The Owl #1 (Dynamite) Retrospective and Review

A nearly forgotten hero from the Golden Age of comics returns with Dynamite's The Owl #1 from J.T. Krul and Heubert Khan Michael. We've got a review and a history of this very cool two-fisted hero!

Dell Comics wasn’t known for its superheroes. The publishing company carved a niche for itself during World War II publishing comic strip reprints, which is why it’s surprising that Dell was responsible for creating the Owl, a hero who has not had a great impact on the world of comics during the preceding decades, but has remained a constant (if quiet) presence since his creation in 1940.The Owl first appeared in Crackerjack Funnies #25 (man, that’s an old-timey title!) in July, 1940, sharing the spotlight with reprints of popular newspaper strips like Apple Mary and Don Winslow of the Navy. The Owl was an original creation of Dell and cartoonist Frank Thomas, something unusual for a company that found success simply repackaging comic strip reprints. There was nothing new about the Owl. Secretly police detective Nick Terry, the Owl was frustrated by how red tape handcuffed him instead of the criminals plaguing his city of Yorktown, so he donned a gaudy costume to strike fear into the hearts of criminals. He used a flying Owlmobile (similar to Batman and Green Arrow), and a blackout ray to blind his opponents (like Phantom Lady and Dr. Mid-Nite).The Owl eventually proved so popular that he became the cover feature with issue Crackerjack Funnies #31. In issue #32, Terry’s girlfriend, Belle Wayne (no relation) donned the mantle of Owl Girl and became a vital part of the series. Like his fellow avian avenger Hawkman before him, the Owl entered into a crime fighting duo with his wife that would define the character right up to his revival with Dynamite Comics in the pages of Project Superpowers. The two continued to bust heads in the pages of Crackerjack Funnies until the title’s cancelation in 1943. The duo was then thrust into the back pages of Popular Comics until the end of the Golden Age.Comic fans were not done with the Owl yet, though. In the 1960s Gold Key Comics acquired most of Dell’s original properties and revived the Owl. Now, this was during the absolute height of Batmania, the fan-fueled obsession with all things Adam West and Burt Ward, and Gold Key decided to approach the Owl with the same sense of fun and parody as the Batman TV series. Only two issues of this new swingin’ Owl were published, but man are they a blast. All the buffoonery and farce of the era were evident as the Owl was portrayed as a bumbling do-gooder while Owl Girl carried the physical load for the team.And what a creative team! The new Owl adventures were written by non-other than Star-Spangled Kid creator, Jerry Siegel. Oh yeah, you might have a passing familiarity with Siegel’s other great creation…some bloke named Superman. On art was Tom Gill, best known for his superb work on the Lone Ranger (back when the Lone Ranger didn’t hang out with some Norwegian death rocker looking dude with a dead bird on his head). Siegel and Gill created what could have become a refreshingly hilarious Silver Age superhero universe, but alas, it was not to be. With one more guest spot in Doctor Spektor in 1976, the Owl faded…until 2008 and Dynamite Comics’ Project: Superpowers, where Owl and Owl Girl were just two of the public domain characters revived in Dynamite’s multi-part saga. Now, Dynamite has tapped Green Arrow and Soulfire writer J.T. Krul and artist Heubert Khan Michael to guide the modern adventures of the Owl, all under a pretty purple cover by Alex Ross.So how did they do in the inaugural issue? Not a great deal of new ground was covered by Krul in The Owl #1. It’s all very familiar, the time lost hero getting used to his new and modern surroundings while carving a place for himself in a world he doesn’t fully understand. We’ve seen it in Captain America, and we saw it in The Twelve, and we very recently saw it in the Owl’s sister book, Miss Fury. Yet, familiarity does not breed contempt, as Krul makes Terry a very likable protagonist who is still on the same mission for justice he began seven decades ago.As Terry gets used to his new world, he desperately needs an anchor. Of course, that was Owl Girl who he believes is lost to him. Without his true love and partner, Terry wanders the world doing the only thing he knows how to do: fighting crime. He is shocked to learn that the bureaucracy of crime fighting has gotten even worse since his heyday, which makes him decide the world needs the Owl more than ever.At times, Krul does a nice job contrasting the modern world with the world of yesteryear. The Owl spends a great deal of time judging the new society he finds himself in and bemoaning what he has lost. When there is a focus on the personal aspects of his old life, the book is effective, but when Krul, through Terry, looks at yesterday through rose-colored glasses, the whole thing becomes a bit cynical and judgmental. If the Owl’s time was so great, why did he need to put on a costume in the first place? Terry comments that thieves had more honor in his day. Well, we have all seen old photos of mob hits and there isn’t really a great deal of romance there. The effort Krul spent trying to establish the Owl as a time-lost champion is appreciated, but looking at the past with such a rosy outlook is unrealistic from someone who had to become a vigilante in order to combat the dangers of his past. It seems everyone in this book not called the Owl is a dick. From the crooks he spends the issue beating down to the first modern police he encounters. It’s all a bit much when the issue would be better served establishing who Terry is and why he is driven to fight.The mystery surrounding where Owl Girl might be is intriguing. The issue ends on a cliffhanger involving her return, which is interesting enough to overlook some of the book’s clumsier flaws. Even the art looks unfinished and rushed. Michael handles action well enough, and his Owl is dramatically rendered, but the quieter scenes all have a clay-like quality to them that made it look like he rushed through the talky scenes to get to the juicy stuff.It’s good to see the Owl back, but despite a captivating mystery involving Owl Girl, one wishes there was a little bit more meat on the bone so the character can finally join the Whooooos Whooooo of heroes. Oh, yes I did.


Story: 5/10Art: 5/10Overall: 5/10Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!