Review: Talon Vol. 1: Scourge of the Owls trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, January 13, 2014

I admit I was skeptical that a title about an entirely new, tertiary Bat-character, and one that seemed published mainly to piggy-back on the "Night of the Owls" craze, would be all that interesting, even if written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion. Talon Vol. 1: Scourge of the Owls, however, is an exceptional debut for the titular Calvin Rose, an interesting comic with a great supporting cast and plenty of twists and turns. Talon is, as we know, cancelled after the next collection, but the first volume is exceptional and worthy of being picked up despite this title's finitude.

[Review contains spoilers]

Talon makes a good amalgam of a couple of familiar elements. As it starts, Scourge offers shades of The Fugitive, as Rose moves from mission to mission trying to derail the Court of Owls's infrastructure; in each episode, Rose invariably meets a rival Talon, and the reader is treated to the new Talon's backstory as Rose handles the latest challenge. This "Talon of the week" aesthetic fades before it gets too repetitive, and Talon becomes more of a "heist" book; Rose and his cast pull off (or almost pull off) two infiltrations here that are unusually complex for DC Comics, with further shades of the recent Mission Impossible movies.

The book equally reminds of Batwoman a bit, in the relationship between Rose and his guide to the world of the Owls, Sebastian Clark. Rose and Clark, like Batwoman's relationship with her father, it itself a variant on the Batman/Alfred relationship, but like Batwoman and Colonel Kane, Clark is constantly in Rose's ear, at least in the first few missions, like Colonel Kane was with Batwoman.

Which brings up another element of Talon -- it is an astoundingly "talky" book. I don't mind comics where there's more talking than punching -- and Talon often manages to accomplish talking and punching simultaneously -- but there were times even I was taken aback to turn from one page of dialogue only to find another page full of dialogue waiting. Again, that's not a bad thing, and rather I think it speaks to the sheer volume of background Snyder and Tynion have created for the Court of Owls that imbues this book; one senses the creators could go on for hours about Court of Owls history, recruiting, financing, and so on.

But by the end, Talon's best selling point is Calvin Rose himself. Snyder and Tynion offer a good amount of humor, which makes Rose likable (the book hits its stride early on with "Where the hell are my pants?"), but moreover -- and this perhaps ought not be surprising for a comic, but is -- Rose is kind. Talons are essentially undead immortals, so there would be lots of room for the writers to inflict carnage from which the Talons could heal, but instead, time and again, Rose tries to reason with his opponents. More than once, Rose implores his rival Talons to join him in his fight against the Court, and at a key moment, one even agrees. That Rose, to an extent, is not motivated by vengeance but rather by redemption goes a long way toward distinguishing Talon against its fellow titles.

Rose is an escape artist, and this recurs thematically in the story in terms of trying to escape the Court, negotiate the bonds of commitment, etc. Snder and Tynion use Rose's talents to best effect in the aforementioned heist capers, and there's a cool array of gadgets here, like the tensile wire and electromagnetic disguises (Snyder has similar introduced new tech in Batman, too). There were a couple times I felt the writers cheated a little where Rose "just senses" how to open a safe or immediately slips a pair of shackles that Batman calls "inescapable"; I'd rather see and understand Rose's abilities than simply take for granted that he can get out of "anything."

Artist Guillem March draws almost the whole book, giving it a nice consistency. The story doesn't offer much room for March's signature cheesecake, and indeed March's work is very controlled here -- only gratuitous in one or two places, and even there only slightly, and even the distortion March sometimes uses on faces is largely toned down. What emerges is moody art with atmospheric rough edges that works equally well in the action and dialogue scenes.

I've not looked ahead to what's coming up in Talon, but I thought Nightwing's cameo here was more notable than Batman's, and I hope Nightwing and Rose meet up before the series ends. Rose is in essence the epitome of everything that the Court of Owls hoped Nightwing Dick Grayson would become for them (at least until Rose turned against the Court). I didn't think the Nightwing title necessarily did enough with Grayson's connection to the Court, so it'd be interesting to see that explored if Nightwing meets his "opposite number" face-to-face.

Talon Vol. 1: Scourge of the Owls ultimately acquits the entire creative team well, and it's an impressive showing for a mostly under-the-radar book. Perhaps the worst part of Talon's impending cancellation, now that we've met Calvin Rose, is that it's probably unlikely we'll see Rose joining up with Justice League Canada, for instance. Talon takes its place among all the other also-ran series in the New 52, but it can certainly hold its head up high when it does so.

[Includes original and variant covers, Guillem March sketches.]

Coming up: Grifter Vol. 2, and then next week the first Smallville Season 11 collection, The Guardian.
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  1. Because this book mostly flew under the radar, I was genuinely surprised by this ending. I'm glad they didn't opt to make Talon a raging animal. The comics industry has too many Wolverines.

  2. I'm surprised I haven't seen a review of Volume 2 on this blog yet (not awful, but too many story arcs that only disorientate the reader) considering how highly you thought of it.

    1. Yeah, though I guess my general sense that not much happened with the title, and then it was cancelled, dulled my interest. Also I read an issue of Talon in a recent Birds of Prey trade and I wasn't too smitten. I imagine I'll get back to it eventually, but there's too much else I want to read before it at the moment.