Friday, August 30, 2013

Batman Vol. 2: City of Owls (2013)

Batman Vol. 2: City of Owls (2013)

Talon: “Bruce Wayne…The Court of Owls…has sentenced you to…”

Bruce Wayne: *Hitting Talon on the head with a 2x4* “Yeah, I got it the first time!”

     Batman: City of Owls is the sequel to Batman: Court of Owls. (Reviewed here: This time, the Talons (Owl assassins.) are hunting Bruce Wayne. Now, since it was revealed…(spoilers?) what the Owls’ true origins are last volume, Batman seeks out Mr. Freeze to figure out how they are still alive. But, of course, not before he must defend the manor as just Bruce. (Scene above.) From there, I feel the book devolves into a character study of Mr. Freeze and others…which is expertly done, but feels like it belongs in another book with Mr. Freeze as the main villain.

     It’s fun to see Penguin helping Freeze escape (“Wah, wah!”) but really I just wanna see more Owls. But, that really doesn’t happen either. After the attack on Wayne Manor, Batman interrogates and lures Freeze in, but the book gets so bogged down by its own symbolism and psychology that it becomes pretentious and dull. For example, (mild spoiler) through Batman’s interrogation, we learn that Freeze’s ice fetish was actually caused by the death of his mother, who fell in ice. That’s nice, but this is an interrogation, not psychoanalysis…that and he was with his prison therapist pages earlier!

   All Batman should’ve uncovered was evidence of the Owls using Freeze’s tech. He does find out through a bit of serendipity that the Owls have apparently committed suicide when he investigates their roost, robbing him (so it would seem.) of his revenge. But, all that changes when Batman discovers a heart pin on his mother’s lapel on a portrait back at the Manor. (Lincoln March described such a pin in the first book.) In a random twist, Lincoln, once located, now claims to be Batman’s brother, Thomas Wayne Jr.!

   Don’t get me wrong, the epic showdown is good, and Lincoln March traps Batman in a children’s hospital, blows it up, crashes him into buildings while gliding on a Batgrappling hook in an owl costume…epic stuff. But, is the psychoanalytic “lost brother” touch really necessary? Lincoln as Owlman should be enough of a threat on his own. And since Batman himself concludes (spoilers!) that it doesn’t add up…why toss that angle out anyway? To make him look crazy? I think that was accomplished by the owl suit.

   Long story short, there’s too many side-narratives and pseudo-analysis going on here. In my opinion, the book sets one up to believe that the owls are coming, and Batman is on the run. This could work. Then, it derails itself by making the Mr. Freeze connection, and the owls’ subsequent super-convenient suicide.

   I like seeing Batman as a detective (and one of my favorite Batman stories is Am I Really Batman? An interesting play on the “I’m Batman.” catchphrase, though it predates it…An amnesia story.) but there’s too much symbolism, not enough Batman here. The Dark Knight Rises had the same problem. Besides, Mr. Freeze’s origin was already covered brilliantly in Batman: The Animated Series. It was his wife, not mother!
I of all people (communication theorist, translator, intercultural analyst.) know that Batman is open to interpretation, but this is a bit of a stretch. I blame the symbolism. There’s been a push lately to make Batman some sort of psychoanalytic figure…anyone who dresses up as a Bat clearly has issues, as Christian Bale’s Batman said. But, let’s not force the connections! We don’t need to hear about Freeze’s mother, Alfred’s father, Batman’s maybe-brother, and Dick Grayson’s grandfather. That just distracts from the action, but I get that it’s trying to say…The Owls predate Batman.
Overall, Court of Owls was a good story, but it’s sequel is maddeningly rambling. It sets up action scenes, then defuses them with back history and psychoanalysis…there’s even a story about Alfred’s father Jeeves’ warning Alfred never to come to Gotham. Frankly…with all due respect to Beware The Batman’s action-oriented Alfred…who cares?

 The reason I like both Batman: The Animated Series and Beware The Batman is that they both embrace all the flavors of Batman. The detective, the dark knight, Bruce Wayne…who isn’t afraid to be a bit foolish, even when dispensing justice. You see, my sense is…City of Owls set up a good enemy for Batman, (Lincoln March and The Owls.) and then didn’t know how to end.

   Good Batman stories always agree on tone. Beware The Batman has always been a detective story for kids, while Batman: The Animated Series was essentially the dark knight angle for 90s kids. I liked Court of Owls, where The Owls’ trap Batman, and take over his city. But, then you wait for their attack in the sequel, and there is one. Exactly one. It’s a lot of build-up with little payoff, for a gang who just took over the city. Overall, I echo Bruce Wayne’s sentiments: “Yeah, I got it the first time!” 1 star
rating from me…read it…but prepare for psychoanalytic babble.

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