Today, Patrick and Spencer are discussing Talon 15, originally released January 29th, 2014.
Patrick: When I wrote up the first issue of Talon, I lamented the fact that Calvin Rose’s origin story was less precious in the light of the other Talon origins we’d read just a few months prior. What’s more, origin-story-overload was starting to strip the Court of Owls of its mystique. New series writer Marguerite Bennett introduces us to yet another new Talon, but distorts and twists his back story, almost daring the reader to try to get something meaningful out of it. Ultimately, both the character and the author reject the importance of this origin narrative. It’s a fascinating concept that seems stubbornly resigned to its own unimportance.
We start at the end — an specified point in time — during the fight that would upset William Cobb’s tenure as Talon. The story then traces back in time, first slowly and then more rapidly, to explore the identity and past of our… hero? The protagonist of this issue is named Jonah, a survivor of the influenza pandemic of 1918, turned runaway, turned circus performer. Bennett takes an awful lot for granted in this story — the most obvious of which is the connection between joining the circus and becoming a bird-themed assassin for Gotham City’s shadow government.
It’s less of an origin “story” and more a whirlwind of appropriate themes and familiar beats. It seems like Bennett is interested in paying homage to the multitude of Talon origins that came before, but ultimately realizes that those stories don’t help the reader understand the man behind the mask any better. Bennett is even cagey about the character’s name: “Jonah.” His voice over indicates that the name means both “dove” — a common symbol of peace — and “destroyer” and by the issue’s end, the other Owls are saying that he doesn’t even have a name anymore. The name means two different things, but ultimately, it means nothing – he’s just a Talon. The issue is full of these contradictions: Jonah is a man without fear, yet he can still be driven to terror at the thought of his mother chasing him down with an ax. Again, he shakes the whole contradiction off — his past isn’t his identity. He’s a Talon: no name, no mother, no fears.
This Talon is so ready to abandon his own identity that he embraces the fictions of various mythological birds before admitting that he had a mother. And we are supposed to see him as a different mythological bird – a Talon.
So, okay, the message seems to be that the past is an inaccurate (or at least incomplete) measure of a man. Not wanting to wrap anything up to neatly, Bennett half back-pedals on this idea. Just looking at the image above, we can see that Jonah hasn’t totally escaped his scarring childhood — he’s running around this maze with a goddamned ax strapped to his back. Check it: that’s an ax that he never uses. And for all of his self-evading mental games, the LSD-laced Owl Fountain brings on a hallucination that neatly summarizes Jonah’s life.
This is a concentrated shotgun blast of images from the rest of the issue, rendered in disarming earnestness by Jorge Lucas. It’s actually jarring — this is the first real time we see any of Jonah’s fantasy projected on to the page. By the end of the issue, we’ll see Jonah as a human being and a bird-man on the same page, as an introduction to that kind of delusion, this splash is spectacular. I mean, that is some weird shit right there.
Like any comic fan, I’m always eager to get back to the hero — what can I say: I grew to love Calvin and Casey through Tynion’s run. But I also love the idea that Bennett may be using Talon as a canvas for ideas, rather than characters. Spencer, I’m not familiar with your history with this series — strikes me as a tad dour for your tastes, and this issue is no exception. Like, a man carving feathers into his face to represent his kills: that’s grim shit (grimmer even than Victor Zsasz). Were you able to look past that darkness to find a story, character or concept worthwhile here? And also – how cool is it to see William Cobb getting those scars on his face in this issue?
Spencer: Patrick, we have talked Talon before, though it’s been quite some time, so I can forgive you for forgetting (this time). I think what both of us were raving about that day was how former writer James Tynion IV could change the direction of the series on a dime, throwing out unthinkable twists like killing off the main character and somehow making them work. Talon has never had a comfortable status quo, and this issue feels like Bennett playing with that element of the title in her own way by changing up the entire premise of the book.
And why shouldn’t she? This is Bennett’s only issue on the title — Tim Seeley is taking over for Talon’s final two issues — so why not take a risk and do something completely off-the-wall? You mention Bennett taking a lot for granted in telling this story, Patrick, but we’re 15 issues into a title that’s seeing its end at 17, so I don’t exactly think we have to worry too much about new readers. I’m actually excited to see if the rest of this title’s limited lifespan will feature similar risky, out-there storytelling; Talon‘s got nothing left to lose, and that has me way more excited than I probably should be about a dying title.
You asked me whether I could look past the darkness in this issue and find anything to hold onto, Patrick, and I think that’s both a yes and a no at the same time, which is probably appropriately confusing for this story. I think I must just be used to Talon‘s dark tone by now because the grimmer aspects didn’t really get to me this time around, and there was actually quite a bit I enjoyed about this issue, or at least about the way it told its story. There’s something really poetic about the language “Jonas” uses in his voiceover (which probably makes up 95% of the dialogue in the issue), and Bennett and Lucas know how to craft some striking imagery as well:
Likewise, I enjoyed how Bennett told Jonas’s story in reverse-order. Patrick already mentioned how run-of-the-mill Talon origin stories were becoming even months ago (I submit that I’m a little fatigued on origin stories in general, but that’s just me), but flipping the order of events in this Talon’s past adds an intriguing element to the telling of a story we all know. Jonas becoming a Talon is the obvious endpoint of this issue, so we open on it and move backwards, filling in the blanks about who or what this Talon used to be, which is a story with many more possibilities. Some of the reveals in this issue could only work this way; if we had seen Jonas’s childhood before we saw his hallucination, for example, both reveals would have lost a lot of power.
Still, I did flail around quite a bit trying to find something meatier to hold onto. An intriguing format is all well and good, but I’m still not sure what this story is actually about, or what its point is, for that matter. My initial reaction when I finished reading this issue was to set it down and think, “Well, maybe I’ll get more out of this when I read it a second time,” but that didn’t happen. Patrick, you mentioned that it almost seems like Bennett is daring the reader to get something out of the narrative, and I second that opinion. What, if anything, can be gotten out of this story is down to the individual reader.
Personally, my first thought was about how cruel and utterly screwed up the Court’s methods are and about how much they messed poor Jonas up, but then I realized that he was already screwed up long before he came onto the Court’s radar. In fact, while the Court puts its Talons through a living Hell, most of them are already in poor shape mentally by the time the Court starts courting them anyway. It’s a leap, but this actually made me think about what the Court’s motivations and goals actually are. I mean, we know they want to control the city, but to what end? What’s their agenda, their political leaning? Do they simply desire to control the city with an iron hand (or iron talon?), do they tip the scale in the favor of the rich, or the poor, or what? We know the Court’s evil, but the way they so readily use and abuse those society have already spit out certainly continues to paint an ugly picture of what Gotham under the Court’s control would actually entail for its citizens.
That’s just one interpretation, of course. I’m sure there are a ton of different ideas tucked away in this issue, and I don’t know if any of them are the reading Bennett intended. Honestly, this issue is probably too opaque, too frustrating for me to ever call a “good” issue, but I find myself begrudgingly admiring the risks it takes in its storytelling, structure, and very existence despite myself. Storytelling and characterization are my bread and butter as a reader and a critic, and I would normally be much more frustrated with a book that so blithely pushes them aside in order to do…whatever this issue does, but something’s different this time. I think Talon 15 just came into existence at just the right time to be able to put out such a risky issue. Even if I get nothing else out of the issue, I can admire that.
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