Review: Talon by James Tynion IV trade paperback (DC Comics)


With a lot of time to read the other week, and some idea maybe the Talon characters were coming back (though now I think I’m wrong because I can’t find the reference again), I decided to finally open the 400-plus-page Talon by James Tynion IV volume.

I’ve been known to say that sometimes even if it’s not good, at least there’s a lot of it. There is a lot of Talon here, 18 issues and a crossover, but also it’s uniformly decent. If Tynion’s first major solo outing never reaches the realm of high art, it’s consistently interesting, hampered mostly by pinch-hit artwork more than anything else.

I read the original first volume back in 2014 and that’s the time the second half would have had most appeal; it is passingly interesting now, but would be even more so if some Bat-creator saw fit to employ the titular Talon Calvin Rose again among a super-team or what have you.

[Review contains spoilers]

One major point in favor of this larger-form Talon collection (issues #0–17 and Birds of Prey #21, where Talon Vol. 1: Scourge of the Owls was #0–7 and the second volume was the rest) is a markedly honest introduction from Tynion. I appreciate that where a reasonable instinct would be to talk up the strong points of this early work, Tynion instead outlines many of the mistakes — a too-complicated proposal, dialogue-heavy pages. Pointing out the missteps makes me judge Talon no more harshly, and equally his consideration of what worked — when he moved from a single protagonist to a more expansive cast — helped me better appreciate those shifts too.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Among changes between the first eight issues of Talon and the last nine are that Calvin Rose’s pseudo “handler” Sebastian Clark steps back (having been revealed as a villain in the first year’s climax) and romantic interest Casey Washington and her strike team step forward. Put another way, the first year of Talon operated somewhat with Calvin as Batman and Sebastian as his Alfred, and the second half parts with that toward building its own identity.

Tynion highlights issues #3–4 as where he feels the series begins to expand beyond Calvin Rose, though I was skeptical at first. True, issue #3 is where Calvin meets up with Casey and her team of foot soldiers, who are all, like Calvin, refugees from criminal cults. But they depart again in issue #4, not seen again in that first volume, and Joey and Nicky and Edgar all seem so direct from central casting that I didn’t expect to see them again.

Indeed, when they do return in issue #10, they’re still mostly anonymous. But Tynion does begin to offer some backstory for the crew’s apparent leader, Anya Volkova, even if it’s that she’s yet another in a cadre of super-capable League of Assassins figures who nevertheless decides to defect. If that’s somewhat lackluster in terms of a supporting cast, I did think there was potential in the two final issues by guest-writer Tim Seeley, where Anya conspires with Calvin on a mission, thinking Casey — who, unlike the rest, grew up in relative ease — might not understand. That’s potential for a triangle that might have given all the supporting characters more personality.

Tynion’s breakout character in this run, however, is likely the Talon “Butcher” Felix Harmon. Had I read all of this before Tynion’s Joker, I might even have suspected the Butcher as that book’s hulking mysterious figure. Late in the book, Seeley writes a Lord Death Man who is giddy to the point of silliness, far from a threat; Tynion’s Butcher, in contrast, speaks like an English gentleman as he otherwise nearly overfills every panel he’s in, punctuated with sudden, gory violence.

If one is looking for Tynion’s later works in this earlier one, it’s not in the forgettable henchmen he creates for Bane with names like Wolf-Spider, with nowhere near the staying power of Tynion’s later Punchline and Ghost-Maker. Rather, it’s in the horror of Tynion’s Court of Owls serial killer, who’s happy to murder for his Grandmaster but equally too just for sport. There’s significant torture here — the Butcher seems at some point to have torn out a captive Casey’s eye, and later crushes her arm so badly it has to be amputated — but a lot of this (plus some harrowing child endangerment) happens off-screen or in the shadows. It seems like a Tynion not so bold with his horror as he would later be on Joker or The Nice House on the Lake.

Talon kicks off with Guillem March on art, Tynion’s later partner on Joker and Batman. If there’s the slightest bit of woodenness among some of the figures (some 10 years ago), surely March gets as much credit for the book’s auspicious start overall as Tynion does. Talon’s eventual cancellation seems more reasonable in the middle of the book, with Miguel Sepulveda inked too darkly and Szymon Kudranski’s panels being often unintelligible, and too much time spent on fight scenes in Bane’s dungeon. Artist Emauel Simeoni finishes out the book well, but that’s only in Tynion’s final three issues when cancellation was inevitable.

In that end, Tynion has Calvin join that era’s Batman Inc., though I don’t think we ever saw adventures come out of that and Talon was not included among Joshua Williamson’s resurrected team in Batman Vol. 6: Abyss. Talon’s inclusion seems reasonable; Calvin Rose is cut from the same cloth as other assassin-turned-Bat-family operatives Batgirl Cassandra Cain and Azrael, not to mention the suggestion of a childhood friendship with Dick Grayson.

Batman appears a few times in the book, though I still feel we never quite got the caliber of team-up the book seemed to be leading toward, a real Batman/Talon adventure where perhaps Batman has to separate some of his ire for the Court from the idea that Talons may be innocent children or brainwashed victims. As it is we have a glut of Bat-family members, some of whom aren’t even being used, but I continue to be surprised Calvin Rose doesn’t appear more, even if just when the Court of Owls is in the mix. Maybe someday.

Knowing what I know now, I’d have liked to have finished Talon by James Tynion IV before I read Tynion’s Joker. Assuredly if there’s a reason this volume exists, it’s to serve mostly as prologue to that more notable work.

[Includes original and variant covers, introduction, character sketches]

Rating 2.5

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Wow, blast from the near past. I'd completely forgotten about this book! I'm with you, though... the very existence of a trade collecting nearly 20 issues makes me more inclined to revisit it than I would otherwise.

    We've had Talons aplenty in the last decade (hard to believe the Court of Owls is barely 13 years old... both for how short that feels and for how ingrained they seem in the mythos), but no love for Calvin, eh? Am I right that Jim Jr is running around somewhere as a Talon now, too? And speaking of multiplicity, I did a double-take at your mention of Wolf-Spider; I could have sworn he was someone else's nemesis. A quick Google tells me there was /another/ Wolf-Spider in the New 52 Batwoman run; this one made it as far as the CW.

    1. Jim Jr. *is* running around as a Talon now, the one final loose end of Tynion's Joker run that was neither tied up nor made a lot of sense; from my some-months-delayed perspective, I don't see any other creators touching that one. I was reminded today Lois Lane has a half-brother out there somewhere, too. Wasn't there a CBR column that took on things like this ... ?


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