Night of the Owls is the name of the first arc of Scott Snyder’s run on Batman, and every issue has been utterly professional, and enjoyable. The art, from Greg Capullo, is first-rate, UNINTERRUPTED, and a joy to see. Each page has been solidly written, with only a small amount of melodrama to be found and Snyder managing to keep a rather tight leash on his protagonist. We’ve seen a strong character-driven story about Batman and Bruce Wayne (who I’ve always seen as separate characters) and a run of consistency which is only to be matched by books like Animal Man, Flash, and Wonder Woman.
With two issues left of the storyline, which has now enveloped the other Batman titles in a mass crossover month, things are a little disappointing. What started out as a conspiracy story in which ‘The Court of Owls’ were built up as smart, experienced characters who had secretly been running Gotham City for centuries has now become a story where they send generic assassins out to randomly kill people in the city they’re meant to own. Instead of seeing them running things, they seem to be a fringe group with no power other than a well-run cryogenic freezing laboratory. Instead of Batman being caught by surprise as he finds that the Owls have him under control, we’ve got a bog-standard story where the villains try to seize power through violence.
There’s no art or subtlety to their plan, and the revelations don’t work within the continuity Snyder has set for himself. Simply put: the writing is superb, but the plotting is collapsing on itself. Why do the owls need to make this grand gesture if they already own Gotham? What is their goal or plan, here? After centuries of being secret and mysterious, they’re now blazing an Owl Symbol across the sky, making public threats against Bruce Wayne’s life, and revealing themselves to everybody – for no discernible reason.
The crossover element of the story is a little bit of a trouble, too. The premise for each crossover title – which is generally only one issue long – is that the owls are on the hunt for all the most powerful people in Gotham. The various Batman allies in Gotham are thus told to protect whoever is closest. While that works great for several titles, Batgirl being the most obvious example because Barbara’s dad is the Police Commissioner, it feels forced when the character is unconnected to anybody. The Nightwing book sees Dick Grayson saving a Mayor we’ve never seen before, while this week’s Batman & Robin sees Damian Wayne rescuing a random military leader. Kyle Higgins is friends with Snyder and helped lay the groundwork for this story, so has a story of his own to tell here. But Peter Tomasi seems totally lost.
Damian is unconnected to almost everybody in Gotham. He’s been spending most of his time with Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne, neither of whom he interact with here. So Tomasi has to find a story somewhere and make it tie in to the crossover – he struggles. The resulting issue features a generic rescue of a generic character who won’t ever be seen again outside this single issue, and the story itself is bizarrely told. There’s a single page of the Talon assassin killing some hikers, which seems like filler. There is also a two-page sequence detailing the backstory of the Talon, which also seems extremely unnecessary indeed. Now this is probably the hardest series to tie into the crossover, as Damian is so disconnected from the rest of continuity. The other books don’t have it quite so difficult.
But look at what else is coming up, and who is next to join in. We’ve still got stories for Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Catwoman, Batwing and several others. It looks like Batwing is being set up to have Lucius Fox as his mentor, so that might be where Judd Winick is taking that story. Where should we expect the Catwoman crossover to come into play, though? Is Slam Bradley still around, or something? Birds of Prey is also going to struggle a bit to find a solid grip for crossing into the storyline.
This all comes back to the plan for the villains. It simply isn’t there. While Night of the Owls is being well-scripted and drawn, it’s not telling a full, layered story. The villains don’t have a reason to escalate the war against Batman, and they certainly don’t feel like they’re long-standing, powerful characters. In fact, it looks like Batman is probably going to walk into their layer next issue, beat them all up, and have that be the end of it. Maybe with a Talon walking off on the last page, and a “to be continued….?” Banner underneath. I certainly hope that the next arc fleshes out the story a little more – it’s meant to be a seven-issue arc, and that slow-burn approach isn't going to hide holes if it happens a second time. We'll have to see.