Who are the Court of Owls? Robert Pattinsons pick for the next Batman movie villains explained

The Batman is on the verge of finally hitting theaters, and like notorious future planner the Dark Knight himself, both fans and the stars of the film are looking ahead to villains for a potential sequel – with Robert Pattinson, the new Bruce Wayne/Batman, namechecking the enigmatic and evil Court of Owls as his personal pick.

A relatively new but nonetheless important addition to Batman comic book mythology, the Court of Owls has a central role in modern Bat-mythos as a secret organization tied to the very foundations of Gotham – and that’s just scratching the surface of who and what they actually are.

Newsarama has the 4-1-1 on exactly who and what the Court of Owls is, and why the underground group has risen to such prominence in Batman’s world since its introduction almost exactly a decade ago – even becoming the villains of the upcoming Gotham Knights video game, and getting the nod from the new Batman himself as his ideal future adversaries.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Court of Owls – though as Batman has discovered in tangling with them, knowledge isn’t always power enough to save you from their manipulations.

The Court of Owls is a creepy organization that controls Gotham City in secret

art from Guillem March's cover to 2013's Talon #7

art from Guillem March’s cover to 2013’s Talon #7 (Image credit: DC)

Anyone familiar with Batman knows that Gotham City is a dark place, and Batman encounters some strange and sinister villains there.

But the Court of Owls takes that one step further — it is a super-secret crime organization that has existed since colonial times in Gotham City, woven into the framework of the city’s institutions and buildings. There’s even a creepy old nursery rhyme that children in Gotham City recite, describing the Court as all-seeing and all-knowing. 

The members of this Illuminati-like organization are from Gotham’s wealthiest, most ancient, and most powerful families, and they’ve been controlling the crime in Gotham for centuries. They meet in hidden rooms planted throughout the city, and when they hold court, they wear ghoulish-looking, white owl masks over their faces. 

Although the Court had been aware of Batman for years, the costumed crime-fighter was so insignificant to their immense power and influence that they didn’t bother interacting with him. 

And they were so adept at staying hidden that, even though young Bruce Wayne had heard about them, he couldn’t prove their existence — until the Court finally decided to assassinate Bruce Wayne after he announced plans to revitalize the city. 

Eventually, Batman and the entire Bat-family ended up fighting against the Court of Owls. But even when the Court is defeated, the organization always seems to survive secretly in Gotham to powerfully re-emerge another day. 

The Court of Owls uses Talons to do its dirty work

art from Greg Capullo's cover to 2012's Batman #8

art from Greg Capullo’s cover to 2012’s Batman #8 (Image credit: DC)

That might sound pretty basic — that an ‘Owl’ organization would have henchmen called ‘Talons’ — but these aren’t the type of inept minions employed by other Gotham City villains. 

Talons are not only highly trained and effective assassins, but they have regenerative capabilities. Their lives are extended by a metallic alloy called Electrum that, when properly prepared, can reanimate the dead. 

Because the organization has been around for centuries, the Court of Owls has countless bodies of Talon-assassins from history that can be reanimated in a matter of minutes by touching them to a piece of Electrum — giving the Court the power to quickly raise an army. 

Many of the Talons were recruited over the years from children in the circus, and in the comic book universe, Batman’s original Robin, the orphaned circus acrobat Dick Grayson, was destined to become a Talon before Bruce Wayne adopted him as his ward.  

In fact, Dick’s last name hints at a Court prophesy about the greatest Talon — called the “Gray Son” — which has frequently put him at odds with the group. And both he and Batman’s son Damian Wayne have been recruited by the group to be the next “Gray Son of Gotham.”

The Court’s popularity helped reboot the DC Universe in 2011

art from Greg Capullo's cover to 2011's Batman #1

art from Greg Capullo’s cover to 2011’s Batman #1 (Image credit: DC)

While several well-known Batman villains — like the Joker and Catwoman — are decades old, the Court of Owls was a comparatively recent addition to the Batman comic book mythology.

When DC rebooted its entire comic book universe in 2011 — with an unprecedented brand new #1 for the Batman comic (opens in new tab) — the company created a different DCU where Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman were all young superheroes. This version of the DCU was called the “New 52 Universe” because of the marketing slogan the company used at the time. 

Who was the first villain for this newly launched New 52 Batman comic book? The Court of Owls.

Fan interest in the story made the Batman comic a reliable best-seller for DC for several years, and it helped launch the now stellar careers of the duo who created the Court of Owls, writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo. 

The first Court of Owls storyline also inspired line-wide events and a spin-off Talon (opens in new tab)comic book, and the group even showed up in the TV show Gotham and appeared in WB Interactive’s Lego DC Super-Villains. 

Elements of the Court of Owls are still used frequently in the Batman comic book universe.

The Owls challenge Batman mentally

Greg Capullo art from Batman: The Court of Owls

Greg Capullo art from Batman: The Court of Owls (Image credit: DC)

Because the Court of Owls involves the oldest, wealthiest families of Gotham, when Bruce comes up against them, he is forced to grapple with the role his ancestors played in the Court’s rise to power. After all, the Waynes are among Gotham’s oldest and wealthiest. 

Most of the old buildings in Gotham contain secret rooms where the Owls can meet, and the organization has a labyrinth beneath the city where they once imprisoned Batman and nearly drove him mad. 

It’s also more than a little infuriating for Batman to learn he was so clueless about this secret organization operating in his city under his supposedly super-detective nose. 

The Court of Owls story introduced a man who claims to be Bruce Wayne’s brother

Greg Capullo art from 2012's Batman #10

Greg Capullo art from 2012’s Batman #10 (Image credit: DC)

A politician and Court of Owls member named Lincoln March was used by the secret organization to distract Bruce Wayne during their attempt to assassinate him. But March turned against the Court and killed many of its leaders.

March turned himself into an armored, Talon-like villain and, eventually, claimed that he was Bruce Wayne’s younger brother, a previously unknown Wayne child named Thomas Wayne Jr. 

March claimed that when Bruce was three years old, Martha Wayne was involved in a car crash that injured her unborn child and caused an early birth. Bruce’s parents secretly placed the injured child into Gotham’s Children’s Hospital, and Martha visited him there. 

March claims that after Thomas and Martha Wayne were murdered, knowledge of the boy’s existence died with them, leaving him open to recruitment by the Court of Owls, who trained him and gave him the Lincoln March identity. 

Batman has defeated March several times in comic book stories, but he’s never captured him — and he cannot prove nor disprove March’s story without getting his DNA. March was eventually recaptured by the Court of Owls, and he continues to be a character associated with the Court of Owls in the DC comic book universe today. 

The Owls aren’t necessarily limited to Gotham City

the Bat God Barbatos. It's a long story...

the Bat God Barbatos. It’s a long story… (Image credit: DC)

Although the vast majority of the stories about the Court of Owls take place in Gotham, and that city serves as its headquarters, the group is associated with a much larger and older organization introduced to the DCU called the Parliament of Owls.

This international cabal of wealthy individuals traces its history waaaaaay back to ancient times, to a group that worshipped the Bat God Barbatos.

Although this more complicated part of the Court’s mythology may be too involved for a solely Batman-centric film that doesn’t delve into a larger DC movie universe, the Parliament’s more far-reaching, international impact could easily have some influence on an adapted movie version of the Court of Owls – if such a thing ever came to pass.

To learn more about the comic book origins of the Court of Owls, check out our look back with its creators – writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo.

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