Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Batman 6, originally released February 15th, 2012.
Drew: I have a bit of a tradition on the third Wednesday of the month: I pick up the new Batman, thinking “there’s no way they can top last month,” and put it down thinking, “okay, but there’s really no way they can top this next month.” It’s a credit to Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo that my expectations keep getting blown out of the water. After last month’s mind-bending issue, I suspected that the final image of Batman being stabbed by the Talon might just be in Bruce’s head. Of course, my expectations were proven wrong once again, as Snyder and Capullo deliver an issue that is simultaneously more action-packed and subtler than its predecessor.
I say “action packed,” as this issue is devoted almost cover-to-cover with the fight scene immediately following Bruce’s stabbing. Talon tells Bruce that he will be given the rare honor of having his remains kept on display in the labyrinth, simultaneously asserting his physical dominance and the Court of Owl’s alleged long-standing history. At the behest of the youngest member of the Court, the Talon beats Bruce mercilessly, leaving Bruce on the brink of giving up. This leads to a lesson in a subject we all know: Batman doesn’t give up. Bruce completely turns the tables on Talon, walking him along the same path he traced so many times in the previous issue (and when I say “walking him along,” I mean “punching him through”). After knocking Talon cold, Bruce begins the next step of his breakout, which also involves him acting in classic Batman fashion: he stole the filament plates from the Court’s old-timey camera, so he could blow up the floor of the fountain room, which he had deduced was of soft white marble, and located directly above the river. The Court got MacGyvered. Just barely alive, Bruce makes his escape into the river, only to find himself under glass and unable to breathe. Meanwhile, the Court makes plans to raise a whole army of Talons.
Leave it to Snyder to write a story I thought was going to be more quickly summarized; it’s mostly an extended fight scene, but one rich in detail. Capullo has continued to blur the line between reality and Bruce’s hallucinations. Throughout the issue, the representation of the Court vacillates between humans in owl masks and horrible owl-human hybrids. Importantly, it’s never quite clear when we’re taking on Bruce’s perspective, removing our sense of irony, and making for some unpredictably scary moments. Bruce is able to turn his hallucinations in his favor, however, when he imagines himself to be a giant man-bat.
Batman is depicted like that for the next few pages, where he really levels the playing field between himself and the Talon. As the fight moves out of the darkness and into the next room (cleverly implied by the page boarders), the hallucinations seemingly disappear. We see Bruce return to form, exacting a level of planning and control we had up until then thought he was no longer capable of. He acts almost as if he’s been in control all along, but when he comes against the glass, he loses hope. Even after he pulls a full-on Batman, the court was still one step ahead of him, and it’s more than he can take.
But were they one step ahead of him? Bruce calls it “glass,” but it sure looks like snow-covered ice to me. I think Bruce has made it to the river or the harbor, but he seems to think the Court has bested him, showing just how much of an impact their mind games have had. As Bruce sinks into the abyss, he refers back to the wall of portraits in the labyrinth, specifically hearkening back to the portrait of Alan Wayne he saw as he was being set upon by the court. The fact that that portrait was down there does suggest that the Court was involved in Alan Wayne’s death, and that they may have been working behind the scenes in Gotham all along, a thought Bruce had heretofore refused to accept. He’s suspected that their claim on history was a put-on, but when faced with irreffutable evidence that this organization may have been operating in Gotham without his knowledge, he breaks.
This sequence is where it happens. Bruce’s tear-filled eye is trained upon that portrait of Alan Wayne as the Court (their hands here appear as grotesque talons) set upon him. The helplessness Bruce sees in his ancestor’s eyes cause him to almost lose hope as his pupil contracts and his gaze drifts lazily from the portrait. Meanwhile, the talons become mere abstractions, representing mortality descending on Bruce as he prepares to die alone. Sure, Bruce finds the strength to fight off the Talon and escape (the “enough” that closes this sequence is repeated much more emphatically in the next panel — the full-page spread I included above), but he’s only able to do so when he’s thinking about saving another family member killed before their time. The thought that seeing Alan Wayne reminded him of his own parents is echoed when Bruce tells Talon that he’s “nothing but a common criminal,” a statement that even Batman would have to admit is far from true.
In the end, the damage the Court does to Bruce’s psyche is far worse than anything the Talon can do to his body. They’ve gotten to him, so it makes sense that he’s going to need the help of his friends to stop them. I didn’t expect to be so excited for the Night of Owls, but I guess I should know better than to have expectations when it comes to Batman.
Patrick: This series is turning out to be one of the best active explorations of Batman psychology I’ve ever encountered. I absolutely love Bruce’s assertion that Talon is nothing more than a common criminal, even though he (and his Court) have put Batman through the ringer. Bruce doesn’t mean that Talon is a villain of ordinary means and training, he means that the villainous motivations are common. And that’s what brings his strength back to him – the reminder than he’s been fighting assholes like the Court of Owls his entire life. If they did have something to do with the murder of Thomas and Martha, then they are literally responsible for the creation of Batman, but even if they aren’t, the violence and fear mongering they employ have made him absolutely necessary.
And that’s the crux of it for me: Batman is necessary, the Owls are not. There’s an argument of authenticity that’s at the center of the Bat vs. Owl conflict, and before being driven mad in the labyrinth, Bruce was fiercely proud of his claim to the city. He uses all of his resources – both as millionaire-playboy and as dark knight – to make the city he loves a better place. Simply put: Gotham is his town. The knock-down, drag-out brawl that happens amid the crumbling model of Gotham City illustrates this in a manner that might be considered graceless if it weren’t so awesome and satisfying.
It’s all really cool and, like you, I’m astonished that each issue is somehow more exciting than the one that came before it. When we were doing a little pre-read chatting today, I mentioned that I’m terrified for the bottom to drop out and for an issue to disappoint me. It is popular opinion between the two of us that questions are better than answers, and I feared that the information we would get about the Court of Owls couldn’t live up to the insane speculation that I engage in subconsciously. But I think Snyder’s got an amazing ability lay out increasingly compelling concepts, forging a myth for the Court that keeps me excitedly guessing. It doesn’t feel a like a slow burn at all, but we know so little about the villains of this arc and we’re six months into it.
Let’s just take a look at the three big revelations about this group in this issue. First is that the group is not primarily made up of able-bodied soldiers. The two Court members that feature most prominently behind Talon are a young girl and an old, wheelchair-bound woman – both of whom seem to be in places of power in the organization. Second is that they have a flair for theatrical displays of power. Batman is praised as “a wonderful gladiator,” which implies that this labyrinth-arena-execution thing is common practice for them. And finally there’s the reveal that there are more Talons waiting in those red caskets.
Now, part of the raising-many-Talons-from-countless-red-caskets surprise makes a lot of sense. As news about the Night of Owls has been swirling around the internet, I’ve seen a bunch of covers depicting Talon fighting everyone from Catwoman to Batwing. It turns out he’s not one very very busy dude, but an army of moderately busy dudes. The Talon costume hides enough of the wearers’ identity, and the legend of Talon had been around for so long, that I always assumed he wasn’t an individual. But there’s this other part, about waking them up… I know Ra’s Al Ghul and his Lazarus Pit are a standard part of Batman lore (and necessary to understand what Jason Todd’s deal is), but there’s always been a supernatural element that makes him feel like one of the lesser villains to me. I hope whatever its going on with the Owls skirts the science/pseudoscience line. I’m not going to be mad if Talons are resurrected bodies, but I might just be disappointed.
I think it was a interesting choice this month to not show any action way from Batman. Last issue gave us quick glimpses into the lives of the rest of the Batfamily and the GCPD as they dealt with Batman’s disappearance, but this issue offers the reader no such respite from the drama in the labyrinth. I suspect Batman will be saved by one of his allies, possibly many of them working together. And that wouldn’t be some convenient cop-out, but an assertion that all the costumed crime fighters in Gotham mean something to the city and that they are stronger together than any negative force on the city. I’m officially pumped for the Night of Owls, all across the board.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?