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SYFY WIRE Titan Books

Exclusive excerpt: Peer inside new Batman prose novel The Court of Owls from Titan Books

By Jeff Spry
Court of Owls Cover

Anyone not indulging their inner Dark Knight by investigating Titan Books and DC Comics' current line of Batman prose novels is missing out on some of the best genre writing available. First launched back in fall of 2018 with Batman: The Killing Joke, then followed by Harley Quinn: Mad Love in November, they serve to provide a more detailed examination of the Caped Crusader's gritty world in a way comics and feature films can't.

Killing Joke Slice

These immersive novels take familiar Batman legacy storylines and use them as a platform to expand and envelop you deep in the mythology. The third and newest offering takes its cue from the acclaimed 2011 New 52 Batman run by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo delving into the mysterious secret society, The Court of Owls. 

Written by best-selling genre author Greg Cox, Batman: The Court of Owls flies into stores on Tuesday Feb. 19 with another striking painterly cover by Titan’s Natasha Mackenzie and SYFY WIRE has snared an exclusive excerpt and writer chat to chirp about.

Court of Owls

Cox is highly regarded in geek circles as the pen behind a successful series of in-universe Star Trek novels and movie novelizations of Underworld, The Dark Knight Rises, Godzilla, Man of Steel, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, and War for the Planet of the Apes. Here Cox wields his considerable knowledge of Batman by weaving together a compelling narrative that will satisfy both old and new fans of the grim avenger as he celebrates his 80th anniversary in 2019.

This original novel matches Batman against the sinister Court of Owls, a clandestine cabal of blueblood families that's controlled Gotham City since Colonial times using a mixture of mystery, murder, and money. Clad in bone-white masks, their elite cult society has manipulated Gotham from the shadows for centuries, inflicting fear and extreme violence via its intimidating ranks of undead enforcers, the Talons.

Now Gotham City is subjected to a new series of shocking murders in which mutilated bodies are torched to a crisp, rendering them beyond recognition. Batman and his trusted companions Batgirl and Nightwing are aware of the Talons' return and embark on a mission to unravel the mystery behind their recent rash of horrifying homicides.

Court of Owls Cover Slice 1

Plotting of his brutal Batman book was all done over the summer of chaos when Cox was in the process of moving and packing and his life was in storage.  

“I think I vaguely knew of the Scott Snyder series and immediately went out and re-educated myself at my local comic shop," Cox notes. "I grabbed every single graphic novel compilation they had involving the Court of Owls and immersed myself and read them over and over again. I even went out and got the DVD version and watched it."

Cox wants to make it clear to fans that this is not a direct novelization of the Court of Owls storyline, but a brand new story. 

“It’s a sequel that picks up months after the original graphic novel but it’s a whole new adventure with new characters and mysteries. When my story begins the Court of Owls has been lying low licking its wounds but now they’ve resurfaced and Batman is not happy about that. Snyder had a lot of cutting-edge technology in his series and I tried to encompass that in this Court of Owls novel.”

In researching the storyline, Cox binged on the current Batman comics and recalls going down to his neighborhood comic shop every Wednesday and grabbing Batman, Nightwing, Batgirl, and Batwoman titles just to make sure he was up to speed.   

“I’ve been reading Batman comics since they were 12-cents apiece," Cox admits. "I remember going down to 7-11, getting a Slurpee, and buying them.  And I have shelves of Batman books from having worked on The Dark Knight Rises, and novelizations of 52, Final Crisis, Infinite Crisis, and Countdown.”

Court of Owls Cover Slice 2

Cox believes Titan's partnership with DC Comics on these Batman prose novels has proven they're the perfect vehicle to deliver enhanced reader experiences.

“Scott Snyder already did all the heavy lifting for me (laughs), but there’s a reason why people are fascinated by these stories and why they keep getting re-adapted. And there’s room to flesh out in a novel. You’ve got the skeleton there that gives you the ability to add as much detail as possible. I got a lot of encouragement from DC and Titan to dig into it and make it as big and ambitious a book as I could, but it was very much a collaborative process. I was blown away when I got my box of author copies.  It’s a nice looking book!”

Now enjoy our exclusive chapter excerpt from Greg Cox's Batman: The Court of Owls courtesy of Titan Books, DC Comics, and Warner Brothers.

The Batcave had undergone numerous expansions and renovations since he had first selected it as his base of operations. State-of-the art computers, a garage of specialized vehicles, a machine shop, crime lab, and trophy room occupied several levels of the vast cavern, all connected by sturdy ramps, stairs, and walkways. A sleek black hydrofoil was docked at the shore of a subterranean lake in one of the lower grottos, while hanging stalactites preserved some of the primeval ambience of the natural cavern onto which young Bruce Wayne had first stumbled as a child.

Bats skittered as they returned to their roosts in the upper reaches of the cave, carefully segregated from the more delicate electronics. Despite Alfred Pennyworth’s occasional complaints about the unruly wildlife, Batman was determined not to evict them from their home. They’d been here first, after all, and had served as his inspiration from the very beginning of his crusade.

He owed them too much to displace them.

Owls, on the other hand…

“It’s nearly dawn, sir,” Alfred observed. He was tall and lean, impeccable in both his dress and manners. A pencil mustache complimented his apparently timeless features, and he often seemed as much a fixture as the very walls of the manor house above. “Your winged namesakes are retiring for the day. Perhaps you should consider doing the same?”

The butler looked on as Batman sat before an array of sophisticated monitors in the cave’s nerve center. Holographic screens responded to his touch, allowing him to manipulate data more efficiently than a physical keyboard would. Although there was no present need to conceal his identity, Batman kept his cowl on. In the back of his mind, he couldn’t truly let his guard down until he confirmed or debunked the dire suspicions preying on his mind. There could be no sleep until he knew the truth, one way or another.

They watch you at your hearth,

They watch you at your bed…

Batman checked on the status of the tissue sample he’d procured at Morse’s office. The sample was undergoing a comprehensive spectrographic analysis—one that he had customized to search for a very specific substance. The time-consuming procedure tried his patience; there were quicker tests, but they were less reliable, and he had to be certain of the results.

The progress bar on the screen crept forward at a steady, methodical pace that chafed at his usual stoicism. He wanted answers and he wanted them now.

An electronic chime signaled that Gordon had news.

“Finally.” Batman reached out to tap the screen.

In the early days of his crusade he’d had to sneak through air ducts to visit the city morgue, but that was before he’d wired the morgue for remote surveillance. He opened a new window on the central monitor and Jim Gordon peered at him with a slightly quizzical expression on his face. The sterile interior of the facility could be seen behind the commissioner.

Morse’s carbonized remains were stretched out on a stainless-steel examination table beneath the harsh illumination. Sutures sealed the Y-shaped incision on the body’s torso. His blackened skullcap had been put back into place, although it was doubtful that there would be any public viewing of the remains. A closed-casket funeral—or possibly cremation—awaited the deceased.

“Are you there?” the cop asked. The visual transmission was strictly one-way. “Are you reading me?”

“Loud and clear.” Gordon appeared to have the morgue to himself. They had this drill down to a science by now, although Batman winced as he recalled the very first homicide on which he had tested the remote-viewing system. He prayed that history wasn’t repeating itself. “What do you have for me?”

“As we expected, dental records confirm the victim is Herbert Morse,” Gordon reported. “His family has already been notified of the discovery, of course, but I’ll need to call them back just to eliminate any doubt… or false hope.”

Batman didn’t envy Gordon that sad duty, but trusted him to treat Morse’s loved ones with compassion and empathy—just as a much younger Lieutenant Gordon had attempted to console Bruce Wayne on the worst night of the young boy’s life. There hadn’t been many decent cops in Gotham back in those days, but Jim Gordon had been one of them.

“I spared Morse’s wife all the grisly details, at least for now,” Gordon added. “She had no idea why anyone would want to hurt her husband, not that wives always know everything.”

Batman doubted this case involved anything as prosaic as a cheating husband.

“What else did the medical examiner turn up?”

“That Morse was indeed alive when he burned to death. His white blood cell count and the quantity of proteins in the blisters indicate that his flesh and blood were attempting to combat the damage, as opposed to already being inert.” Gordon grimaced at the picture that data painted. “But here’s where it gets weird.

According to the ME, Morse was burned from the inside, out. His internal organs were baked much more severely than the outer skin and tissues.”

“I see.”

Batman raised an eyebrow. What Gordon was describing was far from ordinary. Most often, even the most badly charred bodies were comparatively undamaged internally. He had no reason to doubt the ME’s findings, but wanted to verify them.

“Spontaneous combustion?” Gordon suggested.

“Possibly.” Batman’s brain raced. Some kind of exotic microwave weapon, perhaps, or a chemical compound that triggered an exothermic reaction when taken internally. Any number of theories came to mind, demanding further investigation. He recalled that Morse’s head had appeared more badly burned than the rest of the body. “What about his brain?”

“You’re getting warmer, no pun intended.” Gordon grimaced at his own remark. “The brain was charcoal—almost incinerated, as though the fire started inside the victim’s skull, then spread through his body like a fever. The examiner said she’d never seen anything like it. If it wasn’t for the nails and the knife wounds, she’d have been tempted to notify the CDC.”

Like a fever, Batman thought. He filed the observation away in case it proved relevant later. “What about the knife wounds?”

“You called it,” Gordon said. “Despite the fire damage, the skin and bones were still relatively intact. The ME located at least fifty-three separate stab wounds, none of which would have been immediately fatal. He was tortured, all right… in a way we’ve seen before.”

So Gordon recognized the MO too. No surprise there. Gordon was Police Commissioner for a reason. He was a good detective—with a good memory.

“You think it’s them?” Gordon asked. “The Owls?”