Thursday, November 29, 2012

Court of the Owls

So anticipating the long entertainmentless domestic flight from NY to LA, or the long entertainmentless stopover in LAX, I bought 'Nite of the Owls' my first collected comic book purchase for what must be like 5-6 years. It's Scott Snyder on writing duty for DC's main 'Batman' title and Greg Capullo on pencils (which in western comics is THE artist on a title).

For me, Capullo is the reason to get excited about Batman again after what I would describe as 'Grant Morrison's reign of terror' on the title. Grant Morrisson certainly shook things up with his signature chaotic style, but for me it produced 5-6 years of pure shite. I can imagine, because I am one, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy back at the end of the line the number of artists and writers that have been waiting their whole careers to get a shot at working on DC's flagship title, one of the only two icons of the entire comic book industry, and inherited 'Batman Incorporated' and the years of Dick Grayson wearing the mantle of the Bat and fucking Damian Wayne as Robin. I imagine it's like buying tickets to a broadway show in advance and turning up and getting the understudies. I would have been fucked off.

Anyway, Bruce is back in the cape and cowl, and the DC universe got reset, clumsy yes, messy, yes but probably necessary. And DC have hired Scott Snyder to write and Greg Capullo to pencil.

Greg was the main penciller for 'Spawn' Image comics flagship title taking over from Todd MacFarlane himself who took up inking duties, and did pretty much every title until the conclusion of the original series. The man was prolific and while Spawn rode high at number 1 practically defined the overdrawing style that defined the 90's. I love Greg's style, he was one of the people that got me and so many kids fucking excited about comics.

And he's back (he has been back for a while, working on MacFarlanes haunt and the second iteration of the Spawn title) but he is doing Batman.

Now the last time Batman was really riding high was on the smoothly executed Loeb/Lee run. Jeph Loeb who wrote 'The Long Halloween' with artist Tim Sale and thus cemented his place in Batman history alongside (but in the shadows of) Frank Miller, and Jim Lee one of the founders of Image Comics and considered by many the best artist in comics (but not I).

And that's the first thing about Nite of the Owls. It feels very much like a board meeting was held where Snyder got called in and told 'we're giving you Capullo, we want "Hush 2.0"' the volume has no blurb like Loeb writes in his collections explaining how the projects came about. But I just would be surprised if that wasn't how it panned out. Because really that would explain all the weaknesses of the run, the restraints of working for the DC board.

I don't give a shit about spoilers, if you really cared you would have had ample opportunity to read 'Hush' and Court of the Owls before I did, but certain plot lines are straight out of Loeb's playbook, in chapter one you meet 'Lincoln Marsh' the superfluous character, the Chekov's gun, the mute brother from Mystic River, the character introduced as early as possible so he can be revealed as the culprit later on after you have forgotten he existed. Loeb though was better with Thomas Elliott/Hush because he served a purpose in the backstory, had the good sense to remove him as a suspect by killing him in the second chapter (faking his death) and then in the tenth/eleventh chapter revealing Jason Todd as Hush as a diversion being a suitable but dissappointing climax, then having Batman figure out the ruse based on this reveal.

Hush was also a 'romp' Loeb introduced a compelling new villain, but in a way that allowed Jim Lee to showcase his drawing on the entire rogues gallary.

What I liked about Snyder's writing was, he sidelined the rogues gallary. They feature, Capullo got to do his take on Penguin, Scarecrow, Two-Face and Joker, but this was part of the 'cold opening' of the run, from thence virtually every character is new provided they aren't on team-batman.

And just as I was glad Loeb had read the introduction to the collected volume 'a death in the family' where the guy responsible for making the call on killing Jason Todd as Robin stated that 'reviving him would be a betrayel' and thus didn't actually revive Jason Todd but used the deception as the centerpiece of the entire Hush run, I am glad Snyder shied away from having Lincoln Marsh actually be Bruce Wayne's brother. Though in much the same way that DC revived Jason Todd after hush as 'the red hood' in a move I shall condemn forever, I have a feeling it is not beyond DC to decide that Lincoln Marsh is Bruce Wayne's long lost brother creating a shitty fucking character out of what once was a compellingly tragic one.

I think the limitation of introducing a conspiracy as grand as the court of the owls, is you have to use what I imagine would be labelled as 'informed familiarity' if it was a trope. That's where Snyder's retconning necessary for his plotwork was glaringly inferior to Loeb's on Hush. Having a bunch of characters constantly reciting the rhyme about the mythical 'court of owls' that has never heretoforepreviouslyever been recited in the entire history of batman you can accept, and even being informed via flashback that Bruce investigated their existence when he was a child is okay, but it then becomes implausible that Bruce would have totally forgotten about his mothers pregnancy with his YOUNGER brother, nor never in all his great detective work and intervening years have gone through photo albums to see his mother pregnant, nor see any of the many paper records indicating she was pregnant nor have Alfred ever mention the fact to him.

So while the story indicates that Lincoln Marsh was infact the victim of a grand conspiracy that convinced him he was Bruce Wayne's brother, and thus is quite a tragic and disturbed individual to rival Batman's excellent stable of rogues, it was left ambiguous enough that he could be the resurrected infant brother of Bruce Wayne, which would make him shitty and boring, and completely implausible. Shitty boring characters like that are best grafted onto comics like Batman using crossover events where the reason is always a combination of parallal universes and magic. (like the eventual resurrection of Jason Todd) and I say that is the best way to do it, because that is the best way to do what I feel is a borderline reprehensible action in any comic let alone one as iconic as Batman.

I need more positives though, as I said earlier, I think much of the plot-flaws where probably the result of demands for 'Hush 2.0' and thus I think Snyder did really fucking great writing in those handcuffs, I'd also point out that DC should be commended for at the very least saying 'we want to relive something good' instead of the standard fair which is to create some crossover event, or try to recreate something good like Hush but not pay any money to do so, like the return of two-face and having it all masterminded by 'The Great White Shark'.

The 'Talons' that are the most prominent adversaries are the best fucking bad guys to go up against my least favorite incarnation of batman - gadget batman or 'bond' batman. And Capullo is the right man to draw gadget batman, he looked so good I enjoyed high tech batman cutting loose.

The labrynth torture sequence arrived so suddenly but was truly excellent. Mayhaps one of the best sequences in the last ten-twenty years of batman writing, also the selection of a predator of bats 'The Owls' as the metaphoric adversaries challenging batman for control of Gotham was excellent and provided for excellent imagary again by Capullo. All the stuff harking back to Alan Wayne and his mysterious dissappearance, I kind of just wish that Snyder had restrained the court of owls not to a persistent myth/fairytale that nobody had bother to mention at all until now, but as a long lost secret society that had been truly dormant and truly forgotten for a hundred years.

It's a tough call though because when Batman finds all their secret bases of operations, that is a really good bit.

Look it's a tough gig, you work on something as iconic and longstanding as Batman where there are so many obvious 'you can't do this' unspoken rules or at the least - issues where you have to go beg the editorial team for permission (Alan Moore called up DC to ask if they would mind him crippling Barbara Gordon in 'The Killing Joke' I suspect they let him because he is Alan Moore, anybody other than Grant Morrisson probably could never get away with that shit), but if you fix two-face's face they have to disfigure him again, if you kill any of the Joker, Penguin, Scarecrown, Ventiloquist, Two-Face, Catwoman, Killer Croc, Mr Freeze, Harlequin, Poison Ivy or Ra's Al Ghul they are going to have to resurrect them at some point in the future. And generally speaking they won't let you make these bold moves, with two robins dead and one resurrected, with two former robins now roaming the streets as Nightwing and Red Robin, they aren't going to let you kill off another Robin.

And compounding it all, the main rogues gallary's stories have now been told hundreds of times... each.

Given all these factors, even though the top talent in the world would leap at the opportunity to work on Batman, it's hard to do something good, let alone new & good. and most people do something bad, and you get stuck with the hangover of that badness.

What I wouldn't give to be in the meeting where they decide the movements of Gotham for the next year, 5 years, decade as they must. I'm sure it gets constantly reviewed, and also gets effected by the need to leverage other DC titles off of Batman's sales success and tie the comics in with the movie promotions so that you run Batman vs. Joker stories in the lead up to the Dark Knight, and Batman vs. Scarecrow stories in the leadup to Batman Begins etc.

Anyway, while Snyder and Capullo are the creative team, I'll keep reading Batman and just hope Morrisson doesn't get the reigns again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon your site and read all the nice things you had to say about me. Humble thanks.
~Greg Capullo