For centuries, the mysterious Court of the Owls has been plotting out the fate of Batman's home turf of Gotham City. In the pages of the DC Comics hero's comics, those machinations are just coming to light as the faceless villains and their army of undead Talon soldiers take to the air in the "Night of the Owls" – a new event storyline which kicked off this week in "Batman" and "Nightwing" #8.
Similarly, writers Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins have been plotting the path to this story for a long time – just maybe not centuries. As readers of their two series learned last month with synched up scenes in "Batman" and "Nightwing" #7, the Talons of the Court are not only undead warriors culled from the history of Gotham but that Dick Grayson was meant to be trained as one before his parents were murdered. To make matters worse, one of the Talons who's been stalking the Bat Family over recent months is non other than the reanimated body of William Cobb – Dick's great-grandfather. And all of these ideas have been rooted in the comics since the launch of the New 52.
As these personal twists and turns burrow deeper into the heroes' consciousness and as the Talons strike across all the Batman titles over the next two months, CBR's ongoing discussion of the Dark Knight's world THE BAT SIGNAL returns to uncover the secret history of "Night of The Owls." Below, Snyder and Higgins reveal how their early collaboration on "Gates of Gotham" sewed the seeds for this new event, why Dick Grayson's circus life was vital to the revelations hitting his comic right now, what thematic and plot twists lie ahead for their books, the historical villains hitting "Batgirl" and "Red Hood & The Outlaws" and what lies in store as Bruce Wayne's battle against the Owls continues next month.
CBR News: Gents, a lot of fans read your work together in the "Gates of Gotham" mini series that came out last year which dug into the roots of Batman's home town. Different elements of that series have worked their way through "Night of the Owls," particularly Kyle's new issue of "Nightwing." When you wrote that mini series, Scott, did you have the idea of the Owls in your head, and did you two discuss what became this event back then?
Snyder: It was circulating around my head at that time – the very beginnings of it. I don't think we talked about it too much.
Higgins: You told me about the Owl's story before we even did "Gates." I had just done my first work for DC, which was the Nightrunner backups. I didn't know this at the time, but apparantly [Editor] Mike Marts had been speaking to you about me. And when the Nightrunner story came out, you Tweeted me saying how much you liked the story, but you credited me the wrong story.
Snyder: Whoops! [Laughter]
Higgins: I Tweeted back that I'd actually written the other one, and you Direct Message me saying, "I'm sorry! That's the one I meant." So we got on the phone to talk about me doing more stuff at DC, and you just said, "Let me tell you about what I'm thinking for Batman moving forward."
Snyder: God, I can't even believe it was so long ago. It feels like this story's been in my head for so long that I can't even remember when everything happened. But I was still on "Detective" when I started on it, so it must have been then. Sometimes a story is with you longer than you perceive.
Higgins: And I remember when we first spoke about it, you were still thinking of writing for Dick Grayson, and that's where a lot of the Talon connections came from.
Snyder: Yeah, I figured out the Talon stuff that we did in issue #7 with Dick really early, and a lot of it grew from there.
Let's talk about those seventh issues. Both of you guys have been building your stories for the books since the first issues of the New 52 relaunch, but when we hit those issues last month, they synched right up with one another and even shared a direct scene with the same dialogue and everything. Kyle, how early in the process of telling this story of Haley's Circus did you know that your arc would lead into Scott's?
Higgins: From the day that I came on "Nightwing," Scott and I made the decision to do this. I remember we had a big conference call with our editors Mike and Bobbie [Chase] where I was throwing around different ideas to do with my series, and Scott and I threw out "We could dovetail these." What I'll be doing going forward in "Nightwing" was initially what I was thinking about doing at the launch of the series. But I remember discussing this with you, Scott, where we agreed, "We could do this and dovetail the stories, but we'd have to go all in on it." And so we agreed that we'd hit the reveal at the same moment around issue #6 or 7. That meant creating a story in "Nightwing" around Haley's Circus to reintroduce the circus to readers new and old alike and then to build a mystery around that which would then payoff in connection to the Court of Owls.
Snyder: I remember having that conversation because I was in the hospital room where my wife and son were sleeping. I went out into the hallway to talk to you because my son had just been born. [Laughter] It's been almost a year now.
And the fun thing was that I knew that Nightwing was Kyle's favorite character in the DCU. So when he got on the book, I said, "Do whatever you want to do – whatever you think is most exciting for the character. If you want, we can tie in, but if you don't, no problem." And in the end, we figured out a way to reintroduce the character on his own while also tying in. It was something that came along before "Batman" went forward. It wasn't like he had a story in the circus, and then we figured out how to make this work. We had this story planned before I wrote "Batman" #1, and we knew we'd reveal that at a certain point.
Higgins: And for me, that reveal is so huge. I looked at it from the second I came on the book like it would be stupid for me to do anything else. It always bothers me when I see other comic series where things could have been tied tighter or there's a reveal in one book that then has to impact other books. It's much more impactful when everybody's on the same page. So I'm glad people are digging it.
Let's talk about how all this spreads out across the life of the event. We see at the end of "Batman" #8 that Alfred kind of "calls the banners" for the Bat-Family to help battle the Owls. While the Talon that Nightwing faces has a SUPER personal connection, will all of the stories we see here have a similar kind of personal bent to them?
Higgins: I can't speak for any of the other books, but I know that in the case of "Nightwing," that was the idea. When we were talking about how to do "Night of The Owls" and how the book would tie in, Scott asked me which era my Talon would come from. And this was right around the time when Scott was writing "Batman" #2 and 3 where William kills Alan Wayne, so I said that I wanted to do something from the "Gates of Gotham" era where we could revisit the world we'd built. But it also had to be William Cobb. It had to be Dick Grayson's great-grandfather because otherwise there's no personal connection. I thought it was a great hook that out of this big reveal we also get that the guy hunting Bruce was Dick's great-grandfather. You have to deal with that in the crossover. So from minute one that's what I wanted to do.
Snyder: And for me, giving the general idea of "Night of the Owls" to the other writers, it was meant to be something that they could take and make their own from story-to-story. Some of them do [connect to the character.] Like "Red Hood" actually gets very personal between Jason and the Talon he's fighting. It's not like Dick Grayson and William Cobb, but it's at a moment in Jason's life where he's struggling with being back in Gotham. And having come back from the dead with this idea of making new choices outside of Batman's life, the character of the Talon represents a similar idea in a lot of creepy ways. He's come back from the dead and is serving this powerful force, and it all has this strange legacy behind it as well.
Some of them have ties like that, and other ones like "Birds of Prey" happen as these big, fun romps where the characters have to fight off the Talons in the middle of another story that was happening, but it forwards that story too. The story you've been reading in "Birds of Prey" doesn't get put on hold. This beat with the Talons pushes it forward a bit. So I tried to leave it up to all the writers to do what they wanted, if they wanted to tie in at all. Some writers, like JH Williams on "Batwoman," were right in the middle of a story that couldn't be interrupted. So we just gave them room to avoid this, while the ones that did want to tie in could decide the level of intimacy the issue had. The only stipulation was first to try and make the story personal to your character in some way whether that be emotional and thematic like in "Red Hood" or the way it was in "Nightwing" where there's some connection to the character's past. And the second stipulation was that since the Talon could come from any era of Gotham's history – so if you love the 1950s, you could pick a '50s Talon, and we had chart laying out the particulars of the history of the city from any time – then the hope was that you'd open a window to that period of history for a moment. Kyle did a great job with that with the late 1800s, and pretty much everyone did a similar twist. Gail Simone's is one of my favorites since her "Batgirl" opens in the 1940s with this great historical anecdote.
Higgins: Yeah, Gail's is really good!
Snyder: So on the one hand, we wanted to have them tell a story that was important to their character – though the degree of importance was up to them – and on the other hand, we wanted to encourage them to open a window in to Gotham history that we don't get to see often.
In each of your books, we've also got some smaller threads that seem to be simmering until they can swing back around later in the event. Bruce has got this damage to his eyes from being held captive by the Owls, and so he's literally on the verge of being blind as a bat. And in "Nightwing," Dick has someone out there trying to pin a murder on him, which hasn't quite gone public yet. What can you guys say about these smaller elements in terms of theme or the overall arc that readers should be aware of?
Higgins: In my case, I think these things mimic everyday life in a lot of ways. We were talking before we started the interview about how you guys got back from C2E2 and went right into doing your taxes. Things come up and interrupt your plan. The subplots we weave in and out – in this case the murder committed with Dick's eskrima sticks – are connected to the idea [from "Night of The Owls"] that Dick Grayson was supposed to be a killer. As I really develop that subplot in issues #10, 11 and 12, it's something Nightwing comments on. It's there to strengthen what's already happening in the main story from an emotional standpoint.
Snyder: And for me, the themes function in a major way, like the idea of vision. That's a very big theme in this story, and there's the idea that Bruce admits that he felt the city was watching him his whole life. He used to think that was a benevolent feeling to that, but now he feels the city is a stranger or worse an enemy watching him and waiting to attack the way an owl would. One of the fun things about a story like this is working through those themes and having them come to fruition when you do a long-form story. One of the fun things about Kyle's run has been that even though there are arcs, there's this longer story building and accumulating meaning over time. It's almost like this snowball effect where everything's going to payoff down the line.
So one curiosity that's come up on the internet – I saw it at this blog Canuck Goose – that I had to ask about was this Brian Bolland panel from "The Killing Joke" where the Batmobile is running down an alley and wooshing an owl off the road. Scott, is this something you've had on your radar? How far back do these owl references go?
Snyder: I saw that. I mean, I can't pretend I haven't seen that. I teach "The Killing Joke" in this comics class that I've been teaching for a few years. It's something I noticed again when I was first forming the story as a sort of fun aside. One of the most fun things for me about this story is that owls have been in the background of Batman's mythology for a really long time with Owlman and "JLA: Earth-2" as well as being this predatory symbol from nature since owls eat bats. So I wanted to use that symbol, and after I decided on it, it seemed to appear everywhere as I was looking through that stuff. I feel out of all the symbols I could have picked, that's the one where you might reopen "Dark Knight Returns" or something and see a creep owl stuck in there. They just sort of wait silently, assuming you don't see them until they strike.
One last thing to talk about for your guys and your part in the event is collaborators. Both of you have had artists on your books who have been very consistent – Greg Capullo has done every issue of "Batman" and Eddy Barrows has done nearly every issue of "Nightwing." What does that consistency bring to all the things we've been talking about from telling a long form story to having strong themes running through the books?
Higgins: Well, I think the nice thing about working with Eddy for as long as we have been on the book is that I feel like I have a solid grasp and understanding of what he likes to draw and his strengths as well. I've tried to showcase that in issue #8 and 9 – that double-page splash in #8 in particular. I think the more open I can make the pages, the more bad ass Eddy's art will be. And going forward, he and I will talk almost every day over GChat or Facebook, and he's actually getting better at English, which makes it easier. [Laughs] So we're planning on where things will go moving forward and getting on the same page. He just turned in a design for the series which plays into some of the more subtle things I'm planning for issues #10 and 11. You'll see the synergy between us more as things kick into high gear there. The book would not be nearly as good as it is without him.
Snyder: And for me, Greg is just a beast. I can tell you right now that if I opened my phone, there'd be a page from him. No matter what, he gets it done every day, and a lot of the time he does two-a-day. And the great thing about him is that we're totally different personalities. I'm much more neurotic and nervous about stuff, and he's a big, charismatic personality – much more extroverted than me. But we've wound up really close, and he's contributed so many ideas to the book – not just storytelling ideas on the page but design ideas and everything. He's a true partner and collaborator. I've been really happy to work with him through this, and I think after the event, he's going to take a break for a couple of issues in between "Night of The Owls" and our next big story starting in #13 where we'll dive into our next big story. We're happy to be teamed in Gotham for a long while to come.
And I'd be remiss if I didn't also give a tip of the hat to one of my best friends in the industry and longest collaborators – my "American Vampire" artist Rafael Albuquerque. He just came in to start backups for us with issue #8, which you've seen, and it continues with #9. I'm writing these with James Tynion IV who's a friend who was one of my writing students and who's really coming into his own. But the backups are going to tell a secret story called "The Fall of the House of Wayne." It's narrated from the point of view of Alfred's father Jarvis. It's funny he's named Jarvis. We tried to retcon that. I asked Mike, "Can we change the name Jarvis? I mean, it's in 'Iron Man' now." And he was like, "No way. We predate that. They ripped us off." [Laughter] So I guess Jarvis it is. But this tells a story from his point of view that will reveal some gigantic stuff – some of the biggest secrets in our whole story. So as you're reading and getting to some of the biggest twists of the feature in #9, 10 and 11, you'll be learning about the other side of that same set of secrets and reveals in the backups. It's similar to what we did in the early issues of "Detective" I did with Jock and Francesco Francavilla. So I'm really excited to have James and Rafael and Greg and inker Jonathan Glapion along for the ride. On my reputation and my honor for real, I feel like these are going to be our best issues yet coming up.
For more on "Night of The Owls" stay tuned to CBR's THE BAT SIGNAL!