Challenges create character. It is a brutal cycle that all superheroes endure to make themselves tougher, smarter, and more adaptable. The most dangerous challenge a hero comes face to face with is their rivals, their arch-nemesis. Villains make the heroes. And the most glorified group of villains is Batman’s Rouge’s Gallery. From The Joker to Bane to Killer Croc to Calendar Man, all his villains have tested, pushed, and even beaten him down. Villains that have received their infamy from many years of existence. But there was one villain or a group of villains, that shot up the rankings the moment they debuted. The Court of Owls. In their first debut in 2012, they instantly gave Batman – and Bruce Wayne – problems. They went after Bruce Wayne and Batman separately. They nearly killed Wayne. They then pushed Batman physically, mentally, psychologically, and symbolically. So why haven’t they gone after Batman in their adaptations outside the books? The Court has been in three adaptations outside the books, but Batman has not always been their primary target.
The first story they appeared in, away from the books, is the animated movie Batman vs Robin. The film saw Batman continue his relationship with his biological son, Damien Wayne. Since Batman has his strict ‘no killing’ rule, it was bound to clash with Damien’s mentality of taking out your enemy at any and all costs. That was a focal point in the film. Another was the Court of Owls. This was the first time the Court stepped out of the books and was, presumably, put on a collision course with Batman. But…the Court was going after Damien. Their focus was Damien. What keeps the Court of Owls thriving is their thirst to recruit members into their ranks. Damien was an individual they had their sights on. Batman was nothing more than an obstacle, a speed bump, an annoyance to them. In a movie where his name is half of the title, it overlooks the intense relationship Batman, and the Court had in the books.
The other instance was in their live-action debut in the Fox series Gotham, a spiritual prequel to Batman. The Court did stick to its comic book image by being a secret, behind-the-scenes, malevolent organization. Another aspect that is core to their DNA is they see themselves as Gotham’s protectors. When there is change they don’t see fit, they attack it. Once Gotham started to go in a route they didn’t see fit, they came out and attacked. The big ‘but’ though, since it was a prequel story to Batman, there…was…no…Batman. The Court struck the GCPD, a young detective Gordon and any allies associated with them. Far targets from the Dark Knight.
Their latest outing was in the video game Gotham Knights. This was perhaps the closest story outside the books that pit the Court against Batman. They served as the main antagonists in the game. Batman shared some scenes with them where they fought. Finally, a story where fans see their favorite hero fights a villain that became infamous seemingly overnight. *SPOILER ALERT*. Aaannnnnnndddd…Batman’s dead. The Court killed him. The rest of the game was Nightwing, Red Hood, Batgirl, and Robin (Tim Drake) fighting the Court of Owls and trying to bring them down. Batman was largely missing yet again in a fight that would have pitted him against his new set of villains that rose in fame quickly. Another opportunity that was robbed.
Now there is still hope the Court of Owls could go up against Batman at the same time they get their big screen debut. The Batman franchise, starring Robert Pattinson and directed/written by Matt Reeves, is gritty, dark, and grounded—perfect elements to set the Court of Owls in. The concepts that make up the Court of Owls are the secrecy, the shadows, and the craving to point out political corruption that The Riddler operated in during The Batman. Reeves has clearly shown he is capable of writing a villain like that. And with the DCU on the rise, and with a Batman film – and perhaps a new franchise from it – the Court of Owls have the room and the opportunity to rise. The Court of Owls was a huge success when it debuted. Their connection to Batman and Bruce Wayne played a large part in their success. That connection, that rivalry, needs to be seen. The wait has been long enough.