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Court of Owls: The growing prominence of the Gotham City villains in Batman comics and DC as a whole

With the WildC.A.T.s continuing to settle into the DCU, the Court of Owls welcomes them as their first major challenge and a growing villainous role for DC overall.

Talon attacks Grifter
Image credit: DC Comics

The WildC.A.T.s are back in action, this time firmly in the center of the DC Universe after years of solo adventures for the various fan-favorite heroes from founder Jim Lee’s WildStorm Productions. As the current iteration of the superhero team is assembled by the mysterious Halo Corporation, this time under the moniker as the Seven Soldiers of Victory, WildStorm’s resident bad boy hero Grifter finds himself relegated to the sidelines while his old comrades-in-arms are dispatched on harrowing missions around the world. Unsatisfied with being left out of the fun, Grifter mounts an investigation in WildC.A.T.s #3 by Matthew Rosenberg and Stephen Segovia that places him in the crosshairs of the villainous secret society, the Court of Owls.

As Grifter fights for his life against the Court’s undead assassin, Talon, the arrival of the Court of Owls not only further cements the WildStorm characters’ place in the DCU but of the Court themselves being the most prominent lasting addition to the DCU from the 'New 52' era. As much of DC’s main publishing line distances itself from the reboot of its main continuity, lasting from 2011-2016, the Court of Owls continue to rise from the shadows, not just in comics but in animation, video games, and television. Here’s how the Court of Owls continues to loom large over the Batman mythos as creators Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s biggest lasting legacy to the Dark Knight.

The WildC.A.T.s’ shadowy enemy, the Court of Owls

The Court of Owls attack Grifter
Image credit: DC Comics

Grifter’s introduction to the Court of Owls came at the start of the relaunched WildC.A.T.s series, with him and his team stumbling into a hideout for the clandestine cult while on a botched mission to extract a scientist from a secret facility. The Court immediately dispatched a group of Talons to deal with these costumed intruders, with Grifter and his teammates barely escaping with their lives thanks to Ladytron’s teleportation abilities. With Grifter passed over inclusion on the Seven Soldiers of Victory for this disastrous mission outcome, the gun-wielding vigilante vowed to learn more about the Gotham City organization he had just confronted.

Grifter begins interrogating Jason Halliday, a businessman linked to his investigation rather than cooling his heels, accusing him of being a part of the Court of Owls. To Grifter’s own vocal surprise, he’s correct in his deduction as a Talon comes to rescue Halliday from the crimson-masked man. As Grifter begins his big rematch against the Talon, he is abruptly teleported out by Void when his services are needed to rescue the ambushed WildC.A.T.s on the other side of the world.

Batman and Spawn’s Court of Owls nightmare

Court of Owls taunts Batman
Image credit: DC Comics

The Court of Owls’ prominent recurring appearance in WildC.A.T.s coincides with the evil organization’s antagonistic role in the recent intercompany crossover Batman/Spawn #1 by Todd McFarlane and Greg Capullo. The oversized special one-shot saw the Court use its supernatural machinations to summon Spawn to the DCU in order to pit him against Batman, lying to the Image Comics superhero that Batman is holding the soul of Al Simmons’ late wife Wanda. The two caped crusaders see through the deception, ultimately defeating the Court of Owls once again, with Spawn drawing one of the Court with his hellish powers to condemn his soul for eternity.

The birth of the Court of Owls

Court of Owls overwhelms Batman
Image credit: DC Comics

The Court of Owls was created by Snyder and Capullo in their inaugural story together on the main Batman ongoing series following the reboot of the DCU during the New 52. The Court is established as having existed in the shadows for centuries, secretly steering the course of Gotham to benefit their own agenda. When Bruce Wayne publicly proposes an ambitious urban revitalization campaign, he becomes targeted by the Court, with the villains more interested in this plan to shake-up the city rather than his superhero activities as Batman.

The Court employs Talons, undead assassins who largely operate at night and are highly trained in lethal hand-to-hand combat, preferring to use blades to carry out their kills. Bruce learns that the Court planned for Nightwing to become a Talon before he was adopted, while leading member Lincoln March claims to be Bruce’s long-lost half-brother after his connection to the Court is revealed. Though the Court is defeated in its opening conflict against the Bat-Family, different sects of the organization continue to thrive, battling the heroes on numerous occasions, even following the restoration of DCU continuity during the DC 'Rebirth' era in 2016.

The Court of Owls beyond comics

The Court of Owls assembles in Gotham Knights
Image credit: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Just as the Court of Owls continues to have a bright future across DC’s publishing, the villains have expanded their presence to various multimedia adaptations of the DCU. The Court made its live-action debut in the Gotham Season 2 episode 'A Legion of Horribles,' revealing themselves as the benefactors behind Hugo Strange. After being manipulated by Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins, the Court is destroyed by their own internal conflict over division in sanctioning the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Though the Court’s presence is unconfirmed, Lincoln March is expected to appear in the upcoming television series Gotham Knights, hinting at the Court’s likely involvement.

Within animation and video games, the Court of Owls similarly has seen prominent appearances, from a comedic cameo in the HBO Max original series Harley Quinn, throwing a large orgy, to attempting to recruit Damian Wayne as a Talon in the 2015 animated film Batman vs. Robin. The Court made its video game debut with the 2018 video game game Lego DC Super-Villains, with one of the Talons among the game’s extensive playable roster. However, the Court’s most significant non-live-action appearance to date is in the 2022 video game Gotham Knights, with the organization at war with the League of Shadows over the fate of Gotham City following Batman and Ra’s al Ghul’s deaths.

The Court of Owls is a sinister reminder that there are secrets controlling Gotham that even Batman doesn’t know about, with Bruce not as assuredly familiar with his hometown as he thought. The Court gives the DCU its own sort of Illuminati, manipulating the course of history for centuries from the shadows, using its undead enforcers to ensure its bloody agenda. An instant success with fans, the Court of Owls set the ambitious bar for Snyder and Capullo’s celebrated tenure on Batman and has been employed by subsequent comic creators whenever a shadowy cabal is needed for a Gotham-centric story. With Grifter now investigating the Court, the society likely has all of the WildC.A.T.s in their sights, offering the WildStorm characters their greatest challenge as they put down roots in the DCU.

WildC.A.T.s #3 is written by Matthew Rosenberg, illustrated by Stephen Segovia, colored by Elmer Santos, and lettered by Ferran Delgado. The story continues in WildC.A.T.s #4, on sale Feb. 14 from DC Comics.

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Sam Stone

Sam Stone: Sam Stone is an entertainment journalist based out of the Washington, D.C. area that has been working in the industry since 2016. Starting out as a columnist for the Image Comics preview magazine Image+, Sam also translated the Eisner Award nominated-Beowulf for the publisher. Sam has since written for CBR, Looper, and Marvel.com, with a penchant for Star Trek, Nintendo, and martial arts movies.


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