First, I should say that, aside from Batman Vol. 1, this review also takes in account Nightwing, Vol. 1: Traps and Trapezes. I read it because I find with DC comics, when I’m interested in a crossover storyline, the supplemental comics feel necessary more than complementary to me in order to get the full scope of what’s happening, which is a conundrum I don’t have with other comic companies.
I recently read Batgirl: Knightfall Descends, and I thought the mini-story “In the Line of Fire” was amazing, but it ended on such a frustrating, high-tension cliffhanger. I needed to know what happened, and that “Read Batman” note at the end made me cringe a little. That meant I was going to have to call out my hired guns on the DC comics front for a comprehensive reading guide to the story. They’re quick on the draw, and they’ve never failed me before. This time was no exception.
One of the things that stood out to me when reading “In the Line of Fire” was how much it felt like Batman R.I.P. with the Black Glove reimagined as The Court of Owls, and it was probably these familiar elements that really piqued my interest. I apologize in advance for any more comparisons between the two stories that might pop up. I know Batman R.I.P. is one of those divisive stories that people either love or hate, and while I had issues with some of the elements used in that story, I’m firmly in that camp that enjoyed it.
Normally, I don’t care for the “same story, different day” rehashing, but I wanted to give this a chance and not just write it off as a reboot of Batman R.I.P. Maybe this story would get things right where I thought Batman R.I.P had gotten it wrong. Maybe it would turn out way differently than I was expecting. Besides, I knew it couldn’t be exactly like that story. Reading “In the Line of Fire” already hinted at some possible exciting new angles for the story. Did this deliver? Well, I can’t give a complete answer yet since I still have more books to read, but I can say that I mostly enjoyed this and Nightwing’s Traps and Trapezes.
Batman finds himself facing off with a deadly group known as the Court of Owls, purported to be only monsters in a children’s nursery rhyme, as they systematically begin to take over Gotham City. This move seems to be partly fueled by Batman’s actions as Bruce Wayne. Bruce is intent on making Gotham City a beautiful place by gentrifying it. He seems to focus less on the people he supposedly protects and more on his own interests for the city. Both Bruce and the Owls claim the city belongs to them, and both sides are willing to take drastic measures to seize control of Gotham.
Before the DCnU, I’d already started having some mixed feelings about Batman as I read more about him and the bat family. I think this tradition will continue in DCnU. Bruce has annoyed me with his “GOTHAM! MINE!” attitude in just about everything I've read him. In this story, it’s admirable that he wants to clean up Gotham for good, but it only appears to be for selfish reasons without much thought about the disparate social hierarchy at play that firmly puts people like Bruce Wayne at the top of the food chain and acts a fuel fodder for some of the crime there. He wants to clean it up because it’s “his city” and not “the people’s (including him) city.”
However, I do like that this isn’t something that’s overlooked in the comics. I really appreciate that comics like Batgirl and Nightwing sort of deal with that unequal treatment. Barbara wonders if what they’re doing only continues to feed a vicious cycle (the rich versus the poor) and if they really are heroes in that case. And Dick firmly believes that you need to live where you fight so you get a sense of the people and the outlook there. He’s given up a luxury apartment in favor of living among the Gothamites, which Bruce doesn’t agree with, naturally.
Bruce’s arrogance about how well he knows Gotham really shines through here. Even after being attacked by one of the Owl’s assassins, he continues to insist that he knows Gotham’s every secret. He claims there are no Owls because he doesn’t know about any Owls, and he knows everything about Gotham. He has eyes and ears everywhere, even going as far as installing a photogrammetric camera in the morgue, but for all his gadgets and knowledge, he is blindsided by the Owls who have their claws deeper in Gotham than he could ever imagine.
He can no longer profess to know the city more intimately than anyone else after the Owls are revealed to him. The Owls push him to the brink of his mental and physical capabilities, believing him to be broken once he escapes. Batman may have won a small battle against them, but there’s still the war to consider. Per usual, Batman loses himself in this one-man stand against injustice that he doesn’t seem to realize or care how his actions are affecting those around him. The way he treated Dick near the end of the story just broke my heart a little, especially since there's almost nothing Dick wouldn't do for him. However, I know that will pan out to be part of some great Batman scheme no one knew about in the end.
Everything about this made me draw parallels against Batman R.I.P., even down to the feelings it brought out for me, but I did enjoy this story. I never get tired of stories that push Batman to his limits and try to deal with the fine line of madness that he often seems to tread.