Book Review: Batman: The Court of Owls by Greg Cox
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Media Tie-in, Comics, Superheroes
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Titan Books (February 19, 2019)
Length: 336 pages
Author Information: Website
Batman: The Court of Owls by Greg Cox is an original novel based on the titular secret society that has been operating from the shadows of Gotham for centuries. Known for using their wealth and political influence to shape the city, their origins were first gleaned in the opening arc of the New 52 series of comics featuring the Caped Crusader back when DC carried out their 2011 revamp, which was also when the Court made their first appearance. With the deft writing skills of a seasoned author and the keen alacrity of well-versed fan, Cox expertly combines classic elements of the character and story with the touches of the modern world to create this brand-new exciting adventure.
Many of Batman’s enemies have attempted to beat him physically or break his will—but only one has ever come close. This villain is not actually one figure but a group of many. Collectively, they call themselves the Court of Owls, named for the bat’s natural predator. Their members have included some of Gotham’s richest and most famous going back to the colonial era, making them a true threat. In the comics, the Court utilized their vast resources and deadly assassins to best Batman by trapping him in their massive underground labyrinth, where they succeeded in driving him to the edge of his sanity before our hero managed to escape. While these events are not rehashed in this novel, they do provide the background to this story and are referenced periodically, not to mention the trauma of that experience has also left deep scars on Bruce Wayne’s psyche.
Presently, a series of disturbing murders have given Batman cause to suspect the Court of Owls have reemerged from the shadows and are planning something big. The first victim was a college art professor, whose charred corpse was found burned from the inside out. A bit of digging revealed that one of his students, Joanna Lee, has recently gone missing—and Batman finds himself unexpectedly familiar with her name. As it turns out, Joanna had been researching the life and works of a famous artist and scientist from Gotham’s history named Percy Wright, who was also a known Owl. Something in her research must have alerted the Court because they are now intent on silencing her, and Batman surmises that the college student had gone into hiding. Now he must race against time to beat the Court’s assassins, called Talons, to find Joanna first. Turning to some allies for help, Batman also discovers a connection between his own history and that of an early 19th century young model named Lydia Doyle, who had been Percy Wright’s mistress and greatest muse before she disappeared without a trace in 1918.
One of my favorite things about The Court of Owls is that it is a mystery, which calls back to Batman’s detective roots. On top of that, readers are also in for a treat as Gotham is comprehensively depicted in a literary fashion. Greg Cox incorporates both past and present in this generations-spanning tale that pulls together everything from the architecture and art scene of the city to the history of its famous families, including the preeminent Waynes. The chapters detailing Percy and Lydia’s lives transport us back to Gotham’s heyday when it was still a shiny beacon of prosperity and even the site of a grand World’s Fair, well before it became riddled with crime and corruption.
This novel is also an example of the best of classic Batman, weaving the elements that are most treasured by fans into its fast-paced and intricate plot. The story is steeped in darkness and mystery, thanks in part to the bloody history of the Court of Owls. This ruthless organization is more than a match for the Caped Crusader, and not only because they know his true identity but also because many of their wealthy socialite members move in the same circles as Bruce Wayne. Furthermore, the Owl’s Talons are near invincible with the quick healing effects granted to them by the power of electrum in their veins, making them a challenge to defeat. It almost doesn’t seem fair, but the result is some of the best fight scenes I’ve ever read in a superhero or comic book related novel, so I guess I can’t complain too much.
Finally, in spite of all the attention paid to the Court of Owls, this is still very much a Batman story, focusing on the Dark Knight as well as his extended Bat-family. I was thrilled when Nightwing made an appearance, though his role was more of a cameo, as well as Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, whose tech savviness was used many times to crack the case, revealing the secrets of Percy Wright’s scientific work as well as details into his tragic affair with Lydia. Every character had a role to play, and I found myself riveted by the interplay between the past and present timelines especially when, on occasion, the truth was revealed to the reader in Percy’s chapters first. Whenever this happened, I had the joy of watching Batman do what he does best in his present chapters, sleuthing out the answers for himself with the help of his friends and high-tech gadgetry.
This is the second book I’ve read in Titan Books’ new line of novels based on some of the greatest characters and stories in the Batman world, the first being Harley Quinn: Mad Love by Paul Dini and Pat Cadigan, which was also a fantastic read. Like Dini and Cadigan, Greg Cox also has my kudos for his ability to write such an enjoyable novel about a beloved classic comic book character, blending the old and familiar with the new and modern. I for one am looking forward to more like this and will be picking up Batman: Killing Joke by Christa Faust very soon to complete the trio. Here’s hoping too that more iconic Batman comics will soon get the same treatment.