Batman managed to escape relatively unscathed in the New 52, keeping the majority of his history intact. This should ring alarm bells for newcomers to the Batman books, however writer Scott Snyder kept new readers in mind when crafting The Court of Owls storyline, as he introduces the major players through a clever contact lens recognition system that Batman is testing out, it also helps that this story focuses almost entirely on the titular character who even casual comic book fans should be aware of by now. There are a few nods to the old Batman mythos, especially in the early part of the story, however the bulk of the story concentrates on a new enemy to Batman's roster, a generations old illuminati style organisation called the Court of Owls.
We also see Batman's alter ego Bruce Wayne taking a more active role in protecting Gotham in public when he announces a citywide initiative of urban regeneration, something that puts him a little bit too in control of Gotham for the Court of Owls liking. Bruce's plans also put him in contact with Lincoln March a mayoral candidate in Gotham who Bruce becomes acquaintances with, that is until one of the Courts assassins, a Talon attacks Lincoln leaving him gravely injured and Bruce has to interject.
Batman's investigation into the Court Snyder really fleshes out the history of the Gotham for us; we find out that Bruce's grandfather was scared of owls before he died and Bruce himself even thought the Court may have had something to do with his parents deaths when he was still a child, something that clouds his judgement to this day. This history building is something that Snyder has become exceptionally good at from his past Batman stories, particularly Gates of Gotham, and impressively everything fits in seamlessly to the existing Batman mythos.
At times, it does seem like the writer doesn't want Batman to win this fight though, as during the story he's attacked, stabbed, blown up and then eventually trapped by the Court in a labyrinth maze for days on end. This is definitely where the book is weakest, as it's only the first half of the overall story arc, so we're seeing Batman at his weakest before he manages to presumably climb back up to the top in the next volume, but it does leave the reader salivating to find out what happens next, especially after a fairly major reveal at the end of the book.
Gregg Capullo, the penciller on the book, pulls off some spectacular artistic feats to show how turned around Batman is getting in the Courts maze by literally turning the pages on their side and ultimately upside down. It's a small trick that DC were originally unwilling to go with, in case readers thought it was an error, but it really is effective and it's refreshing to see such a major publisher take risks in one of their biggest books.
Capullo's art on a whole does initially seem cartoony, especially for such a dark, brooding character, however he does manage to give each character a voice of their own, including Gotham itself, that really comes across in their actions and facial expressions. Capullo also had a major hand in designing the Talons themselves, which I'm sure we'll see a lot more of in the next Batman book, and will make Capullo one of the best remembered, and well loved Batman artists in recent memory.
If you're new to Batman, this is a brilliant place to get to know the mythos, and for existing readers it's the start of something that will be around in the Batman comics for many more years to come.