Court of Owls
|Court of Owls|
The Court of Owls watching over as Batman is tortured by a Talon, while they also suggest how Batman should die.
Art by Greg Capullo.
|First appearance||Batman #1 (September 2011)|
|Created by||Scott Snyder
|Type of organization||Organized crime
|See:Court of Owls#Members|
The Court of Owls is an organized crime group and secret society in Batman and other DC Comics. They have secretly existed since Colonial times in Gotham City. The Court kidnaps child performers from the circus, only to train and transform them into their assassins, known as Talons. They were created by writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo. The Court of Owls is first mentioned in Batman #1 (2011), and make their first full appearance in Batman #5 as part of The New 52.
The Court of Owls is an ancient conspiracy that has controlled Gotham City for centuries. They are a violent cabal of some of Gotham City's oldest and wealthiest families who use murder and money to wield political influence throughout history. Their bases of operation are hidden in some of the city's oldest structures. A nursery rhyme describing them has been passed down through Gotham's generations:
Beware the Court of Owls, that watches all the time,
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 about them, or they'll send the Talon for your head.
To carry out their interests, they employ a breed of highly trained assassins known as Talons. The leaders of the organization appear to be human and wear owl masks on their faces.
The earliest history of the Court of Owls dates back to Gotham's earliest days in the 1600s, and it has been involved in many criminal acts in Gotham over the years The Court of Owls took notice when billionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne announces plans to rebuild and reshape Gotham City for the future. The Court sentences Bruce to death, and their assassin the Talon (William Cobb) attempts to murder him during a meeting with Lincoln March. They struggle at the top of Wayne Tower and the killer survives a fall from the top. Batman discovers that their society has secret headquarters throughout hidden rooms in every building established by the Alan Wayne Trust, created by Bruce's great-grandfather, Alan Wayne. Bruce recounts that as a child he believed the Court of Owls responsible for the death of his parents, and personally investigated the conspiracy before determining that there was no evidence. Batman is caught and tortured by the Court, but escapes.
Not long after, apparently tired of their game and angered at Batman's escape and discovery of their lair, the Court unleashes the full might of their army of undead Talons on the city to kill Batman and his allies and retake Gotham for themselves.
The "Night of the Owls" storyline was a crossover event which included the majority of the Batman-related books. Scouting out The Penguin's base, Selina Kyle and her partner, Spark, decide to commit espionage against the gang boss. The Court of Owls, angered at Cobb's defeat at the hands of Batman, awaken all of their other Talons to reclaim Gotham City – literally and ideologically – from Batman. They also dispose of Cobb's body for Alfred Pennyworth to find. The Court's goal is to prove that they are the superior legend of Gotham City, not Batman. The Owls first attack the Batcave, but the injured Bruce still manages to defeat several of them due to their outdated fighting style. Alfred uncovers the forty targets of the Owls and sends a radio message out to the Batman Family for help. Tim Drake and Jason Todd receive one and Jason decides to protect Mr. Freeze. Robin (Damian Wayne), Batwing, and The Birds of Prey also answer Alfred's call. Bruce dons an armored Batsuit to be able to fight all of the Talons while one of the assassins revives William Cobb.
The Birds of Prey are one of the first to fight a Talon who is merciless and cruel in his methods, wanting to kill "street vermin". Nightwing receives the message and goes to save Mayor Sebastian Hady. Nightwing has no problem in killing the Talon attacking Hady due to it already being dead, but upon stopping it, he is knifed in the chest by a revived Cobb. Cobb credits Nightwing, his descendant, working for Batman as his worst betrayal. When Selina and Spark arrive to steal from the Penguin, they see the Penguin's car leaving, but are not aware that the Penguin himself is still alive and being viciously beat down by Ephram Newman, a Talon. Bruce, meanwhile, continues to fight the Talons invading the Batcave and eventually manages to stop them, and he heads out to save Jeremiah Arkham who is fighting the Talons through Roman Sionis. Nightwing is brutally beat down by Cobb who continues to mock him. Cobb demands that his heir impress him, eventually giving up and calling Nightwing a waste. Nightwing, however, retaliates and electrocutes Cobb, then offering to take Jeremiah Arkham from Batman.
Selina and Spark check the fight out, and while Spark wishes to back out, Selina jumps into the fight. After giving Arkham to Nightwing, Batman goes to save Lincoln March. Bruce combats Alton Carver, the Talon sent to kill March, but is unable to stop Carver from killing March, a mayoral candidate who wanted to make Gotham a better place. March gives Batman a package that will make Gotham better and Bruce heads out to burn down the lair of the Court of Owls. Damian heads off to the outskirts of Gotham and decapitates a Talon who was seeking to kill an army general and Batwing proceeds to mutilate a Talon who wanted to assassinate Lucius Fox.
Batgirl proceeds to meet a Talon named Mary, who, when she sees Batgirl, simply strokes her across the face. Batgirl swipes a piece of paper from Mary. Balloon bombs set off by the Court of Owls also begin to go off at random spots. Batgirl then pushes Mary into a balloon bomb, killing her. Batgirl then finds a court member, an Owl, thinking if they just lost Gotham. The Outlaws capture Mr. Freeze and Red Hood ends up talking an Owl into killing itself. The battle against the Owls begin to go the way of the Gotham citizens. Alton then awakens, believing himself to finally be free from fear and all that has bound him. Mr. Freeze, however, escapes and tries to kill Bruce Wayne, but once again ends up being stopped.
Selina and Spark initially think they have killed the Talon, but later realize that the Talon is in a way immortal. Ephraim takes Selina's whip and begins to mercilessly beat Spark and then choke Selina's lover with it with Selina not understanding. Selina decides to bargain with the Talon, offering him a full set of Talon daggers. Ephraim begins to listen but is shot in the head by the Penguin. Selina and Spark eventually decide not to steal the Talon daggers that Penguin originally had in his possession and head off to deposit the Talon's body, which they leave at the Bat-Signal, with the Night of the Owls having come to a close.
Following the battle, Bruce tracks down the leadership of the grouping of the Court of Owls in Gotham City to the Powers family. However, when he finds the Court, they are all dead by poison. The next day, confused as to whether or not the Court killed his parents, he discovers Lincoln March had been a Talon and tracks him down. Confronting the living mayoral candidate, he learns that March used Mr. Freeze's Talon serum to survive, that March was a Talon created to compete with Batman, and that March killed the grouping of the Court in Gotham for personal vengeance against Bruce. March claims to be Bruce's brother Thomas Wayne Jr. and he believes Bruce to be responsible for the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne. The two very quickly engage in combat, which March dubs "OWL to BAT." March claimed that he was visited by Martha Wayne every day while he was being trained by the Court of Owls. Batman continued his fight with March and he ended up escaping. Though March's regenerative capabilities meant that he could never be sure if Lincoln March would return. Bruce would never be truly certain whether Lincoln March was telling the truth about his parentage without a DNA test, but many of the facts of his story could fit around the official paperwork – on the condition that Martha and Thomas Wayne had lied. Bruce mentions to Dick that when the Court of Owls returns, he'll be ready.
During the Forever Evil storyline, the Court of Owls see the news from the Crime Syndicate that the Justice League is "dead" and claims that the Court of Owls will prosper. With their existence threatened, they will dig into the foundations of their arcane history and use it to adapt. A prominent member of the Court of Owls leads his daughter down into a safe place which turned out to be where the Court of Owls began. As they enter the tunnels beneath the city, the girl admits that she is scared, and her father reveals that strength comes through fear, recounting the tale of the Gotham Butcher. Curious, the girl wonders how their history can save them from a crazed mob of rioters. Her father explains that while they could use their control of established institutions to quell threats in the past, this situation is more dire, and so they have gone below to the home of the one who started it all. From the shadows, a woman shouts for them to stop warning that they cannot bring back the first. She had murdered more of their brothers earlier in service of preventing the first's awakening and she would not hesitate now. To her surprise though, the man's daughter leaps onto her back and tears into her flesh with knives. Proud, her father leads her through the great wooden doors to the chamber of the First Talon. Once through the great wooden doors, they eagerly anticipating the look on the faces of the First Talon's victim faces when they see the first and most terrible weapon that the Court has ever used. Some of the Talons are shown to be on ice at Blackgate Penitentiary at the time when Bane is causing an uprise there. Bane arrives at the area where the Talons are being held where he makes plans to use then as weapons. Scarecrow and Man-Bat attempt to steal the frozen Talons from Blackgate Penitentiary while Penguin is having a meeting with Bane. Bane later arrives at Blackgate Penitentiary as Man-Bat and his fellow bats are attempting to transport the Talons to Mr. Freeze and is able to keep one from leaving. The Man-Bats are able to bring the remaining Talons to Mr. Freeze. Bane later fights Killer Croc and is able to defeat him while setting his sights on retrieving the Talons. Bane wakes up William Cobb and takes him through Gotham where he fights members of Arkham Asylum. Bane begins recruiting Gotham citizens to his side, offering his base at Wayne Tower as a haven to the people to escape the rule of the Arkham inmates. He tells Cobb his plan to turn the city over to the Court, in exchange for use of Talons at his disposal to be powered by his Venom. The Talons attack Bane's men, and eventually set their target on Bane. With the help of Cobb, Bane is able to injure the Talons enough to activate their regenerative powers to remove the mind-control technology. The Venom-induced Arkham villains attack Bane and the Talons at Blackgate. They bring Bane back to Arkham Asylum, where Bane begins to defeat them as their Venom wears off. Following the defeat of the Crime Syndicate, Bane and the Talons are defeated by Batman who regains control of Gotham City.
At the conclusion of Batman: Eternal, it is revealed that Lincoln March used the Court's resources to fund Cluemaster's campaign against Batman, reasoning that Batman wouldn't pay close attention to Cluemaster as a candidate while March let Cluemaster do all the work of wearing Batman down, planning to step in and kill the Dark Knight at the last minute before retreating back into the shadows, reasoning that Batman's public death at the hands of an unknown foe would forever end the 'myth' of the Dark Knight. However, the plan fails when Batman's allies and the people of Gotham rally together against March's assault after Gordon calls on them to stand up for the city in Batman's name, forcing March to retreat. As he flees through the sewers, he is captured by the restored Court and locked away in suspended animation, the Court reflecting that they may release him in a decade or so if they decide they need him.
- R.H. Orchard – Built the Orchard Hotel in 1893. His son Benjamin Orchard ran away from home and joined Haley's Circus. R.H. turned his own son into a Talon as reprisal for turning his back on his legacy.
- Maria Powers – The wife of Joseph Powers, owner of the Powers Hotel, and member of the Court of Owls.
- Lincoln March – A Gotham City mayoral candidate who claims to be Thomas Wayne Jr.
- Thurston Moody – A wealthy Gotham nobleman who is a potential member of the Court of Owls in the 1800s. He used kidnapped children as slaves beneath Gotham City which was uncovered by Jonah Hex and Amadeus Arkham.
- Sebastian Clark – Former Grandmaster of the Court. His father Erastus wrote a tell all book on the Court, but was killed along with everyone who had any connection to the book, which he had published in secret in another state. Sebastian has what may be the only surviving copy. Sebastian escaped the Court when it came for his father and lived in Europe for years under an assumed identity. He then returned to Gotham and started selling security software of his own design to presumed members of the Court in an effort to uncover all he could about the Court so he could take it down. He befriended Calvin Rose and became his benefactor for a while, before Calvin realized he had been the Grandmaster of the Court. It seems Sebastian was using Calvin in a power grab to take the Court's assets and, with the help of Bane, take Gotham City. His plan was thwarted by Calvin and Batman and he ended up in Blackgate Prison.
- John Wycliffe – Grandmaster of the Court after Sebastian Clark. A descendant of Bartholomew Wycliffe, one of the signers of Gotham's original charter. He was killed by Sebastian Clark.
The Talons are a breed of deadly assassins that are absolutely loyal to the Court of Owls. They remain "sleeping" deep within their inner sanctum until they are "called" upon. The Court, seemingly obsessed with Greek mythology, began using electrum (a highly conductive alloy of silver and gold with trace amounts of copper and other elements) to treat their "retired" Talons. A serum was eventually developed that coupled with the electrum could bring the dead Talons back to life. Talons so revived appear to be unkillable, surviving knives through the skull, electrocution, dismemberment, falling from the height of a skyscraper and even decapitation. If exposed to extreme cold the revived Talons will shut down, entering a kind of stasis. The only means verified to kill a revived Talon is a poison developed by the Court. The Talons are highly trained and conditioned. They are extremely proficient with knives, and experts in hand to hand combat. In order to remain undetected the Talons are masters of stealth and concealment. Prior to the Night of the Owls the Court only had one active Talon at a time. The new Talon must prove himself worthy to wear that mantle by killing his predecessor in single combat in the Labyrinth. Talons are to follow the Court's orders and serve until they are deemed unfit for service due to age or failure at which point they face their chosen successor. Revived Talons can be returned to their former self with the help of the Lazarus Pit. The Talons below are listed by when they were first active.
Among the known Talons are:
- Uriah Boone – Uriah Boone was one of the oldest Talons, active at some point before Gotham became a industrialized city. Centuries later, when the Batman confronted the court about the Joker's supposed immortality, Uriah was hiding in the shadows, ready to defend the members and engaged the Batman in a fight.
- Ephraim Newhouse – Ephraim Newhouse was the Talon of 1665. However, his sloppiness forced the court to retire him, stripping him of his weapons and armor with a mark of disgrace on his record. Four of his knives were stolen by Catwoman centuries later. During the Night of the Owls storyline, Ephraim was revived and sent by the Court to assassinate Oswald Cobblepot. By sheer coincidence, the Penguin was in possession of the fifth knife which Catwoman had set her own sights on. In the ensuing conflict, Catwoman saved the Penguin's life and promised the five knives back to the Talon preying on his need for redemption in the eyes of the Court of Owls. The Penguin shot him through the head before an exchange could be made, and so Catwoman – feeling as though she and the Talon were kindred spirits – laid his body on the roof of Gotham City Police Department with his five knives and turned on the Bat-Signal.
- Henry Ballard – Henry Ballard was encountered by the Birds of Prey. He remembered the Gotham City of 1847 as a violent place, and saw the city's present the same way. When he was unmasked, he already had the appearance of an old man. He seemingly regards women as "vermin", suggesting Misogyny traits. The Birds of Prey managed to subdue him when Poison Ivy dragged him into a refrigerated train car meant for carrying meat.
- Alexander Staunton – Alexander Staunton was the Talon in 1856. He was effective, but his killings lacked the subtlety the Court of the day felt was essential, and he was retired. During the Night of the Owls he was sent to kill Lucius Fox, but was stopped by Batwing.
- Felix Harmon – Felix Harmon was known as The Gotham Butcher who was a Talon in the 1860s. He is shown as a young strongman at Haley's Circus in 1852. He killed 140 civilians the Court had not targeted for execution, as well as two Court members. In 1862, he killed everyone in the Carpenter Home for Orphans and set the building on fire. He states that he killed as young as 14. He is a complete psychopath, and is physically huge, shown to be about 9-10' tall and heavily muscled. His teeth are pointed and his fingernails like claws. He is noted as being an expert tracker. The Court finally subdued and killed him, placing him in the Tomb of the Unworthy. He is revived out of desperation to kill Calvin Rose. During their final confrontation he has his left arm severed, is cut in half, and beheaded. As one of the revived Talons he is basically unkillable, but before he could fully revive he was placed in a custom built cryo facility
- Xiao Loong – Xiao Loong was the Talon of the 1890s. He was an acrobat of Chinese descent. In his time, he was sent to assassinate Thurston Moody, the former deputy head of Gotham Sanitation, who was a member of a terrorist group called the August 7.
- The O'Malleys – Three generations of O'Malley served as Talons. James O'Malley his son Brandon, and his grandson Nathaniel. Nathaniel is seen as a failure by his grandfather in particular, especially for having failed to sire an heir. Nathaniel reveals that he chose not to sire an heir so his line would end and cease serving as Talons. All three O'Malley's are revived, but Nathaniel chooses to help Calvin Rose fight the Court.
- William Cobb – William Cobb is the assassin sent to murder Bruce Wayne, prior to the Night of Owls. Born on October 10, 1901, William Cobb was the son of an ironworker and textile worker. During work on a bridge that they were working on for Cameron Kane, the bridge collapsed, the event of which cost William's unnamed father his life and also robbed young William of his childhood as he and his mother sought to make ends meet. In the aftermath of the tragedy, William was often left alone while his mother worked long hours at a textile factory due to the fact that they barely had enough money to pay anyone to look after young William and even for food. As such, William began standing on street corners, jugging to earn a living although while telling his story, he regards it at having a profound effect on what he could become before remarking, "How much more hopeless can one feel?". Upon spotting a pickpocket, William stopped him by throwing a ball at him. The would-be victim, Nathaniel, grateful then offered young William a change in venue. A while later, William states that Nathaniel had his eye on young William for weeks and although William's mother was not happy to learn of how her son had been spending her days, she had known all along and she agreed to let her son join Haly's Circus. William underwent training, mastering the art of throwing many knives which helped increase his popularity and make him a household name. As the years passed, William's reputation grew and he remembers, "Once a child living in Gotham, I had managed to become a child of Gotham". It was during his return that he met and fell in love with a young woman named Amelia. Despite the fact that Amelia was also Burton Crowe's daughter, the two got off from the start and spent many times together but William then ruefully states, "Two children in love. In hindsight, that really was the beginning of the end. Even though neither of us knew it. In the months that followed, everything was stripped away". During one evening, William met Burton Crowe who told him that although William had pulled himself out of the slums, the young man was still living in filth and that a city like Gotham, a city of light and dark has no middle, it never has and that William was not going to change that. Burton's disapproval weighed very heavily on William and Amelia's relationship with things getting even worse when Amelia learnt that she was pregnant with William's child. This ultimately resulted in William and Amelia breaking up for good while Burton arranged for his daughter to marry a second cousin, hiding the true identity of their son and for the city knew, the baby, a boy would ever be a Crowne. William was left out in the cold, remarking, "I had started as nothing and in the eyes of those who mattered, would always be nothing. No matter what". At the Circus, William was left rejected over his failure when Nathaniel approached him with an offer, stating, "What if I told you I had a way for you to truly matter?". William later remembers that it was far from simple as during his "training", he was starved and tortured for months, even being driven to the brink of insanity before remarking that he was made better. William's first year as a member of the Court of the Owls and a Talon was "liberating" as he was making a difference the only way that works, i.e., by targeting and killing people. After one such mission, William kidnapped his baby son and gave the boy to Nathaniel, urging Nathaniel to release the child in secret and prepare him for the legacy as the Gray Son of Gotham. In the present day, William launches an attack on the Batcave before being captured and he is examined, Bruce discovers that he is Dick Grayson's great-grandfather. William eventually escapes and goes up against his great-grandson, telling Dick of his disappointment in Dick betraying the Court of the Owls to join Batman instead. After a vicious fight, Dick eventually wins, using ice from many pipes to weaken William and as he climbs the stairs, carrying his great-grandfather, Dick remarks, "I'll tell you what I embrace, William. What I embrace is that destinies don't exist".
- Benjamin Orchard – A Talon in the 1930s for one year. His father made him a Talon as punishment, but only allowed him to serve for one year before having him killed. He is revived for the Night of the Owls and guards the Orchard hotel. It is unclear whether or not he survived the partial destruction of the hotel, but as a revived Talon he is nigh unkillable.
- Mary Turner – Mary is the Talon of the 1940s. She was horribly disfigured at a young age by a bomb attached to a balloon which was sent by Emperor Hirohito to cause panic in the United States during World War II. Mary is awakened and sent to coerce Commissioner Gordon into letting his police force handle the Night of Owls ineffectively, and into inadvertently lighting a modified Bat-Signal which fills the sky with the symbol of the Court of Owls, thereby killing hope that the Batman will save Gotham. She faces Batgirl, but lets her go, because they both wear masks. Later, Catwoman broke Mary out of Blackgate Penitentiary having been hired by a prominent member of the Court. When she realized his motivations, though, she turned on him, and with Batgirl, they defeated his Talons – including Mary, who turned on her master in the name of friendship with the two women. In order to protect Mary, Catwoman faced the police alone, leaving Batgirl to get Mary out. Batgirl's solution was to find a place for Mary with the Birds of Prey giving her the codename "Strix" (which is Latin for "owl").
- Alton Carver – Alton Carver was the most recent Talon. Like every other Talon, Carver was a performer with Haly's Circus, but his fear of death prevented him from mastering the high-wire. Frustrated, the ringmaster forced him to overcome his fear by setting his trailer ablaze with him inside. When he emerged, burned but alive, he was ready for the Court's training. Twenty-six years later, he had become one of the best Talons, but he had also become sloppy. He was warned that if he continued to make mistakes, he would be replaced with a boy who had already been chosen to succeed him. On the night of the mission that was meant to redeem him, Carver couldn't help but go to see the one who would replace him. He saw Dick Grayson perform, and knew that the boy would outmatch him. Having delayed too long, he missed his chance to kill his target stealthily and was attacked by the Batman. His failure forced the Court to retire him, and he was not wakened again until the Night of the Owls. He was given mayoral candidate Lincoln March as target. Though March was stabbed, he shot Carver in the head. Unexpectedly, though, Carver revived, and attacked the Batman, who had arrived on the scene. The battle ended with Carver sent careening through the window and onto the street below. Despite the fall, he managed to escape into the sewers.
- Calvin Rose – Calvin is shown locked in a dog kennel by his father at age 8 for three days, at which point he is able to break the chain on the door and escape to Haley's Circus. Calvin Rose was trained as an escape artist at Haly's Circus. He then recruited by the Court of Owls, and trained to be their next Talon. He completed all of the Court's tests to become the new Talon, including killing his predecessor in single combat. He even escapes the Labyrinth, which no one else at that point in time has ever done (Batman later escapes as well). On his first mission he disobeys the Court, saving Sarah and Casey Washington and going on the run from the Court. He was the only Talon to ever escape the grasp of the Court of Owls. He is a world class escape artist and a trained assassin. He was killed by Bane, but revived by the Court. As a revived Talon he is nigh unkillable, feels no pain, and heals from any wound. He disobeyed the Court again and they sentenced him to die, even injecting him with the poison which appears to be the only thing capable of killing a revived Talon. He fought on to bring down Felix Harmon and Sebastian Clark, sustaining injuries that would have killed a normal man several times over. The poison very nearly killed him, but using dialysis Lucius Fox and Casey Washington are able to remove the poison from his body and revive him. He is then ushered into Batman Incorporated.
In other media
- The Court of Owls appear in the animated film Batman vs. Robin, with Talon serving as the main antagonist voiced by Jeremy Sisto. In the film, Talon attempts to persuade Robin (Damian Wayne) into joining the Court of Owls. But midway through the film, Talon betrays the Grandmaster (voiced by Robin Atkin Downes) and seizes control of the Court's enhanced ninja warriors to attack the batcave. In the end, the Court's army is defeated and Talon is killed by Robin. 
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- Batgirl Annual (Volume 4) #1
- Birds of Prey (Volume 3) #15
- Birds of Prey (Volume 3) #16
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