Through over 70 years of publishing, DC Comics Dark Knight Detective has faced down his fair share of master criminals, psychotic killers and secret organizations. But with the newest volume of the publisher’s core “Batman” title, writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo have begun rolling many aspects of the character’s history into one ominous group known to the citizens of Gotham as the Court of Owls.
Since their debut in the first issue of the best-selling New 52 title, the shadowy cabal of architects – both literal and metaphorical -Â have been chipping away at the ambitions of Bruce Wayne and his Bat-Family of crime fighters. And the storyline has also hinted that the Court’s influences stretches far back down Wayne’s bloodline in ways that even he may not fully recognize. This week’s “Batman” #4 promises to reveal even more about who the Court of Owls is and why Bruce Wayne has refused to accept their existence before now, but as Snyder told CBR’s regular Dark Knight column THE BAT SIGNAL, the story has just begun.
Below, the writer delves into the history of the Court of Owls both on the page and off. Snyder explains how one long-standing Batman concept helped inspire his entire story, how the particulars of the arc will stretch across the entire first year of “Batman” and how throughout the story, his focus will remain on Bruce Wayne as a character rather than as Batman as a mask. Plus, Snyder reveals how his story interacts with other mega epics like Grant Morrison’s ongoing plans as well as the other New 52 titles set within the world of Gotham City.
CBR News: Scott, there’s one piece of your Court of Owls story that I don’t recall seeing you speak to in any of the interviews you’ve done on this book, and that is the question of Owlman. Most people probably associate that name with Earth-3 or the recent Outsiders character, but I remember that being a piece of the Batman mythology going back to when I was a kid who owned a weird “comic and cassette tape” version of Len Wein’s “The Untold Legend of Batman” which reprinted a ’50s Batman cover where Robin was aged up to become the first Owlman…
Scott Snyder: I know that exact cover! Someone sent me that as a joke when I started doing this story. It says like, “What the devil, Batman? Robin has become Owlman!” [Laughter]
I would stare at that a lot as a kid, and so I’ve noticed how much that name or that iconography has showed up in the Batman books over the years. Is that a creative thread that had a lot of impact on this story for you?
It’s absolutely a thread I’m thinking about. Where I’m at in the arc right now writing-wise is that I’m just finishing up issue #9 and 10, and the whole thing ends in #11. So a lot of this is on my mind. I’ve always loved the idea of the owl as an antithetical symbol to the bat and the way that that exists in current Batman mythology, given all the different versions of Owlman and him being a kind of reverse Batman in the anti-matter universe. I love those stories. I love them in the cartoons and in Morrison’s work and all of that stuff.
My feeling was that the owl is a symbol that has a lot of potency in “Batman” already, and I wanted to build a story around the Court of Owls as something that creates a real and tangible threat in the physical Batman world – in the main continuity of the DCU. I wanted to do something that maybe hadn’t been done before that brings all that terror to bear on Batman now so that you do feel, I hope, this creeping sense of dread. You feel a bigger plan at work and that the owl is a symbol of not only a rival to the bat now but also something that’s been laying claim to Gotham for centuries. The owl and the bat almost can’t coexist. They are almost like a matter/anti-matter version of each other where one has to die for the other to live. It’s something that’s very much been in the front of my brain, and I felt like it’s a story that new readers could jump on and not feel like they have to have read anything from the past to be able to understand this. At the same time, longtime fans of the character would recognize the idea of the owl as something that’s been around a long time as part of the atmosphere of Batman.
I don’t want to give away where the story is going. It is eleven issues, and we’re only three in! [Laughs] But there’s a lot of stuff coming, I promise. It’s going to expand issue to issue and become pretty big. And really, in issue #4 we’re going to go back and see why Bruce is so deeply opposed to believing in the Court of Owls and why Bruce is so opposed to believing in them. You’ll get to see stuff form his childhood and a secret history even as we’re expanding on the Court of Owls in the present. And when we get to issue #5, honestly that’s my favorite Batman issue I’ve ever written. It does blow things out to a whole new level. You’ll learn more about who the Court is and how deeply rooted in Gotham they are -Â and how powerful and deadly they are to Batman. I don’t want to give it away, but once you get to issues #4 and 5, you’ll see the scope of the story we’re trying to tell.
All that stuff to me is epic stuff -Â the idea of Owlman and Batman and the owl and the bat and what they mean to Gotham. We’re trying to do that story justice and really cut to the heart of Batman and Gotham, to give him an enemy in the Court and develop the idea through the Talon. The Talon is going to be somebody that does justice to the symbol of the owl in Gotham.
I kept saying to myself as I was reading the first three issues – and this is obviously something you’re setting up -Â was that I wanted to know the connection between the Owls and Bruce’s parents. We’ve seen teases of that, but we haven’t heard yet how it ties to Bruce’s origin. We’re heard teases of Joe Chill as a specter in Bruce’s life in this story. How do those two threads merge over the course of this story?
Well, for me I want fans to understand that Bruce’s origin is something that’s sacred to me. How his parents died and who kills them is all stuff that I’m not interested in changing. So as deeply as the Court of Owls is rooted in their story and our story, I don’t want to give the impression that we’re altering things so the Owls or the Talon now killed his parents. That’s not where we’re going. Let’s make that clear.
That said, the Court of Owls has had a very long history with the Wayne family, and there are some extremely important things that have shaped who Bruce is without his knowing. They’ve also shaped Dick Grayson’s past without him knowing. They shaped Martha and Thomas Wayne’s lives and Alan Wayne and all the Waynes of the past. Soon we’ll be seeing the history of the Waynes and the Owls and be seeing how deeply rooted this rivalry is. The conflict goes far back in time. And with the story in #4, you’ll see how deeply entrenched the idea of the Owls being a part of Gotham is for Bruce and how it reaches back even into his childhood, right around the time his parents were killed. So as much as I’m saying “No, this isn’t a story that will revamp how his parents were killed in Crime Alley” there are connections to that time and connections to what made Bruce who he is and Batman who he is and Nightwing who he is and Alfred who he is AND the Wayne family and what they stand for. I think it’ll be very earth-shaking to Batfans as well. We would never change things just to be sensational or anything like that, and certain things to me are sacred, but fans can probably guess what those things would be, and they hold them sacred too.
But I think there are a lot of corners of that same mythology and origin material that are untouched, unexplained and unused, and those are the corners I try to play with. Like in “Swamp Thing,” it’s the same. I’m not treading on anything Alan Moore or Len Wein did at all. I’m looking within that and saying, “Who was Alec before this? There’s no sense of his history.” That’s where I’m going. I’m picking at the bone marrow of that character and finding stuff that has the potential of being just as important as his origin story. That’s what’s coming for Batman and the Court of Owls as well. It’s a long history with the Waynes and a lot of the characters in the Bat family that are going to have repercussions and echo down through a lot of the books -Â everything from “Batgirl” to “All Star Western” honestly.
We’ve also got this mayoral candidate character in Lincoln March, who every time he shows up I just wait for the other shoe to drop. [Laughter] He just CAN’T be as good as he seems! What’s it bring to this story to have that tension hang over a character and his relationship to Bruce?
I know! I’m very aware of that. The second a nice guy walks into Gotham, everyone is expecting him to be the villain of the world, so it’s not something I’m looking to suddenly go “And guess what? He’s a villain!” People are hoping that will happen or maybe won’t happen, but he’s going to be a more complex character than that. That’s not to say he won’t be a villain. Who knows? But there’s not going to be a sudden “I’m pulling off my mask…I was the Talon, but now I’m Lincoln March!” Don’t worry about that. It’s not like there’s one person who’s an unknown quantity, and he just ends up being the big villain. That’s not exactly something I would go near.
Again, I’m in no way saying he might not be a villain. I love how people are wondering if he’s a big villain or a small villain or crooked. I want to keep that in play. He absolutely might be. But I don’t think it will be one-to-one, and the other thing I’ll propose is that there’s almost something sadder about a person who’s tragically doomed who’s a hero to Gotham. To Bruce, this is an example of someone who’s trying to make a difference on the civic front. And in the past few years, Bruce has come out of his shell and tried to shape Gotham as Bruce Wayne – to embrace a personality of Bruce Wayne that’s more honest and closer to his persona of Batman that’s not just a stupid facade that he took on for so long. “I’m just a bumbling playboy, and I don’t care about anything.” Instead, he’s taking an active role in Gotham politically and architecturally. That’s really exciting to me. To have someone who is a father figure to him -Â someone who’s a little older saying “I’m trying to do the same thing as you, but I don’t have the resources you have, and if people come after me to try and kill me, I’m going to keep going because Gotham is worth it” -Â and then have something bad happen to that character is in some ways more interesting to me than the guy just pulling off his face and becoming the Scarecrow or whatever.
Again, in no way am I trying to give away who he is or who he might be in the end, but he’s a character who’s going to play an important role for Bruce and I think set an example for him that will have repercussions in the long run. He’s not a throw away character at all for us. He’s a very big keystone in the story, and how exactly it plays out I hope will involve people in the story going forward.
For so long, there was a struggle in some of the Bat books where people didn’t know whether to play Batman as an urban myth or as a Justice Leaguer or what have you. But then when Grant did “Batman Inc.,” it ended all debate there and set a new standard for what his place in the DCU was. Did that change open up the story potential for you, and does the idea of a character who’s taken a big step forward like that necessitate that he’ll be knocked back down?
Completely. The story we’re telling is one of Batman as Bruce Wayne deciding that he’s going to take an active part in shaping Gotham -Â architecturally, politically and all of that – and announcing it in the first issue, saying “I’m building new buildings pro bono and making Gotham a better place not as a superhero but as a man.” And the blowback for that comes from the Court of Owls not just at Batman but at Bruce. It’s his name on their wall. Batman is initially a non-issue for them. And for reasons that will become clear later on, Bruce Wayne is a big target for them. Batman might become a big target as well, but the idea is to teach Bruce a lesson as a person and not as Batman. It says, “Bruce Wayne, you think you may be a part of Gotham, and because of who your family is, you lay a claim to it. We’re going to teach you that you know nothing about the city and that your family has never known anything about the city. It belongs to something that thinks your family is a joke, and finally after all these years we’ve decided to flick this family off the map.” So it’s more a story about Bruce Wayne and how his history is at odds with these people. Batman is just a fun toy for them. They don’t see him as important whatsoever. Basically, if they ever caught Batman they wouldn’t even unmask him. They’d just brush him aside.
That’s what’s scary about the Court of Owls to me, and I hope it is to readers. It’s scary to me because it’s scary to Bruce in my mind. They say, “You dare to come out of your little shell, Bruce Wayne? For that, we’re going to crush you. And who cares about Batman? Batman is nothing.” You’ll see a lot of Bruce fighting out of costume coming up too, which I really think is exciting. I love that they’re trying to get at the guy under the mask, and they’re cutting to the core of his psychology. They’re cutting down to the death of his parents, and that’s what fuels Batman too.
Overall, you speak to a lot of the guys who write Batman books from Tony Daniel to Peter Tomasi and on down the line. What kind of discussions are you having right now about how the books play off each other? Will we start seeing more crossover between the books, or will those impacts be subtle as the New 52 continues to plot its own course on a title-by-title basis?
It’ll be a little bit of both. I love taking ideas from Tony and Pete, like the grandfather clock in “Batman and Robin” or what’s going on with Damian. We talk quite often, and we talk to Gail [Simone] and a number of other people in the Bat Office. [Editor] Mike Marts does a great job of keeping us all in touch. And there are going to be some pretty big things that crossover between “Batman” and “Nightwing” in a few months as well as between “Batman” and the other books in the line. Without giving away too much of how this will all work, the story in “Batman” will have a pretty big impact on other books coming soon. Stay tuned for all that. But that doesn’t mean that everything happening in “Batman” isn’t self-contained. I don’t want you to think that you’re going to have to read other books to understand “Batman” of vice versa. That’s not something I’d do as a writer or ask of other writers. There’s no storyline requiring you to move to other books, but some of what I’m interested in might also interest the guys on other books. And things they do are things I want to incorporate thematically into “Batman.” Even though we want each book to stand on its own, there are some ideas that will be shared in small and big ways coming up over the course of the year.
Stay tuned for more next week from both Scott Snyder and THE BAT SIGNAL on CBR!
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