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Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls (The New 52)

Batman, Vol. 1: The Court of Owls - Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion Snyder is still delivering! I like his approach to the city. He gives Gotham a personality and his characters struggle to come to grips with the city itself. Some get dragged down into its shadowy depths and other soar above its skyline, unconquered. On top of that, Snyder returns to the theme of identity. Instead of spotlighting Dick Grayson, Snyder gives his full attention to the city itself and how well the Batman truly knows it. Bruce is back and as gruff and solitary as ever playing counterpoint to a new city. The big question running throughout is who has really changed? Has the city changed in Bruce's absence or is Bruce different now that he's back "from the dead."

The Court of Owls is a legend in Gotham, a nursery rhyme meant to scare children and part of the collective subconscious of a shadowy megalopolis that can be cruel and vindictive to natives and visitors alike. Are the Owls a personification of the city's tendency to consume and corrupt its children? Or is there more to the myth? Snyder does a good job embedding something new and fresh into the old folds of Gotham, blazing new territory while grounding Batman in the familiar. In this sense, the city becomes a trope to provide that sense of continuity. Gotham remains and endures - a monolith four hundred years old. The new baddies are therefore just the most recent incarnations of its darker side. The true enemy and the true ally of Batman has always been the city, not the rogue's gallery. It's a clever tool to quiet fanboys who want more of the Joker and the familiar and attract new readers, or old ones who just got tired of the same old thing. Here is the classic Bruce, missing for so long. Driven detective just on the edge of an abyss, walking a tightrope and spurning all offers of aid, even from those he brought into the fold to help him in the first place. Here again is the classic dynamic duo, Bruce and Dick and restored is the old dynamic. I've always felt bad for Grayson. In a sense what Bruce does to him is incredibly cruel. He lets him in on a big secret, gives him tools to come to grips with and do something to deal with the pain of his parents' deaths and then sits him in the cave and says, "No, no, no. I don't need your help. Mind your own business." Here Dick is, all grown up, and it's the same old thing. You'd think after raising the kid Bruce would be able to confide and be honest with him, to let him feel useful by allowing him to help. Nope. No wonder the kid struck it out on his own. It's also very much the reason why Bruce will never beat the city. He's unable to ask for help directly. He wants it; why else would he recruit four different Robins? It's a sad cycle, but immensely interesting, like watching someone falling and struggling valiantly to arrest the downward motion.

There's a lot to take in here. Court of Owls is beautiful drawn and narrated. Four stars for the incompleteness of the arc. I realize the story is on-going, but the volume ends at a rather awkward place. The editors should have either waited for more material to be out before publishing it as a collection or cut it off at another point. It feels like we'll come back to the story and it'll wrap in the first few pages rather than at the end of another entire volume.