With "Night of the Owls" spinning out of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's run on "Batman," the expectation for "Batman" #9 to be the best of the storyline's chapters is understandably pretty high. Fortunately, the issue doesn't disappoint, although to be fair, the book is stacked with an added ringer this month.
Snyder gets Batman out of last month's cliffhanger with just the right level of difficulty; because "Night of the Owls" is in no small part about Batman rising up and stopping the Talons after his earlier defeat by the Court of Owls, it's important that he wins on his home turf. At the same time, though, the Talons can't come across as being too easy to stop, or this entire story feels a bit silly. So, even with a special suit and changing the environment, the Talons are shown as being strong enough to overwhelm Batman, and once again it's through not only toys but also wits that Batman wins. This is an important component of the character's arsenal, and I like when it's used to good effect. In this case, that usage is also one of the funnier bits I've seen from Snyder on "Batman," and it's a refreshing moment in a book that is often rather gloomy.
Greg Capullo's art in this part of the issue is likewise powerful yet fun. Batman's special environmental suit looks functional and massive at the same time; you can buy that it was built for the extreme conditions that it was designed for, and that in some ways it also moves like a tank. The two-page credits spread early on in the issue reminds me almost of Frank Miller's "Dark Knight Returns," with the huge form of Batman smashing into the Talons. I love when Capullo uses long vertical panels on a couple of pages, too; each time he does so, those slivers of visual ratchet across the page in just the right manner.
The last third of the main story, post-Batcave, is good but lacking a tiny bit of the punch from the rest of the comic. The line about Jeremiah Arkham (tying into last week's "Detective Comics" #9) feels almost tacked on; I understand why it's there (to help provide a gap in the action for that comic to slot into place), but it's a tiny writing misstep in a book that rarely has them. It sets up what is presumably the next act of the overall Owls story, though, and while I don't think it has as much of a punch as it was supposed to, it works enough to enact that transition. It doesn't help that Capullo's art for the character in this section still looks too much like another character from "Batman," resulting in brief confusing when he makes an appearance. It's a character that hasn't worked up until now, and I think the too-similar visual design has been a big part of that problem.
Fortunately, we've got a back-up story this month that ends the book on a great note, with the able assistance of co-author James Tynion IV and "American Vampire" Snyder collaborator Rafael Albuquerque. "The Fall of the House of Wayne" reads and looks marvelous, a flashback to the previous generation of both the Wayne and Pennyworth families as we see how the Court of Owls touched their lives. The narration by Alfred's father (Jarvis Pennyworth) is surprisingly effective, giving a gothic feel in a way that would make the Bronte sisters proud. A strong script alone is good, but add in Albuquerque's ink washes (ably colored by Dave McCaig) and we get beautiful portraits of Martha and Thomas Wayne, and a green-blue rainy evening so beautiful it makes me wish for color originals of these pages that I could buy and hang in my home. Albuquerque and McCaig's talents mesh so well together that it's hard to not just keep reading and re-reading these pages.
"The Fall of the House of Wayne" helps boost what becomes (overall) a slightly sagging middle of "Batman" #9; add it to the great first two-thirds of the issue and we end up with a strong addition to both "Night of the Owls" and the Snyder and Capullo "Batman" series in general. Another excellent chapter in a continually strong comic.