It's hard to recommend the Batman: Night of the Owls crossover collection. It is, at least, highly repetitive; a majority of the chapters involve some member of the Batman family meeting, fighting, and defeating one of the villainous Court of Owls's Talon warriors, and not in any way that will enrich your understanding of the characters or the villains. Moreover, in collecting mainly the "Owls" crossover's ancillary tie-ins, the book only scratches at the story's main plot, stops just as the story gets good, and then as a bonus, spoils the crossover's ending.
At the same time, it's equally hard to discount the appeal of a 300-plus page Bat-family collection. Night of the Owls is neither groundbreaking nor earth-shattering, but neither is it, for the most part, poorly written or drawn. If one were about to board a long plane flight, Night of the Owls wouldn't be a bad purchase, but most will want to wait and read these issues with their individual collections.
[Review contains spoilers]
The Night of the Owls collection begins with All-Star Western #9, then Batwing #9, Batgirl #9, Batman #8 (including the back-up story, "The Call"), Batman and Robin #9, Nightwing #8, Red Hood and the Outlaws #9, Batman #9, Detective Comics #9, Birds of Prey #9, Nightwing #9, The Dark Knight #9, Batman Annual #1, Catwoman #9, and the back-up stories from Batman #9-11, "Fall of the House of Wayne."
From Batwing to The Dark Knight, the Night of the Owls collection proceeds well enough aside from the repetition. Batman writer Scott Snyder has Alfred send an alert to the Bat-family about the attacking Talons in Batman #8, and this call is subsequently received in most of the tie-in issues, giving the books a good sense of occurring simultaneously. There's some additional overlap in the individual issues, which offers the illusion of an ongoing story -- Batman and Robin follows Batman #8 well, Red Hood and the Outsiders doubles back to complete the Batgirl story, and Batman #9, Detective Comics, and Dark Knight form an interesting triptych in which Detective and Knight take place during and before and after the Batman book respectively. All of this ought keep the reader interested from the last chapter's ending to the next story's beginning, at least.
The contents of the issues, however, get predictable. Batwing fights a Talon at a Gotham party, Batgirl fights one over the rooftops, Robin fights one with some military knowledge, and so on. Like Blackest Night, the Owls enemy is expansive such that the ancillary heroes can fight the "symptoms" (in Owls, the Talons; in Blackest Night, the zombies) while the star characters fight the disease. Good for Batman and the Batman title, in a leading role; not so good for Birds of Prey, which is just one long fight scene, or for Dark Knight, which was at some point solicited as a Red Robin story but ends up just delving deeper into one Talon's backstory.
Given this, I would consider the first crossover event of the New 52 a disappointment. The 52 may be "new," but there's nothing new about the Night of the Owls crossover. It is exciting that the Talon attack spreads across Gotham City and perhaps necessary to involve other titles in order to sufficiently demonstrate that scope, but the tie-in titles don't in turn prove the necessity of their involvement.
Of the issues included, I would rank Tony Daniel's Detective Comics issue among the best, and the reader will forgive me but it's almost entirely because I liked the way Daniel cleans up some continuity blips between his pre- and post-Flashpoint Batman/Detective runs, and also reintroduces Black Mask as a Batman villain. Eddy Barrows continues to rock the art in the Nightwing two-parter. David Finch's art is also nice to look at in the Dark Knight chapter, even if Judd Winick's Talon profile feels flat -- no fault of Winick's, filling in, but this volume simply doesn't need that much detail about a Talon at that point in the story.
Less distinguished is the All-Star Western issue, which involves the Talon in only five pages of a twenty-page comic, to the point where it seems DC might just not have bothered. Both the Batman Annual and Catwoman also each fit awkwardly -- the annual purportedly takes place during the "night" itself, but that Batman fails to acknowledge the other events makes it seem like a fill-in story shoehorned into the event; similarly the Catwoman story also involves the Penguin, last seen in the annual, but makes no reference to that, either.
And then there's the "Fall of the House of Wayne" backups. Though I applaud DC for including these instead of leaving them uncollected, they are more appropriate for the Batman Vol. 2: City of Owls collection itself. This three-part story spoils key plot points regarding both the Pennyworths and the Waynes; the revelations involved aren't even hinted at in the other Night of the Owls issues, stealing any fanfare the revelations might have. Reader are implored to wait to read Night until after City, or at least to skip the "Fall" section, which is also rumored to be included in City -- truly this bit will take a lot of the fun out of reading City.
Ultimately, if the Batman Annual and backups appear in Batman: City of Owls collection as expected, then Batman: Night of the Owls collects no issues that can't be found in other collections. As someone who follows Batgirl, Batman and Robin, and the other Bat-titles, there's no value to me to a collection of mostly-unrelated tie-in issues in one volume if I can read them and the main story in other collections. Night of the Owls is exciting in its demonstration of a shared Bat-universe and for it's meta-depiction of a "simultaneous" Talon attack, but I'd have trouble justifying the cost for issues I have in other books.
[Publisher's Advance Review Copy]
Happy Valentine's Day from your friends at Collected Editions! DC Universe Presents Vol. 1 coming up next week, and more from our Swamp Thing Book Club tomorrow.