The Court of Owls is a secret organization centuries old with immense power and influence embedded into the very architecture and history of Gotham City. The court would select a trained and strong athletes taught by the Haly's Circus, and the few chosen ones would become their Talons (assassins). In fact, Dick Grayson was supposed to one of their Talons, as we find out later in the Night of Owls story arc, but, fortunately, Bruce adopted him, before the disaster could happen. The myth of their existence has been past down for generations in an old Gotham.
The Court of Owls made their first appearance in Batman #3 (2nd Volume) in 2011, when Batman discovers their lair and numerous photographs of them through the decades, while he is hunting down William Cobb, who made his first appearance in the previous issue. Though they first made their appearance in the second volume of Batman, creator Scott Snyder had planted hints and easter eggs of their existence in his Detective Comics run "The Black Mirror" and the mini series Batman: Gates of Gotham.
Major Story Arcs
The War of Lords and Owls
During the same period as the Old West, the Court of Owls were finishing the construction on their labyrinth hidden in the sewer system of Gotham. With his work completed, the Court sent a talon to kill Thurston Moody, a wealthy nobleman who organized the child slave labor used to construct the labyrinth. Unfortunately, Moody was also a person of interest to Jonah Hex. He and Amadeus Arkham witnessed Moody’s execution and had come to Gotham to investigate. The Court were originally concerned for Hex’s presence, but when they found out he was involved with Tallulah Black’s attempted murder of Lucius Bennet, a suspected member of the rival Religion of Crime, the Court voted to take advantage of Hex to take out their competition.
They employed their Talon to follow the very conspicuous Hex and Tallulah. As they confronted Bennet, the Talon swooped in and killed the Lord of Extortion, and the other lords of the Religion of Crime blamed the gunslingers instead.
Face the Batman
Sometime after Bruce Wayne's creation of Batman Incorporated, he feels it is time to return to his home city of Gotham. Bruce decides to use his wealth and influence to revitalize the city, announcing his plans to most of Gotham's elite. His announcement party is interrupted when he overhears Commissioner Gordon receiving a police report of a mysterious murder. Bruce arrives to the scene as Batman, meeting with Harvey Bullock, where they find body, a true "John Doe" with no identity, crucified with multiple antique throwing knives, all of them marked with the image of an owl. Bullock wonders if the symbol on the knives has anything to do with an old nursery rhyme, but Bruce is preoccupied searching for clues, eventually finding skin under the victim's fingernails. While he sends the skin cells to Alfred for DNA recognition, Bruce finds a secret message proclaiming "Bruce Wayne will die tomorrow." Shortly after, Alfred finds the DNA test results to be startling, as the DNA of the potential killer is a perfect match with one of Bruce's closest allies, Dick Grayson.
When Bruce Wayne is attacked by Talon, he mentioned, "How I love killing Waynes," to which he was referring to Alan Wayne, Bruce's great, great-grandfather, who, in his later years, developed a severe paranoia about birds and felt they were conspiring against him. During the process of investigating his death, Bruce exhumes the body of Alan Wayne and discovers marble residue on the body, which leads Bruce, as Batman, to investigate where Alan Wayne's body was found. Here, Batman was attacked by the Talon and is knocked out. He wakes later in the Court of Owls Maze, made of marble. Without his utility belt, Batman survives in the maze for 8 days, without food, his only sustenance being (possibly drugged) water from a fountain, before escaping by blowing a hole in the floor and falling into a large underground river. The leader of the Court of Owls, who appears to be an old woman wearing a mask, orders the current talon to be disposed of and to wake all the other talons.
The Secret of Haly's Circus
When Haly's Circus comes to Gotham, Dick Grayson is attacked by an assassin who calls himself Saiko, proclaiming Dick is the "fiercest killer in Gotham" even if he doesn't know it. Dick survives the attack, but Saiko follows him to Atlantic City, where he gains tortures C.C. Haly for information that Dick Grayson and Nightwing are one in the same. With Mr. Haly's dying breath, he tells Dick that he's giving him the circus, but there's a terrible secret that lays "in the heart" of the circus.It takes Dick some time to figure out what Haly meant, but he eventually decides to investigate the center ring of the circus.
Inside he finds an old book with names, including his in it. (It also contains the name William Cobb, which was later revealed to be the name of the Talon trying to kill Bruce.) When the circus heads back to Gotham, Saiko springs a trap for Dick at a Flying Graysons memorial show. It is here where Saiko reveals that he is Dick's old circus friend, Raymond, previously thought to have died in a car accident. He holds a grudge against Dick for if he had never left the circus, Raymond wouldn't have been taken by "them" and tortured into becoming a killer. Raymond reveals that after Dick left, Mr. Haly had arranged for the Court of Owls to take Raymond so they could train him to be a killer. But in the end, they felt as if Raymond wasn't good enough, so they left him alone in a forest to die, where birds would peck out his eyes.
The Night of the Owls
In the aftermath of Bruce Wayne’s escape, the long gestating Talons were released and sent out to take back Gotham from nearly forty of the most powerful and influential elite. Among their targets are:
- Lucius Fox, CEO of Wayne Industries
- James Gordon, Police Commissioner
- Dr. Jeremiah Arkham, Director of Arkham Asylum
- Lincoln March, Mayoral Candidate
- The Penguin, local crime lord
- Mr. Freeze, expert in cryogenics, their weakness
- Jane Spitz, Supreme Court Justice
- And, of course, Bruce Wayne
Knowing Bruce Wayne is Batman, they sent their biggest contingent to Wayne Manor where Bruce was still recuperating from his time in the maze. They overwhelmed Bruce and forced him and Alfred to take refuge in the armory in the Batcave. Unfortunately for the Court, their plans were stolen from a microdrive on one of the Talons from Bruce Wayne and given to Alfred to disperse to Batman’s allies active in the city. Together, they made it difficult for the Court to assassinate their full list, eventually to be joined by Batman in the field after the Talons were supercooled in the Batcave.
Part of the invasion was a trap for Batman created by Lincoln March. He believed himself the lost son of Thomas and Martha Wayne. He blamed Bruce for their death and needed to use the Court against him because he was Batman. He included his own name on their target list, but he took the serum that empowers the talons, so that he would rise after they assassinated him. As a talon, he had the current leadership of the Court of Owls killed and waited for Bruce to figure him out and come looking for him at the old children’s home. After a brief fight, he escaped as did a number of the members of the court.
Talon is a comic detailing the life of Calvin Rose, a former escape artist for Haley's Circus, and an escaped assassin for the Court of Owls. When he given the task of killing an innocent woman and her daughter, Rose decided to flee, and has been on the run ever since.
After hearing of Batman's encounter with them, Rose decided to return to Gotham City in order to see if the Court of Owls was defeated. When he is injured by one of the Talons, Calvin is rescued by a man named Sebastian Clark, who is also an enemy of the Court. Together, they decide to go after the Court of Owls, and stop them once and for all.
In their first mission together, Calvin goes the Orchard Hotel, where the Court's treasures are kept. His aim is to find the files on the two women he protects, but Sebastian wants to destroy the organization's financial status, as by doing so, the Court would be weakened. Rose expected to find the files in a safe, but instead he discovers a mask, belonging to the Orchard family. At that moment, Benjamin Orchard attacks Calvin claiming that the mask belongs to him. The Ex-Talon, finding himself at a weak spot against one of the Court's greatest warriors, blows up the treasure area, only before fleeing the location. Meanwhile, the Court of Owls notices the trouble Calvin is causing them, therefore they wake up Felix Harmon, the 'Gotham Butcher', in order to kill the only man ever to flee their clutches.
The Court has big plans for Dick Grayson, but he was on a secret mission from Batman infiltrating the spy organization, Spyral. To draw him back to Gotham, they conspired with Councilwoman Noctua to outlaw Robin memorabilia on minors, targeting We Are Robin, a teenage activist collective patterned on the Robin legacy. When this caused the group to feud with the police, Dick felt responsible for the tension and returned to help end it.
Fortunately for the Court, Dick decided the best place for the Robins, including his brothers, was in GCPD custody. He had no idea that the Court had funded and planned the suspension jail cells they were being kept in. While Dick investigated Noctua with Jim Gordon (active as Batman at the time), the Court revealed themselves to the prisoners and forced Tim and Jason to fight to the death for membership. They used this opportunity to get close to the controls and release all the other Robins.
One such Robin explained to Damian that she had seen talons around Gotham Academy. Damian decided to split off from the group and confront them, willing to take them on by himself. However, the Court had activated their “Elite Talons,” bred for war to be used if the Court ever lost the city. Their inability to procure a Gray Son to lead them was seen as that failure, so while watching as the elite talons descend on the city, Damian volunteered to take Dick’s place, which Lincoln March gladly accepted.
This was simply another plot to get Dick to switch places with him, including a nanotech bomb that was absorbed into Damian’s skin from his new Owl mask. So, Lincoln offered to deactivate the elite talons, end the Robin Laws, and ensure Damian’s life, if Dick simply accepts his role as The Gray Son. So, Dick finally relented.
The Gray Son
By the time the Court had convinced Dick Grayson to join them, they had rebranded themselves the Parliament of Owls, a now international organization that had Lincoln March killed for his ineffectiveness. Unbeknownst to them, Nightwing was working as a spy after secretly removing the nanobombs from Damian’s person. He was traveling the world delivering the ominous message, “The Court sends their regards,” to high profile targets, mostly associates of The Kobra Cult.
Disappointed in his commitment to not kill, he was partnered with a more deadly operative, Raptor, who revealed to Nightwing that he was also intent on ending the Court. They send the two new talons to kill former associates, including the creator of the “Book of Wisdom” drive and the designer of their newest maze. During the first meeting of the global members, they planned to sacrifice prisoners to the maze, but Nightwing and Raptor had faked their assassinations and used knowledge obtained from the targets to navigate the prisoners out of the maze and steal the drive. This forced The Orator to reveal his new mutated form to stop them. Nightwing escaped, but Raptor had programmed the drive with a back door so that every name the Bat-family decrypts is sent to Kobra, Raptor’s real employees, giving them the chance to kill the Court members before the Bat-Family could have them arrested.
Months later, Nightwing is shot in the head by KGBeast, convincing the Court that they had a new opportunity to indoctrinate Dick. His doctor, Dr. Haas, was a member of the Court. She combined a drug regimen and psychological manipulation to suppress Dick's memories as a superhero and convinced his superhero allies that it was amnesia caused by the bullet. William Cobb was then sent to outfit Dick with talon goggles that would implant new memories of the talon he should be.
Unfortunately, the trauma of almost taking a life snapped him out of it. After he threw Cobb off a bridge, his doctor retreated to a castle in Switzerland, leaving enough clues in her office for Dick to follow. When their confrontation did not seem to be going to plan, a Court security guard set the self-destruct sequence.
The Court of Owls were funding a superhuman cloning facility off the coast of Spain. It posed as a resort and spa that specializes in giving downtime to supervillains between battles with superheroes and the cops. While pampering these supervillains, they would collect samples of their DNA to mix and match as monsters and clones. In addition to ensuring the super battles continue to distract from their shadow work, they would sell these superhumans on the black market.
Court member, Cressida Clarke, sought to tear apart the organization that betrayed her father. She allied herself with Bane, tempting him with the knowledge of Vengeance, and faked his death, framing The Joker, who had been using the resort since The Joker War. She also tricked Jim Gordon into investigating the operation by sharing evidence of Joker’s whereabouts. Because Jim got involved, Joker found out about one of the labs on his own. Because it was filled with clones of himself, Joker destroyed them.
The Court of Owls' new project is turning the old Arkham Asylum, unused since A-Day, into an academy for supervillains, headed up Dr. Olivia Otus, a criminal psychologist who believes in radical solutions for radical problems. She believes for the Court to make Gotham great again, they need to be in charge of the freaks that Batman, in her opinion, causes. Of course, as a front, they are claiming they are conditioning at risk supervillain teens into productive members of society.
Last Knight on Earth
When Batman finds himself transported to a possible future with a fascist Batman, he crosses paths with Nightwing, who has created a new Court of Owls to act as a force of good. In doing so, he has rebranded the Bat-Cave as the Owl-Cave.
The Adventures Continue Season 2
The Court of Owls joins the canon of The Batman Animated Series by Bruce Timm in a series intended to continue the old cartoon.
On Earth-3, The Court of Owls is an ally of the Crime Syndicate member, Owlman.
Batman Arkham Origins
The Court of Owls didn't make an appearance, nor a cameo appearance in WB Montreal's Batman Arkham Origin, but the Court of Owls was referenced in the game. During Batman's first fight with Bane, there are statues of two owls that hold throwing knifes, which heavily refers to the Court of Owls. Alongside of that, the Court were also referenced with a book.
WB Montreal would make good on their references to the Court of Owls in Arkham Origins with their RPG, Gotham Knights. In it, after Batman's death, Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Hood, and Robin are given all of Batman's resources to protect Gotham. Together, they successfully uncover the conspiracy of the Court of Owls that managed to evade even Batman. Although, the game was assumed to be a spin-off of the Arkham games given the ending of Arkham Knight, it is more of a spiritual sequel and a soft reboot. The reason for Batman's demise have been changed, and the status of the members of the Bat-family have also changed, especially in terms of Batgirl and Robin's relationship and the relationship Jason has as a member of the family.
Batman vs Robin
The Court of Owls appears as the main antagonist of Batman vs Robin, the sequel to Son of Batman. While out on patrol, Damian encounters a Talon who kills the Dollmaker. After Batman blames Damian for Dollmaker' death due to his history of violence, Damian is taken under Talon's wing, against the Court's wishes, pitting them against the Batman.
The Court of Owls appeared in the Batman prequel television series, Gotham, mainly in the third season. They were a secret society of upper class elite, who were ultimately responsible for the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne. They were funding the human experiments of Hugo Strange, who Thomas was suspicious of. Strange hired a hitman to take him out before he could ruin their plans. Later, Jim Gordon went undercover among them.
The Court of Owls appear in season 3 episode 4 of the HBO Max series. While staying in Catwoman's penthouse, someone broke in and kidnapped Frank the Plant. A Court of Owls broach was left behind, so Harley and Poison Ivy sneak into a gathering only for it to turn into a Eyes Wide Shut style sex party.