Ruling Gotham from a shadowed perch, behind granite and lime.
They watch you at your hearth, they watch you in your bed.
Speak not a whispered word of them, or they'll send the Talon for your head."
The Court of Owls and Night of the Owls is a major comic book story arc set in the DC Universe following the launch of the New 52. Written by Scott Snyder and penciled by Greg Capullo, the arc is a major crossover event, although the main story is told in the Batman comics. The story pits Batman against an ancient cabal, the Court of Owls, as they attempt to cement their control over Gotham City, which they have been manipulating in secret for centuries. As described by writer Kyle Higgins, the series is the follow up to Batman: Gates of Gotham and divulges more of the history of Gotham before the turn of the century, with Gates of Gotham having been originally intended to be a precursor to Night of the Owls. The crossover has been described by writer Scott Snyder as the first story arc of the Batman trilogy that he is planning. According to Snyder, in terms of internal chronology, Night of the Owls takes place in a single night (although its buildup, The Court of Owls, is at least eight days long).
For the most part, the story arc takes place in Gotham City, renamed the City of Owls as the Court begins its full-out attack. However, the overreaching story arc also takes place in Wayne Manor and the outskirts of Gotham. Such cities as Chicago, Miami, and New Orleans are featured prominently as well.
The stories are covered in the following issues:
- The War of Lords and Owls (prequel)
- All-Star Western #9-12
- The Court of Owls
- Night of the Owls (in rough chronological order)
This comic was one of the most successful storylines of the New 52 both critically and financially. The aftermath of the storyline would affect a number of series, among them Birds of Prey who'd recruit a Talon in the aftermath as a team member. Ramifications of this storyline continue in the post-New 52 Batman landscape, such as Dark Nights: Metal.
This storyline contains examples of:
- A Father to His Men: General Burroughs (one target for the Court of Owls) shows concern and grief for his soldiers as they give their lives protecting him.
- Acoustic License: While comics are prone to this sort of thing, Batman #11 stands out. All throughout a fight involving screaming jet engines, explosions, and men getting punched through brick walls, Lincoln March keeps up a steady stream of convoluted conversation regarding his back story.
- Action Politician: One of the only Court of Owls targets to fight back against their assassins is a city councilman who shoots at his attacker with a pistol.
- Ain't Too Proud to Beg: When an assassin comes for high-ranking Deputy Sheriff Michael D. Davis while he's taking a bath, Davis can only say, "Please don't."
- Ancient Conspiracy: The Court of Owls, which claims to have been controlling Gotham for centuries.
- Aristocrats Are Evil: The Court's members are implied to be modern-day nobility—the rich and affluent. And they're all pretty much selfish jerks obsessed with imposing their rule over Gotham, and little else.
- Ascended Extra: It can be said that the Court of Owls is an expansion of Owlman, a minor owl-themed Batman villain which played with the theme of owls preying on bats. Lincoln March, in particular, seems to be a part-Owlman Composite Character.
- If March really is Thomas Wayne Jr, then it's basically an exercise in giving Batman a main-Earth Owlman opposite number with a nod to the older comics that featured Thomas Wayne Jr.
- Asshole Victim: In addition to all the noble pillars of society that the Court of Owls have sent their Talons after, Mr. Freeze and the Penguin have also made the hit list. And at the end, the Court themselves are wiped out.
- Bad Boss: The Court of Owls have no problem "retiring" their Talons for failures. Furthermore, in one issue, the Penguin allows Mr. Freeze to murder his security staff to make a staged robbery more convincing.
- Batman Gambit: Being a Batman comic, this happens several times...
- The Court of Owls threatens Commissioner Gordon to leave the Bat-Signal turned off when the Court is ready to make their move, and to not warn his daughter. Of course, Gordon tries to call Barbara...only to discover that the Court accessed all the phone lines, and start bombing police headquarters. But the real gambit doesn't reveal itself until Gordon makes it to the Bat-Signal and turns it on...only to discover, as a modified signal projects the image of an owl over Gotham's skyline, that the Court of Owls wanted him to do this all along!
- Near the very end, Batman corners one of the members of the Court of Owls and tells her that her husband fled without telling her, and that the Court is falling apart. She remains defiant while he's in the room...but when he leaves, she calls up her husband in a panic. And Batman traces the call to find out where the Court's gathering for a meeting.
- And shortly thereafter, during the final confrontation, one comes from Lincoln March—after deciding that the Court of Owls had to die after supposedly being targeted by one of their assassins, he injected himself with the formula that resurrects and regenerates the Talons, then puts his own name on their hit list. Sure enough, one of the Talons shows up and kills him...allowing him to come back from the dead and put his master plan to usurp the Court of Owls into action.
- Bat Family Crossover: In the most literal sense. Every single Bat-book was in the event. The Talon assassins even made a cameo in the Justice League comic.
- Big Bad: As an organization, the Court of Owls. Later, their top agent - Lincoln March, a.k.a. Thomas Wayne Jr. - usurps this role by killing off most of their top members, and it's implied that his plan all along was to usurp the Court.
- Borrowed Biometric Bypass: In one of the issues, Mr. Freeze kills a guard by flash-freezing him, then snaps off one of the corpse's fingers and uses it to bypass a locked security gate.
- Break the Haughty: Batman starts out believing that Gotham is "his city" and that no one knows it better than him. He also refuses to believe the Court of Owls is real, even in the face of irrefutable evidence, simply because he never found evidence of them existing when he looked into them in the past and can't bring himself to believe that they could elude him for so long. He refuses to take precaution towards this new foe, even after his first battle with a Talon, and it nearly gets him killed a number of times when the Court decide to play their hand.
- Breakout Villain: The Court of Owls have since been adapted to video games, animated media, and television as a result of the storyline's popularity, with Matt Reeves even citing them as a potential villain for his Batman trilogy.
- Circus of Fear: The Court recruits its assassins from the circus specifically the circus Dick Grayson grew up in. He was a candidate until Bruce adopted him.
- Death Seeker: One of the Talons—the one confronted by the Red Hood—has enough free will left for this. In his own words, every action of his former life was dictated by the Court of Owls; all he wants now is to die on his own termsnote .
- Demoted to Extra: Despite being prominent on the cover and solicit for Batman: The Dark Knight #9, all of Tim Drake's actual screentime amounts to one non-speaking panel during the actual Night of the Owls (albeit it indicated he's actively taking part in the event — offscreen), one scene in Red Hood & the Outlaws #8 that has nothing to do with the Court of the Owls, and a voice-only dialogue with Jason Todd convincing him to help.
- Determinator: Batman gets especially broken in the arc, suffering from a mental breakdown after being trapped in a labyrinth for eight days, gets stabbed, and is beaten down, yet is able to fight back and defeat the Court the same night he escapes from their labyrinth.
- Distant Prologue: The issues of All-Star Western that crossed over with this storyline.
- Hell, in between crossover issues, flashbacks within those issues, flashbacks within the main story, and issues that take place after All-Star Western but before the main story, you could say this whole crossover takes Distant Prologue up to eleven.
- Driven to Suicide: Rather than face Batman at full strength, the Court commits suicide when they realize they've been beaten.
- Subverted when it turns out they didn't kill themselves; Lincoln March poisoned them and made it look like suicide to cover his own tracks.
- Evil All Along: Lincoln March.
- Evil Counterpart: The ultimate villain of the piece is a dark reflection of Bruce. He uses an owl motif to counter a bat, underwent intense training after completely changing his walk of life, is more familiar with Gotham than anyone, and his life took a turn for the worse when the Waynes were killed note . And, of course, he claims to be — may actually be — Bruce's brother.
- The Faceless: The Court of Owls members always wear masks that hide their identities. While we learn the backstories of several of their Talon assassins the court members themselves remain anonymous and unexplored.
- Good Thing You Can Heal: The Talon assassins can regenerate quickly from most injuries. Which means, naturally, that Bats and his flock can play hardball for once.
- Greater-Scope Villain: The Court of Owls has controlled Gotham for centuries, and know secrets about it that even Batman doesn't- in fact, they may be the ultimate reason the city's so screwed up. Their backstory ties into everyone's: Bats', Alfred's, even Robin's. And Bruce suspects they may have had a hand in his parents' deaths although it turns out he's wrong.
- Implacable Man: The Talon assassins. They're not exactly alive, nor exactly dead. On top of all this, they can quickly heal from almost any injury. Their only weakness is extreme cold, which drastically slows their healing ability.
- Improbable Weapon User: When the Talons raid his home, Bruce Wayne fights one of them off with a weather vane. Breaking a damn katana in the process.
- Interface Screw: A rare non-video game example. At one point while Batman is in the Court's Labyrinth the panels rotate 90 degrees, then another 90 degrees a few pages later before returning to normal.
- Kill It with Ice: The only sure-fire way to dispatch the revived Talons. And then there's Mr. Freeze, who uses it as his standard M.O.
- Long-Lost Relative: Lincoln March / Owlman claims to be Thomas Wayne Jr., Bruce's younger brother injured prenatally in a car accident involving Martha Wayne and secretly sent to a children's hospital upon birth for care. Bruce is highly skeptical, and points out several fairly valid points regarding why this is unlikely-to-impossible, but does concede that he can't rule it out 100% without DNA testing.
- Loving a Shadow: As revealed in Batman Annual #1, Nora ISN'T Victor's wife. She was cryogenically preserved long before he was even BORN. He's just obsessed with her.
- Magical Defibrillator: Batman gets resuscitated with jumper cables.
- Make It Look Like an Accident: According to Lincoln March, the Court tried to do this to him during the assassination attempt on Bruce Wayne in Batman #2. March doesn't buy their explanation that the Talon nearly killing him was an 'accident' and this is what causes him to turn on them during the Night of the Owls.
- Missed the Call: A rather accidental version. One of the Talons is Dick Grayson's great-grandfather. Apparently, Dick was supposed to become the next great Talon—the circus he grew up at was a secret training ground for Talons—but all that was shot off the rails when he was adopted by Bruce. This leads to Refused the Call, as seen below...
- Offing the Offspring: A more separated example than most of this trope— one of the Talons, William Cobb, is out to kill Dick Grayson, his great-grandson, for the so-called offense of rejecting his legacy as the descendant of a Talon in favor of remaining with Batman.
- Orphanage of Fear: Willowwood Home for Children. Basically think Arkham but instead of supervillains all the inmates are disturbed little kids. It's hinted that it was not as terrible in the past, but the deaths of the Waynes dried up their funding and fell into decay and institutional corruption.
- Powered Armor:
- When the Talons force Batman and Alfred to retreat to a panic room deep within the lair, the former breaks out a mecha-suit to even the odds (being considerably wounded at the time and all).
- Lincoln March, Bruce's alleged younger brother, dons a much more streamlined version of this trope—its theme reminiscent of an owl—for the final battle. Its features include jet thrusters, plastic explosive, and claw gauntlets. The suit is said to be the modern incarnation of the Talon suit.
- Refused the Call: Dick Grayson is offered one last chance to join the Court of Owls as their latest Talon by his great-grandfather, William Cobb. He refuses.
- The Remake: Of a sort. This last half of the story owes a lot to the "Boomerang Killer" story arc that started way back in 1974 in World's Finest.
- Sanity Slippage: In The Court of Owls, Batman is dropped into an enormous labyrinth with drugged drinking water and theatrical room constructions for the sake of Mind Rape. By the end of the ordeal, Batman imagines himself and the Court members turning into grotesque anthropomorphic owls. Later anytime he meets someone who is a member of the Court, he will see them as part Owl showing he still hasn't fully recovered.
- Sequel Hook: Despite March murdering the leadership, Bruce (correctly) doesn't believe that the Court has been completely wiped out. This carried over to the spin-off Talon, which pitted a former Talon against the remnants of the Court — who, however, are terrified when one of their Talons, tasked with hunting down the former Talon, suggests going after the Bat, such is the impression that the Bat-family's resistance made on them.
- Spanner in the Works: Accidentally done with the candidate intented to be trained as the next great Talon. The Flying Graysons' murder would have been the perfect opportunity for the Court to snatch Dick, but Bruce adopting him put the boy out of their reach.
- The Spook: The Court of Owls as a whole, as we are only given a small handful of information about how the group's past and how they operate or what their plans actually are. The Court is also shown to have dozens of members, and even that is said to only be a small portion of the organization, but only the identities of three members are revealed to the reader.
- The Starscream: Lincoln March betrays his allies in the Court of Owls in the event's finale, usurping the role of Big Bad.
- Uncertain Doom: There's a montage of several Gothamites being attacked by the Court of Owls. A few, such as Judge Jan Spitz (who is jogging when attacked), Public Advocate John Lee (who's driving his car) and City Councilman Michael Guadalupe (who tries to fight off his attacker with a pistol) aren't killed onscreen and might have been able to avoid the assassins long enough for Batman's allies to save them.
- Ungrateful Bastard: Mr. Freeze is protected from one of the Talon assassins by Arsenal and Starfire, the latter of whom reassures him that he's under her protection. Mr. Freeze's response is to blast her with his freeze ray. She does not take this rejection of her courtesy well. At all.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Dr. Arkham is surprisingly calm throughout the court's attempts to kill him, which involve causing a riot at the asylum.
- Wham Episode:
- Batman #7 and Nightwing #7 both reveal that Dick Grayson was meant to be recruited into the Talons and the Court unleashes all of the Talons on Gotham.
- The end of Batman #10 where Lincoln March is revealed to have faked his death, is a member of the Court of Owls, and alleges that he's a forgotten brother of Bruce. Issue 11 puts a lot of doubt on the claims of being Bruce's brother as Bruce himself points out.
- Wham Line: Downplayed when the dead trainer is believed to have his killer's DNA under his fingernails, identified as...Dick Grayson. However, it quickly turns out that the trainer had tried to warn Dick, grabbing and scratching his arm. And Batman, being Batman, checked Dick's alibi on principle.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Batman and his allies have no problems killing the Talons, on the logic that they are "already dead", despite the fact that they clearly retain their psyche and are able to speak, and on occasion can be reasoned with.
- What the Hell Are You?: Various people have this reaction to the Talons, before finding out what they are. Draws an interesting parallel to Batman.
- White Void Room: Several rooms in the Court's labyrinth.
- Workaholic: Deputy Davis is reading a police file as he takes a bath.
- You Have Failed Me: A few of the resurrected Talons have this in their backstory—whether out of sloppiness,note "misguided honor,"note or failing to do a job properly, they were retired early. Often, part of the issue featuring them focuses on their attempts to atone for their mistakes, perceived or otherwise.
- You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Penguin has this opinion of the Talon that was sent to kill him, once he sees the undead assassin getting up from a would-be fatal wound to the neck:Penguin: Oh, for the love of...how much more screwed up does this night have to get?
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The Court of Owls is rather prone to doing this, whether to their own Talons, the skilled trainer of said Talons,note or to Mr. Freeze (who helped develop the formula that resurrected the Talons in the first place). Fittingly enough, Lincoln March decides that the Court has outlived their usefulness at the very end.