The Court of Owls is a favorite for Batman writers who want to change up a long-established fact in Batman lore. Need to give a character a new origin? The Court of Owls arranged the origin we know about. Need to retcon some tragic new history? The Court of Owls did it. For as many things about this show that raise eyebrows, this element is unquestionably authentic to the comics. Spoilers follow for Gotham Knights, Season 1, Episode 6, “A Chill in Gotham.”
“A Chill in Gotham”
As Joe Chill (guest star Doug Bradley) is set to be executed for the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, he turns to Harvey (Misha Collins) to make one final request — to speak with Turner (Oscar Morgan). Meanwhile, Stephanie (Anna Lore) seeks help from her dad Arthur Brown (guest star Ethan Embry) when she has trouble cracking a code, and Carrie (Navia Robinson) is forced to help at the hospital after her secret life of vigilantism lands her in hot water with her mom.
At their best, comics tell iconic, memorable stories about characters that embody human traits. Sometimes, though, they’re just soap operas where everyone wears domino masks. That’s where the Court of Owls so often shows up, as discussed above. As a secret society that has existed since before the earliest days of Gotham and whose members exist in the very highest ranks of the city’s elite, you can always find a way to fit the Court into any narrative, new or old.
That brings us to one of Gotham’s most notorious criminals, Joe Chill–the man who killed Thomas and Martha Wayne. The killer is on Gotham’s death row with his execution imminent, and he’s suddenly asking to talk to “the kid who killed Batman.” Chill has apparently been on death row for fifty years for killing the Waynes, and that tells us a lot about the version of Gotham we’re living in.
That means that Bruce was somewhere between 55 and 60 years old when he died. That matches up with when Batman met Carrie Kelley in The Dark Knight Returns, where he was 55 years old. In this version of Gotham, Batman has been around for quite a while, and this timeline leaves room for him to have an illustrious career lasting anywhere from 10 to 30 years. In this way, it slots into the comics very nicely. This Batman is old enough that he’s had a few sidekicks over the years, but he’s ancient for a vigilante. He’s old enough that he would’ve wanted to support an orphaned child just as a father and not as an avenging angel, and old enough that he wouldn’t be in peak condition.
The Court would totally do that.
When Chill comes face to face with Turner, he explains that he did not, in fact, kill he Waynes. He was hired to mug them, and his gun wasn’t even loaded at the time. Instead, an unknown assailant behind him took the shots without his prior knowledge. For better or worse, this is the kind of story we see the Court weaving in Batman comics. In the Dark Knights Metal storyline, for example, the Court spent decades anointing Batman with various metals to lay the groundwork to raise the dark god Barbatos. In other words, a story move like this would be not just in character with other things the comics have done with the Court, but almost seems like a thing they could’ve already done.
Doug Bradley, who is best known for playing Pinhead in the earlier Hellraiser movies, plays Joe Chill. The British actor gives Chill somewhat of a mid-Atlantic accent–not quite British, but not not British, either. He gives the character a ton of presence. He feels like someone who isn’t a good person, but he’s not the monster people characterize him as. He’s been punished his whole life and has a perspective that no one else does–except Turner. Bradley raises the bar and Oscar Morgan climbs with him, giving Turner more depth as someone who was raised to believe in justice and law but who has been forced to operate outside of one to pursue the other even without his adoptive father’s direct influence.
Big Bad Harv
The other characters have their moments here. The fight scene between the kids and the mobsters with the drugs is fun. Stephanie visits her father Arthur, also known as Cluemaster, played by Ethan Embry. The scene is short, but Embry plays Cluemaster just weird enough that it feels like they wanted to establish him as someone they could bring back later. His appearance leads to Stephanie, Harper, and Cullen figuring out the cipher in the book they found last week by connecting some clues that no reasonable human would ever connect, but a good puzzle-solving scene is an important part of any comic book mystery story.
Harvey Dent, meanwhile, seems like he might have a second job. It’s looking more and more like Big Bad Harv is moonlighting for the Court of Owls while Harvey Dent tries in vain to fight them, even going so far as to carry out hits and deliver Owl coins to targets.
It’s tough to admit it after the show’s terrible early marketing and its agonizingly slow start, but there’s actually a lot of stuff I like here. I’m still not convinced that Misha Collins is the person to play a character with split personalities or that the CW is the right place for this type of show. But we’re establishing a sort of Elseworlds of Elseworlds story that pulls stuff from The Dark Knight Returns and Court of Owls stories that we don’t usually see replicated in other Batman media. With the show almost certainly not getting a second season, we’re probably going to end up with a lot of frustrating plot threads dangling. But I’m at the point with the story now where I’m finding things that I can genuinely enjoy.