Best Selling author Greg Cox, it brings the essence of the character right up to date with a great modern feel while maintaining the mysterious classic feel of the Dark Knight. Events past and present, Characters met over the years and Batman history grace the written page. The book delves at times 100 years in the past and brings the story to life. Bruce Wayne’s great great grandfather, Alan is a side character but an essential one in the story, what happens to him in the past has a bearing on Bruce Wayne in the future, having established that Bruce has a connection with the Court Of Owls that dates back a century. It’s this connection to the past that makes the book stand out and keeps the reader engrossed.
The year is 2018. An art professor, Herbert Morse is confronted in his university office by a dark, leather-clad man who emerges from the shadows. Morse’s first feeling is that the intruder is Batman as his visitor appeared from nowhere and totally in silence. However, the intruder is, in fact, an assassin from The Court Of Owls called The Talon. Black body armour, metal rimmed goggles and an owl mask that covers his features entirely, The Talon is armed to the teeth with knives across his chest in a bandolier. Ordering Morse to sit, The Talon tells him that he is there to acquire information regarding art and history. Morse mistakenly thinks it’s about HIS work at the university but he is sadly mistaken as the reader discovers in the preceding chapter. Batman is called to the Professors study where a charred corpse awaits him.
The body is that of Professor Morse, who has been nailed to the chair, has been stabbed several times and has been set on fire. It’s a grisly murder but what is discovered is more mysterious. Morse was burned from the inside out. Spontaneous human combustion is mentioned but Batman believes otherwise. Prior to the story opening, Batman had been captured and tortured by The Court Of Owls. They know his true identity. They know his secrets. Batman managed to escape but the mental scars are still raw. He recognises the Talons handiwork and his investigation begins in earnest. Why would anyone want to torture and murder an academic in this brutal way? What could The Court Of Owls want with a lowly university professor?
The answer has to do with a student named Joanna Lee. Joanna is an orphan, not unlike Bruce Wayne. Her parents were killed in a gang shootout between the Deacons and the Demonz two years previous. Batman had flown into the fray aboard the Batwing and had saved her life. Now, because of her thesis on Writer/scientist Percy Wright and his muse Lydia Doyle who lived in Gotham in 1918, she has uncovered something the Court wants kept secret. The Court Of Owls has been secretly ruling Gotham from the shadows for generations. Not unlike the League Of Shadows, they murder and manipulate the city for their own ends. Percy Wright has been sculpting and painting Lydia and their work together is all around Gotham including a statue in Wayne Manor by the water fountain in the gardens.
Percy is also a member of The Court Of Owls, albeit a reluctant one. His wife, Margaret is a hard-hearted woman, only interested in the social standing and power being a member of the court gives her. She knows of Percy’s affair and tolerates it just as long as it remains a secret. She’s fearful of the shame it would bring on her if the details were ever discovered. Percy is working on an elixir for the court, one which they hope will give them the power to see the future. Percy’s experiments bring some success but the subjects all die of burning to death from the inside out. And then Lydia vanishes. Percy dedicates the rest of his life and works sculpting and painting images of Lydia in everything he creates.
Back in the present day, Batman along with Batgirl discovers clues in Percy’s work that he succeeded in producing a successful formula that indeed allowed the recipient to see the future. Images found to include a Joker fish, the birth of Two-Face and Poison Ivy‘s emergence. The court has been searching for Percy’s formula for decades, believing its rightfully theirs, only to never find the final successful version. They have been attempting to complete it on their own, only to have achieved the same results Percy did. With Joanna’s discoveries, they believe its only a matter of time before they uncover the true formula and will stop at nothing to get it. Percy’s descendant, Marcus Wright is a member of the court and has his own designs on taking over the position of Grandmaster and uses the search for the formula to enhance his standing and his future plans. He and the Court despatch the Talon to find Joanna and to bring her before them, using her research to discover Percy’s last secret. And they don’t care about the human cost in their quest to get it.
The book is a revelation. Greg Cox is most certainly well regarded as a writer. He has written official novelisations of The Dark Knight Rises, Godzilla, Man Of Steel as well as novels based on Star Trek, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and C.S.I so he knows his stuff. He proves it here with this outstanding novel. This is classic Batman. Bringing the classic material into the story alongside its modern counterparts, the story never relents. Characters are referenced, events from Batman lore are brought into play and the character feels like he should. The book does contain some violent deaths which surprised me in their brutality but it never drags the novel down. This is how Batman should be, a detective with wealth and an assortment of gadgets at his disposal to fight crime in his city. Batman retains his policy of not killing anyone but he still stands his ground.
The various fight scenes between him and The Talon are brutal in their intensity. The back and forth jibes he and The Talon throw at each other give the book an even grittier edge than most of us have seen before. And it’s justified. This isn’t a book for children, this is a Batman novel for adults. This is how Batman should be.
Nightwing does make an appearance in the storyline but his contribution is brief. Nightwing’s cameo is essential to driving the story forward, his actions proving again that Batman DOES need him during his career. Batgirl’s role is more substantial, her technological knowledge and devotion to the main character being the best use of her to date. She, of course, is around for the final stand but doesn’t distract from the story or where it’s going. Her arc in the book is a welcome one.
The characterisation of all the main players in the book is top notch. Everyone plays their part and we find ourselves hooked on the story from the first page until the final word. This is the mark of a great writer. If you find yourself unable to put the book down and just have to read on to find out what happens, then the writer has done their job well. And here, again, Cox’s writing is a complete triumph. Not once did I find myself wanting to take a break from the book. The storyline had me hooked and it even had me guessing and second-guessing the path the novel was taking me down. It surprised and enthralled me as a good book should. Every character on the page springs to life and we find ourselves hoping for a happy ending for the innocents portrayed here and the guilty to get their just desserts. We feel invested in these characters and are fearful of their eventual fates. We can sense that one wrong move will end in their death and we find ourselves hoping they will survive the events of the book. Some will, others won’t. Some will triumph, most will become victims of both sides aggression. The character of Joanna Lee is one I hope will appear again in some capacity in another novel.
But this is Batman‘s show. Don’t ever doubt that.
The Dark Knight is once again, the shining light of the DC world. The Caped and Cowled defender of Gotham has returned to us again and boy, are we ever glad to see him. He hides in the shadows, ever watchful. His detective skills are again razor sharp. He’s damaged, battered but never broken. His quest for justice continues unabated. This is how I like him. This is the vein the character should carry on with. Forget how Val Kilmer and George Clooney played him on screen, this is Michael Keaton, Christian Bale and Kevin Conroy‘s Batman portrayals rolled into one, a dark brooding figure, plagued with self-doubts, suffering from memories he no longer wants but unafraid to step into the fray when he’s needed.
Death holds no fear for him, just a sense of justice that must be maintained. His protection of Joanna is unwavering in its intensity. In one part of the book, he is faced with a moral dilemma. Does he put an end to The Court, Marcus Wright and the Talon or does he let them go so he can save another villains life from certain death? His sense of duty again at odds with his sense of right and wrong. No matter what choice he makes, he’s going to regret it later on. This isn’t a plot device, this is the moral crossroads we all face at one time in our lives. The character Of Batman brings this home to us with devastating effect in this novel.
Greg Cox must be commended for writing such an enjoyable book. Not only is it a classic detective noir story, but a look at mankind’s never-ending quest for an advantage over the rest of the population of the world for his/her own personal gratification. By looking back, we can see in some way how it affects our future. Sins committed in the past can impact on our lives today. The sins of our forebearers will need to be atoned for by ourselves in the future. The book just so happens to have Batman as the main character. The book plays in different worlds, the world of the detective, the world of the supernatural and the world of right and wrong. All the characters faults and strengths can be found in ourselves. Greg Cox shows us this while enthralling us with a novel of such magnitude. I recommend this book to everyone and hope that Greg Cox is commissioned to write about these characters again. I want to emulate Oliver Twist with this message to both him and Titan Books by saying:
“Please Sir, can I have some more?”
I, for one hope they will accept my request and grant me and the world more dalliances into this world of Batman and Gotham City for the new age.
Until next time…happy birthday, Dark Knight.
Batman: The Court Of Owls by Greg Cox is published by Titan Books and is available to buy now from all good retailers.
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Image Source: Batman: The Telltale Series