Drew: Batman 7 begins in a pivotal moment in Bruce’s history; as he sits, broken and bleeding in his own library, considering the bat that has just broken through the window and lit on his father’s bust. It feels like familiar territory, but as the bat flies off into the night, creating an oh-so-familiar silhouette against the full moon, something…changes.
The voiceover narration describes ancient beliefs that, as they die, people relive not just their lives as they new it, but as others saw them as well, revealing truths the near-deceased may never have known in life. The narration comes from a member of the Court of Owls, and is referring specifically to the Talons they are raising from the dead (more on that in a minute), but the images seem to come from Bruce; both a literal and highly symbolic example of the kind of unknown truths described by the narration. That was such a fateful moment for Bruce, and the fact that he has begun to doubt his understanding of it demonstrates just how profoundly the Court has shaken him.
Bruce is revived via improvised defibrillator by Harper Row, a new character that Bruce already seems to have a history with. That history isn’t made explicit, but it’s kind of implied that she’s some kind of hero groupie. Bruce returns to the Batcave to find Alfred has already hauled in the body of the Talon he defeated in the labyrinth. Bruce can barely stand, but he insists on examining the body right away. It’s a good thing he’s so stubborn, as Bruce’s tests (yay Science!) reveal that the guy in the Talon suit, William Cobb, has been infused with a strange alloy that gives him the ability to both heal rapidly and rise from the dead. Oh, also that the guy is Dick’s great-grandfather.
WHA?! It turns out Haly’s Circus has been the farm for the Court’s assassins for generations, providing them with able-bodied young-uns they can turn into immortal killers. It also turns out Dick was meant to be the next in line. DOUBLE WHA?! We can get into the details of what that means in the Nightwing write-up tomorrow (or in the comments section here), but it puts a very fine point on Dick’s journey to become his own man, which is a delicious contrast to Bruce, who has kind of defined himself by events that were out of his control. It’s a neat duality, but one that is explored a bit more thoroughly in Nightwing.
Instead, Scott Snyder chooses to focus on the duality between Bruce and the Court, and perhaps specifically their myriad Talons. Throughout the issue, we see the Court addressing and indoctrinating their assassins eventually releasing an entire army into the Gotham night with instructions to “take back” the city. Snyder intercuts this story with Bruce’s, drawing parallels between the Talons’ resurrection and Bruce’s recovery, as well as their own methods for understanding and dissecting their enemy. Greg Capullo makes these parallels explicit, going so far as to give us perspective shots from both Bruce and a Talon as they are revived.
In highlighting the similarities between Batman and the Talons, Snyder begs examination of their differences. Batman fights to protect his city from evil, and is revived by an admiring citizen; Talon fights because the Court tells him to, and is revived only to serve their dubious ends. Batman studies his enemy in pursuit of answers; Talon studies his enemy because the court tells him to. Perhaps my pro-Batman bias is showing through here, but I think Snyder is making it clear that Bruce’s self-motivation is a strength that the seemingly will-less Talons lack.
This makes it all the more crushing that the Court has robbed Bruce of his own sense of self-confidence. They’ve infiltrated his dreams, and when he sees the body of the Talon in the Batcave, he fears they have infiltrated his home. Sure enough, closer inspection reveals that they are closer than he ever imagined — they even have a stake in one of his oldest friends. In the end, Bruce is so shaken by this truth, that he wishes he had never learned it at all.
For all of the imagery I’ve ever seen of Batman as a solitary figure, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him look as alone as he does in that panel. Surrounded by blackness and without his mask, he pitifully laments his own knowledge of crime in Gotham. That’s a near-unthinkable thought for Batman, but Snyder utterly earns it. I’ve seen Batman lose sidekicks and have his back broken, but this is the most defeated I’ve ever seen him, and it’s precisely because the Court has gotten him questioning that moment in his library. If an organization as large and powerful as the Court of Owls could have been operating without his knowledge, how much can he trust any of what he believes to be true?
As usual, the writing and art on this title are top-notch, but I’d like to take this opportunity to single-out a silly detail that I think is awesome. When we were reviewing issue 4, I complained that Bruce and Dick looked too similar, something which is clearly no longer the case. Bruce is sunken, dehydrated, and generally disheveled after his time in the labyrinth, but it’s the changes Capullo has made to Dick that are really intriguing. In this issue, he’s drawn much more boyishly, highlighting his innocent ignorance of the facts Bruce has uncovered. Indeed, once Bruce knocks some sense into him (revealing the Owl seal embedded in Dick’s tooth), Capullo switches back to the more mature look for Dick, giving him a squarer jaw and much more chiseled features. It’s a very subtle change, but one that works to ratchet up the conflict between these two characters that don’t always see eye-to-eye.
All in all, this issue continues to nail its characters and situations with the kind of rich detail we’ve come to expect, even as the action cools down a bit. This was a welcome breather after the intensity of the last two issues, but consider me ready for those Talons, even if Bruce is clearly not.
Patrick: Remember a few weeks ago when we were talking about the outrageously active role that Alfred takes in Detective Comics? He drives a boat right into the action and saves a woman’s life and blah blah blah. I hated it, and it sparked a conversation of what Alfred actually does. I absolutely love the utilitarian but realistic depiction of Alfred in the pages of Batman #7. He investigates when a mysterious figure approaches a sewer-access entrance to the Batcave, shotgun in hand. But then he spends the rest of the issue being emotionally supportive and providing Bruce with things he doesn’t even know he needs. That’s a good fucking butler. Not that I want to turn this write-up into a list of reasons Snyder’s Batman is superior to Daniel’s Detective Comics, but that particular difference struck me as I was reading.
The writing here is great – and that scene that Nightwing and Batman share is amazingly effective in both issues for totally different reasons. I don’t know if Kyle Higgins and Scott Snyder worked it out together first or if Snyder dictated the dialogue by himself, but it serves as this satisfying climactic moment for two characters on two very different journeys. Well done, gentlemen. But the highest praise should go to the art team.
There are a lot of iconic Batman images that are subverted in this issue – most notably, the one you mention in your opening paragraph. Instead of a bat’s heroic outline punctuating a full moon, the creature is eviscerated by an owl. Even the familiar sight of Batman and Alfred descending into the Batcave gets a reworking to make the lights and colors more abbraisive and unwelcoming. Really, not enough credit can be given to colorist FCO – look at the effect his lighting has on that solitary image of Bruce you posted above. Haunting.
But I also notice that Capullo digs into his own recent past with the series for visual call-backs. When Bruce sees the Talon mask in the Cave, they recreate the cover of Batman #4, only this time with a very different Batman reflected in the villain’s goggles.
All of these visual cues add up to the sense that Something Important Is Happening. Not just something important to Gotham City or this particular iteration of the Batman character, but to the grander Batman mythology. I’ve been telling my friends who don’t read comics that in 10 years, we’ll be talking about Snyder’s Night of Owls arc as one of the defining stories about Batman – a peer of Long Halloween, Year One, Hush, whatever. And while the ambitious and personal nature of the story conveys this amply, the frequent references to the unimpeachable Batman iconography cements this notion.
There’s another really awesome visual thing that has very little to do with the phenomenon I just mentioned, but I loved it anyway. As The Court is reviving a fresh Talon, they are playing back video from Batman’s fight with the most recent model. The brawl itself took place amid a mock-up of the city and was appropriately dramatic. The issue concludes with an Owl throwing open double doors and revealing Gotham City, as before, I assumed we were looking at a model of the town. Nope; it’s the real deal.
I’m stuck on the art here, but just stay with me. The inking also deserves mention. Capullo delivers an insane level of details in his pages and I do not envy Jonathan Glapion’s responsibility to decide how much of that detail to hang on to. He makes impeccable, dramatic choices that fire on all the same cylinders that everyone else is firing on. This is really an example of no weak links in the creative chain. Dig the brooding owl from Bruce’s near-death experience:
Why, yes, it is impossible to talk about this series without sounding like a hyperbolic super-fan. I don’t care. It really is that good.
I’ve been in the habit lately of asking you if you’re excited to see the various other Gotham books cross over into Owl territory. Generally, the response has been “not really, I like what these characters have been up to already, so why introduce this new thing.” But revelations in the most recent Nightwing (and here, it’s a lot of the same content) suggest that the Owls could have their hands in much of the business we’ve been reading since September. Some are easier retrofits than others – Nightwing being an example of how smoothly other series can be integrated. It’d be sort of a hard sell to connect the Batwing story to the Owls, for example. But looking at Birds and Batgirl, I can see the potential. And I declare: bring it on. Snyder and company have hit a rich vein and I can’t wait to see where this all takes us.
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?