written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
The DC animated universe continues to grow, and after the events of Son of Batman, Damian Wayne has already been operating as Robin for some time now. Tensions among the the immediate Bat-family grow as both Bruce and Damian are forced to come to grips with handling building a “family” out of shadows and vapor.
The third DC animated film adapting the events of DC’s New 52 (previous installments were the two Justice League films War and Throne of Atlantis) this story takes a fast and loose approach to the “Night of the Owls” story arc from Scott Snyder’s turn with the Bat post-Flashpoint. Returning from Son of Batman, Jason O’Mara is Bruce Wayne/Batman while Stuart Allan reprises the role of Damian Wayne/Robin; supporting the top two are Sean Maher as Dick Grayson/Nightwing (returning from Son of Batman), Jeremy Sisto as Talon, and a surprise cameo from Kevin Conroy as Thomas Wayne in a flashback.
First a bit of backstory, The Court of Owls is a secret illuminati-esque organization populated by the upper echelon of Gotham’s elite-class. Controlling the inner-workings of Gotham City from the shadows, this group’s involvement shaping the history of Gotham has elevated them to the stuff of legend, with their story being passed down as a nursery rhyme:
“Beware the Court of Owls, that watches all the time, ruling Gotham from a shadow perch, behind granite and lime. They watch you are your hearth, they watch you in your bed, speak not a whispered word of them or they’ll send The Talon for you head.”
Created by Scott Snyder, this shadowy organization has been (for me) the best thing to ever happen to the Batman-universe since Jason Todd’s turn as the Red Hood. In their employ are undead assassins, zombie warriors who wear the armor of the Talon… striking at those who oppose the Court.
At its core, this is all about family and the ties that bind them. Bruce isn’t exactly the most understanding of father, and I can’t imagine what it’d be like to raise a son like Damian. Pecking at his conscience, Talon has been attempting to recruit Robin as his partner. While Batman is adamant about never crossing that line, Talon has no qualms killing those who stand against order. This was further showcased in the opening scene when he tears out the Dollmaker’s heart while telling Damian not to fight his inner nature as a killer.
On the Bruce Wayne side of the coin; the Court, unaware Bruce Wayne is Batman, is attempting to recruit Bruce to their cause. Hoping to acquire his plans to build Gotham to become a city of dreams, dreams they can control.
While investigating the Court, Batman is put at odds with Damian and like the film’s title this family feud escalates to an all out fist fight between father and son. The other major battle comes during the climatic final scenes; the Court attacks Wayne manor and Batman, Nightwing, and Robin are forced to contend with an army of undead assassins lead by Talon himself.
While grand in scope, the film’s climax lacks the punch of the source material. The Bat-family is significantly smaller in the animated universe, and while I know the events of the “Night of the Owls” arc couldn’t fit in one animated film, I was still left wanting after the film’s ending credits rolled. While in comics the Court held a terrifying sense of control over Gotham, this wasn’t as immediately felt in the film. One scene that I was glad they adapted was the labyrinth of the Court. While tracking them down, Bruce is infected with a strong psychotropic drug reminiscent of Scarecrow’s fear toxin. This forces Batman to escape a labyrinth in his mind as he stares down some of his greatest fears.
While satisfying, the origin of the Court could have been explored more. Given the sinister nature of such a secret society, the Talons and the subsequent siege of Wayne manner could have been orchestrated by any large secret society of warriors. What started as a shadowy secret society turn into an army with a largely forgettable characterization. On the upside though, at least we got some epic Nightwing action this round. I say give it a watch, it’s fun for what it’s worth but for those who were fans of the Court in the comics, you may be left a bit let down like I was.