Absolute Batman: The Court of Owls Review, by Snyder & Capullo

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This is why I read comics. I could literally hang each and every page of this on my wall, that’s how incredible the art is. And to make the comic even greater, the story definitely matches the art so that you’re constantly struggling whether to quickly glance over the art so you can get more of the story or just forget the story and immerse yourself in the art. Luckily, a mix of both of these options is possible with the Absolute Edition, as both are put on display in this prestige format.

Thanks to books like Watchmen and The Sandman, comics have been realized as being capable of being truly “art.” That said, there’s still definitely a stigma against “normal” superhero comics (i.e. books not so allegorical and symbolic as Watchmen is so amazingly). This comic proves there shouldn’t be that stigma.

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo must go down in history as one of the greatest writer/artist collaborations in comic history, up there with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, Brian Azzarello and Eduard Risso, Jeff Loeb and Tim Sale, et cetera. They’ve created something truly extraordinary here that just seems like it could only be made by these two together.

Now I’ll admit I’m a tiny bit biased because this book is what (partially) got me into comics, but I think that’s more of a testament of how great it really is. Even after reading so many amazing comics since (such as The Sandman, Maus, etc.), my love and appreciation for Snyder/Capullo’s run on Batman as art hasn’t changed. It’s not just a great superhero comic or great Batman story, it’s a great comic. It’s a great piece of art. They show this even more as their run goes on, as they take risks and make choices that would seemingly be crazy choices to make, and one that fans would react negatively to. Yet they pull it off (I’m referring specifically to their “Superheavy” arc here).

But let’s get back to how I started reading comics. There were a few comics that I read before any others: Watchmen, Batman: Hush, and a few others, and while I loved those and appreciated them (I do often consider Hush being one of the most influential books period for me, especially because of how it shaped my love of Batman and comics in general), my love didn’t really take off until I read The Court of Owls. I had read a few great graphic novels and thought maybe that was about it. You hear about comics like Watchmen and Sandman all the time, so I thought maybe those were just more the exception than the norm (not to mention the fact that all of the “great” comics seemed to have come out decades ago). But then I read Court of Owls. While they were already on their fourth or fifth volume by the time I read it, this was still a current, ongoing series. And one that was truly incredible—a current comic that is as good as all those decades-old graphic novels everyone talks about.

That said, Court of Owls is definitely different from more “arthouse pieces” like Watchmen. It is a more “normal” superhero comic, it’s not incredibly heavy on philosophy and thematic weight. Instead, it’s an easily-accessible, fully enjoyable, amazingly-crafted Batman story.

It’s what comics should be.

Not that I’m taking away from things like Watchmen at all—it’s amazing, and it’s also what comics should be—but Court of Owls is just a “regular” superhero comic, yet it’s as amazing as it is. That’s what made me really want to get into comics and read them “religiously” because I realized what comics were capable of doing.

Scott Snyder first showed his amazing skill at writing Batman with his run on Detective Comics, most notably The Black Mirror. Somehow, he managed to top even that when he took over the main Batman title with DC’s New 52 Reboot. Each and every story he’s written has built on the last, even if it’s not immediately apparent. He weaves various storylines through each arc, building a universe that is both familiar (i.e. obviously still Batman, without making any huge changes that would cause fan riots) but at the same time entirely his own.

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Using the Court of Owls as the main villains for his first double-length arc was the perfect choice. Not only did it allow him to set up the New-52 Gotham City by showing an organization that has been deeply embedded in its roots for decades, but it also allowed him to introduce a Batman that is, perhaps for the first time, in truly unfamiliar territory. Bruce no longer knows Gotham the way he thought—the way he knew—he did: there’s a secret organization throughout its entire infrastructure that he knew nothing about. And that unfamiliarity is something that resonates with the reader as a rebooted Batman is begun. And it also allowed Snyder himself to present his unease at writing Bruce Wayne for the first time, as he’s stated in interviews (as Dick Grayson was Batman during his Detective Comics run).

One of my favorite parts of the storyline is at the very beginning when we’re introduced to the rogues gallery and the city as a whole. Snyder really sets up the whole universe perfectly with the opening fight, especially with cementing the idea that “Gotham is Batman.” Not only does Snyder use this effectively, but he proves it throughout the next ten issues.

It opens with a murder and Batman taking a role that he doesn’t often enough: detective. Without giving too much away, the reader follows him along as he investigates and is met with various obstacles until eventually meeting the Court itself. This is one of my favorite things about Snyder’s run (which is now, unfortunately, almost at an end with only one more issue to go), that each of his arcs has a specific “genre” to it, and this one is Mystery.

Perhaps my favorite moment in this arc is chapter five, wherein the mystery is almost personified on the pages itself. I don’t want to give anything away for anyone who hasn’t read it (though it’s been out for five years now), but the art compliments the writing so incredibly well in the way that the art itself becomes another mystery to unfold, and the reader—just as he or she is made unfamiliar by Batman himself being unfamiliar with Gotham—becomes wholly wrapped up in the mystery and confusion that Batman is. I’m honestly not sure if I’ve ever been this close to a character in a comic book, and it’s only due to Snyder and Capullo’s prowess.

Which of course, leads me to the next half of the duo: Greg Capullo. This book would not work without him. It really wouldn’t. There’s many, many fantastic artists who have done incredible work on Batman, but I truly think that there has never been a greater pair than Snyder and Capullo. The one that comes closest to me is Snyder and Jock (especially in their issue #44 flashback, which was perfect because it was a flashback—juxtaposed with issue #49 that took me out of the story a little bit because Yanick Paquette took over for the issue. He’s a fantastic artist, but because it was in the current storyline, it was jarring to have the artist shift without the time period).

Capullo can draw Batman—and he can do it in any scenario. Whether it’s friendly, normal Bruce Wayne or tortured, at-the-end-of-his-ropes Bruce; whether it’s detective Batman, action Batman, etc.—he can do it all.

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Chapter five, as I mentioned before, is so fantastic because of Capullo’s art, and what he does with Snyder’s script. I love how horrifying Capullo can make certain pages or panels, but he can also make beautiful and light-hearted scenes too, all in a style that works together, never drawing the reader out of the story.

As I said in the opening, each and every page could be framed and put on a wall, and I meant it. I really don’t know how he is able to get such perfection in each and every panel, but he does, and with much detail. He’s just as good at full-page or double-page spreads as he is with small, individual panels, and in this Absolute Edition, his work truly shines.

Because of the incredible high-quality of this edition and the larger size of the page, it allows you to really take in every page of art, while still intently following along with the story—and that’s how comics really should be read.

I truly think that every comic should be good enough to deserve such grand treatment, and it’s a shame that that cannot be the case (DC’s Wonder Woman with Azzarello and Chiang, Marvel’s Secret Wars with Hickman and Ribic, etc. are also deserving, for example, but there are many that are not).

But Capullo’s artwork alone is definitely enough to merit this edition, not to mention just how amazing Snyder’s story is.

It would also be incredibly remiss of me to not mention FCO Plascencia’s coloring—he’s honestly my favorite colorist, and his work with Snyder and Capullo is why, especially in the later arcs where he’s allowed to run loose with his colors. However, no matter how bright or colorful Plascencia makes the comic, it always fits perfectly with the story, just as it does here, with many grays and muted colors, adding to the unsettling state of mind the creators want you to be in.

All in all, the Absolute Court of Owls is truly a masterpiece, and one of my all-time favorite graphic novels. If you haven’t read it, go read it—even in just the trade paperback size if necessary—as this is too amazing of a work to not be read, and I honestly believe that it’s up there with Watchmen, The Sandman, and others.

The Absolute Edition, specifically, just enhances Greg Capullo’s amazing artwork, and is definitely worth the price.

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