Technically, they’re “Talons,” highly trained acrobatic assassins. Talons mete out justice as defined by the Court of Owls, a secret society of Gothamites dwelling in the grey area between high and low society who have declared themselves best equipped to rule. Which they do primarily by sending Talons to kill people they don’t like. Nasty, but also easier and cheaper than running a political campaign.
The Court identifies potential talons at a young age, and the ringmaster of Haly’s Circus trains them as acrobats. Batman fans will recognize Haly’s Circus as the carnivalous home of young Dick Grayson, Batman’s first Robin and current Nightwing.
(Did you know there are multiple Robins? I did not until a few months back. Robin is less a name and more a title one uses while training under the Bat.)
So. Gotham. Grey area. Court of Owls (all members of which wear Phantom of the Opera-inspired masks). Talons.
Traditionally, one Talon serves at a time; the old Talon is literally put on ice when the Court ends his or her service and a new Talon takes the assassinating reigns. But apparently Gotham 2012 has grown so decadent and corrupt that the Court must wipe out massive numbers of offensive humans. One Talon won’t cut it. Appropriating technology developed by scientist/villain Victor Fries/Mr. Freeze, the Court unfreezes all past Talons and directs them to kill half of Gotham. Including Commissioner Gordon. Including Mayor Hady. Including Batman.
I don’t know how to begin to tackle this, as there are so many awesome things happening with the plot, including multiple massively entertaining flashbacks.
Which I first typed as backflash. Which might be my new favorite word-that-isn’t. Except it is! Who knew? The Random House Dictionary says it means … FLASHBACK! Meanders like this are what happens when you sneak writing time in the wee hours afore your screaming mimis wake up and demand CHEERIOSMILKWATERJUICESPOONNAPKINNOWNOWNOWNOWNOW.
Deep breaths, Batmom. Deep breaths. Focus. Focus. Focus.
A group of Talons shows up at Wayne Manor. Batman and Alfred battle while figuring out what the Talons are up to. Batman escapes while Alfred sends out an all-hands:
“To all the allies of the Bat presently in Gotham I send this with the greatest urgency. Tonight, the Court of Owls has sent their assassins to kill nearly forty people across the city. The Court’s targets are all Gotham leaders. People who shape this city. … The Court’s assassins, the ‘Talons,’ are already en route to their targets. They are highly trained killers with extraordinary regenerative abilities. For many of their targets, I fear it may be too late to … (gunshots) … I will keep the … (gunshots) … keep the line to the Cave open as long as I can manage. Good luck to you … God help us all.”
In short, each book features its superhero or superheroes taking out Talons. Talon arrives. Superhero destroys Talon. The End.
Succinct, but grossly underplays the awesomeness of this series. These are crazy good reads, chock full of history and action and emotional drama: the whole shebang. They also provide an excellent entrée into the World of the Bat. I hadn’t read most of these books; hell, I didn’t have a clue Birds of Prey even existed. But thanks to the overarching structure and strong narrative thread, I had the chance to get a sense of several new Bat-folk without feeling befuddled.
That’s it in a SuperNutshell. (SuperNut would make for a zany superhero, no?) If you want more, scan below. Better yet, get thee to a comic bookery! These 11 reads are well worth forgoing 11 Frappuccinos.
Who the Hell Are These People?
Alfred: Manservant to Bruce Wayne; Batman’s home base coach; issues the all-hands to members of the Bat-family, spinning the strigiformed superheroes of Gotham into a Talon-bashing frenzy
Dr. Jeremiah Arkham: Descendent of Gotham blue-bloods; head psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum; Talon target
Arsenal: Stars in “Red Hood and the Outlaws”; former Teen Titan gone semi-bad; recovering alcoholic; on Night of the Owls works with Starfire to return Mr. Freeze to Arkham Asylum
Batgirl: Stars in “Batgirl” and “Birds of Prey”; AKA Barbara Gordon; daughter of Commissioner Gordon; trained alongside Nightwing (Dick Grayson) under Batman; on the Night of the Owls she faces and defeats Talon Mary, injured during WWII during an attack from Japan; also joins with other Birds of Prey to contain Talon Henry Ballard
Batman: Stars in “Batman,” “Detective Comics,” “Batman and Robin,” “Batman The Dark Knight”; frequent guest star in Bat spin-offs; a flock of Talons appear at his home on Night of the Owls; he defeats many and escapes, traveling around Gotham to fight more Talons and save various Talon targets
Batwing: Stars in “Batwing”; AKA David Zavimbe; AKA the Batman of Africa; member of Batman, Inc., a world-round coalition of good guys; based in the Democratic Republic of Congo but on Night of the Owls in Gotham for tech upgrades; faces and defeats mid-19th century talon Alexander Staunton
Black Canary: Stars in “Birds of Prey”; AKA Dinah; martial artist good guy armed with a sonic scream; takes on Talon Henry Ballard with the other Birds of Prey; captures and slows him in a refrigerated boxcar
Black Mask: AKA Roman Sionis; bad guy with powers of mind control; Arkham Asylum inmate unleashed by Dr. Arkham in an attempt to fight off Talons
Catwoman: Star of "Catwoman"; AKA Selina Kyle; On Night of the Owls, 17th century Talon Ephraim Newhouse is set by the Court upon the stunted, villainous body of Oswald Cobblepot, AKA The Penguin. He holds an interesting place in Gotham, for while he’s decidedly villainous, he’s also descended from Gotham bluebloods. Fortunately for the Penguin, unfortunately for Ephraim, Catwoman and her new partner Spark are stalking the Penguin. When she realizes what’s what, Catwoman decides to join the fight, stopping Newhouse and saving the tiny man who, 10 minutes earlier, was her mark.
Damian: Stars in "Batman and Robin"; Current (5th) Robin; AKA Damian Wayne; Batman’s son with Talia Al-Ghul; grandson of villain Ra’s al-Ghul; protects Major General Benjamin Burrows from a Talon
Mr. Freeze: AKA Nebraska-born Victor Fries; cryonics pioneer; helped Court of Owls unfreeze long-cold Talons for Night of the Owls ops; must stay cold to operate; escapes from Arkham Asylum during Night of the Owls; Starfire and Arsenal capture and return him to Arkham
Commissioner Gordon: Gotham police commissioner; Batgirl’s papa; Talon target; receives warning from an unseen someone about the attacks, and is told to lay low or his daughter will die; he tries to remain silent but eventually puts out calls to help those under attack
Jonah Hex: I know Jonah from my son’s Super Friends; the screwy-eyed cowboy superhero takes on a Talon in ye olde New Orleans in Issue 9 of “All Star Western”
Katana: Stars in “Birds of Prey”; samurai; wields soul-sucking sword; takes on Talon Henry Ballard with the other Birds of Prey; captures and slows him in a refrigerated boxcar
Lincoln March: Gotham mayoral candidate; killed or seriously wounded by Talon
Nightwing: Stars in “Nightwing”; AKA Dick Grayson; Batman’s first Robin; raised at Haly’s Circus; on the Night of the Owls, saves Gotham Mayor Hady from Talon William Cobb, his great-grandfather. Born poor, Cobb grew up at Haly’s Circus and made a name for himself as a highly skilled acrobat. He fell in love with society gal Amelia Crowne, but when she got pregnant, her snobby anti-Cobby papa married Amelia to a second cousin and told the world the child was legitimate. After Cobb became a Talon, he kidnapped his baby and changed his name to Grayson – the child who lives between white high society and Gotham’s dark underworld. That baby, Grayson, begat another Grayson, who begat Dick Grayson, once Robin, now Nightwing. How cool is that story? All told in two books. You gotta love comics. And if you don’t, you oughta.
Poison Ivy: Stars in “Birds of Prey”; eco-terrorist; controls plant life; takes on Talon Henry Ballard with the other Birds of Prey; traps him with her magic plant tentacles and dives with him into refrigerated boxcar; due to her plant-like physiology, she can withstand the cold for an extended time
Red Hood: Stars in “Red Hood and the Outlaws”; AKA Jason Todd; former Robin; killed by the Joker, then resurrected; anti-hero who still fights bad guys, in a violent, angry way; kills honor-seeking Talon Xiao Loong on Night of the Owls
Starling: Stars in “Birds of Prey”; spy; takes on Talon Henry Ballard with the other Birds of Prey; captures and slows him in a refrigerated boxcar