It’s been a good long time since we last stepped into the world of the excellent Batman: Arkham games, but recently Bat-fans were sent all aflutter by a new teaser for what appears to be the next entry in the series being made by game developer Warner Bros. Montreal. This time, the villain seems to be a foe that appeared much more recently in the comics than gamers have dealt with before.
Though it was first teased for DC’s “Batman Day” celebratory bash in late September, since then the studio has made very little noise—like a Dark Knight skulking about the rooftops hunting its criminal foes—about what the game actually is, outside of a single teaser of four logos and an ominous threat: Capture the Knight.
While none of the logos match up with factions we know of from the comics—although one does look a little similar to a specific mask that we’ll get to in a bit—it was actually a now-deleted tweet from DC Comics scribe and former Batman writer Scott Snyder that seemingly confirmed the game would revolve around the Court of Owls. So, who are they?
Snyder would know. He’s the writer, alongside artist Greg Capullo, who first introduced the mysterious faction to DC proper. So here’s what you need to know before we end up learning specifically what this mysterious game is all about.
First introduced eight years ago this month in the pages of Batman #3—in the earliest days of DC’s massive overhaul of its continuity as part of the “New 52” relaunch—the Court of Owls is established as a secret order that the elite members of Gotham society have used to control the area since the city was established in the 17th Century. Because this is Gotham, and it can’t be Gotham without some masked shenanigans, members of the society wore rounded, white masks in the shape of an Owl’s face to hide their true identities:
Hence the name!
Created by the earliest colonialist families to call the township home, the Court funnelled money into every facet of society in Gotham, from its criminal underworld to its political leadership, to establish its loyal agents at every level of activity in Gotham. Using their vast political influence and capital, the Court spent centuries building up their own little bases hidden deep in the structures of Gotham’s oldest buildings—places not to just store assets and conduct their business of controlling the city from the shadows, but to, uh, store the real sinister force behind the Court: the Talons.
What, you thought it was gonna be a bunch of owl-masked socialites that did the actual dirty work? Absolutely not.
The Talons were the most trusted and elite agents of the Court, a tool to be wielded when even their vast influence could not force an event in Gotham to go their way. In their earliest years, there was only ever a single assassin to bear the Talon rank. They would be recruited as children, often stolen away from traveling circuses to hide the kidnappings, and the only way to leave service as a Talon was death. When either failure in the field or old age forced a new Talon candidate to be found, the newcomer would earn the right to claim the mantle by killing their predecessor in a trial by combat. Trained in a variety of martial arts, close quarter weaponry, and concealment, the Talon—who would don a ceremonial, ninja-esque outfit with a mask that looks pretty similar to the last of the logos teased in Warner Bros. Montreal’s video—would be kept in a sort of deep cryostatic sleep by the Court until they needed to be deployed on missions.
That stasis was maintained by a special formula the Court would give to the Talon that also gave the assassin latent metahuman regenerative abilities, allowing them to recover from mortal wounds. It was made out of Electrum, a highly conductive special alloy that had special powers. Electrum ultimately played a major role in Snyder and Capullo’s epic, pan-multiversal comics event Dark Nights: Metal, as one of the primal heavy metals agents of the evil god of the Dark Multiverse, Barbatos, used to slowly poison Batman and use his body as a key to summon their dark master into the prime DC Multiverse.
That whole pile of comic book craziness is a story for another time, however. All you need to know as far as the Owls were concerned was that the Electrum formula let their Talons cheat death, and the only way to counter its regenerative effects and actually let a Talon permanently die was through a special poison only known to members of the Court. Hiding in the shadows and pulling the strings of Gotham’s entire infrastructure in secret—and deploying the Talon when those strings couldn’t be pulled quite tight enough—this was how the Court of Owls operated for centuries, slipping into hearsay and legend in the city’s oldest records, a nursery rhyme whispered to children of the city but never believed to actually be true.
Except it’s comic books, so of course it’s true, and the Court exploded back into prominence thanks in part to the rise of Batman. It turns out that, despite being members of Gotham’s high society, the Waynes were never truly members of the Court’s upper echelons; their philanthropy and longstanding reputation as figures of public good ultimately made them targets of the Court’s machinations. Bruce’s great-great-grandfather, Alan Wayne, directly opposed the Court’s attempts to infiltrate Gotham and was horrifically tortured to death by them—and when Thomas and Martha Wayne were murdered in Crime Alley, a young and distraught Bruce remembered the legend of the Court and tried to investigate to see if they were behind his parent’s death, only to ultimately come to the conclusion that the Court was just a myth told to scare children (suffice to say, he was not quite yet the World’s Greatest Detective, so we’ll forgive him for his error).
It was only when Bruce himself launched a new philanthropic initiative to restructure and rebuild Gotham in the wake of his launch of Batman Inc. that the Court refocused itself on a Wayne. When the group sends its current active Talon, William Cobb, after Bruce during a meeting with Gotham Mayoral candidate Lincoln March, Bruce manages to seemingly kill the assassin by sending him tumbling from the top of Wayne Tower. After Bruce followed Cobb’s trail as Batman and uncovered the Court’s labyrinthine lair beneath the city, the Court of Owls went on full assault against Bruce, activating every one of its Talon candidates in an attempt to invade the city in a single sweep and wrest control of it by force.
But as well as going after Bruce’s plans for reform, the Court and its Talons also went directly after the legacy of Batman himself, believing that the Dark Knight’s mythos and influence on not just the good of the city, but in its criminal underworld thanks to his larger-than-life gallery of rogues, had usurped the Court’s own semi-mythological status in Gotham’s history. The battle became one for Gotham’s ideological soul as well as a physical one, with the Talons not just targeting Batman and his extended family of allies, but also his villains, forcing Bruce and his team to not just defend themselves, but some of their most dastardly foes.
Spoilers: Batman wins the war in what is dubbed the “Night of the Owls.” He’s Batman, of course he does. But before he can bring members of the Owls’ inner court to justice, they’re all poisoned by March—who, twist, was secretly a member of the Court of Owls and also happened to believe he was actually Bruce Wayne’s long lost brother? This arc was a lot—acting in seeming vengeance for the death of Bruce’s, and who he believed to be his own, parents, before engaging in one last explosive scrap with Batman.
March eventually escaped the encounter thanks to the regenerative abilities granted by the Talon’s Electrum serum and would eventually return as a thorn in Bruce’s side under the auspices of a new council in the Court of Owls, only to be defeated once again. Although the Court has yet to return to the prominence of their debut appearance, Bruce hasn’t really truly defeated them; even to this day, their agents, diminished as they are, lurk in the shadows, rebuilding and waiting for the chance to take the Dark Knight down once and for all.
For now, all we have to go on is what we know of the Court’s story in the comics—we’ll have to wait for more information to be revealed to see how or if they’ll play a part in whatever this new Batman game ends up being. But as far as antagonists go, the Court are one of the most interesting “new” additions to the Bat-canon in years, and seeing them spread their wings beyond the comics and into other Bat-media—something that’s come in fits and starts, from appearances in the animated movieverse to an extended stint on Gotham—would be very exciting indeed.
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