Behind granite, lime--
their nests in your crypts, your home
--perch the Court of Owls.
I've gotten into an argument with various people over the years about crêpes. "They're just pancakes!" I say, full of contrarian glee. Still, I got a kick out of Commissioner Gordon trying to explain his "Planet of the Crêpes" joke & having to backup & explain crêpes to someone on the phone...& calling them pancakes. So, this is the first comic of the New 52 I've read, if you can believe it, besides all the promotional stuff I've looked at. I just...well, I just haven't wanted to read anything; not out of ideological disgust or anything, but because the direction the New 52 went hasn't been...compelling? I mean, I will read Grant Morrison's Action Comics of course, because his All-Star Superman is probably my favorite superhero comic, outside of Jack Kirby, but otherwise? While I really like the art in Wonder Woman I'm not down to read Azzarello, who I usually don't like-- I find his "grim & gritty" feel usually ends up hollow, like a teenager who wears Marilyn Manson t-shirts to shock his parents. I'd heard good things about the "Court of Owls" storyline, & I have a thing for Owlman-- I realize that this is not an Earth-3 Owlman story but there is a shared aesthetic-- so I gave it a whirl.
It is fun, & it is a really good take on both Batman & Gotham City. I mean, there are a zillion different approaches to the Batman, that is the point of the stock character, of serial mythology, but Snyder & Capullo focus on an angle that hasn't been heavily exploited before-- the baroque & gothic nature of the city & the totemic nature of its villains. Oh, I know it has always been there, we all think about the Bat & the Laughing Man, the Bat & Janus, the Bat & the Cat, the Bat & his Robins. Batman brooding on a gargoyle is probably the iconic image of the character. What Snyder does is make that the center of the events of the narrative. His fight scenes rely on the history & architecture of the city; the symbolism of each grotesque & its physical place. His detective sequences are built around the superstitions of the city & their physical manifestations; buildings without a thirteenth floor, the stone different sections of the old sewers are built from. Gotham is present in the villains, the Court of Owls, a children's nursery rhymes hinting at a shadowy conspiracy stretching back to the city's founding. & that owl thing-- that Owl thing-- is laid on thick. This is a story about the Bat against the Owls, it is explicitly discussed in Jungian terms.
The one complaint I'd heard was that at times the sequence of events was hard to follow. The panel control isn't perfect-- there is a skill to gutters & breaking up the page & there are a few jerky pieces, a few rough jump cuts-- but the parts I'd seen cited as the most confusing are...supposed to be? Batman has been dosed with hallucinogens-- because of course he was-- & the muddled recursion & slippery inhuman portrayals of the characters are the whole point. Actually, the dream-like labyrinth sequence is great; Snyder & Capullo pull out the cheap metatextual tricks-- forcing you to turn the book sideways & upside-down at points-- but they do it for a reason. If my unadulterated affection for House of Leaves should tell you anything it is that I don't mind if you are pretentiously post-modern as long as you aren't just doing it for its own sake. Plus the panel of a young Bruce Wayne in issue four, glowering in an armchair like Conan on the throne, Alfred lurking behind him-- perfect. Beside that, the art is really interesting; Capullo has a look that matches the exaggerated sleekness that is in vogue right now, & brings an range of elaborate ornamentation-- in the Talon-- that reminds me of Wayne Reynolds, along with a evocative minimalism-- in the Court of Owls masks-- that makes me think of Mike Mignola.