If there's something Batman has in abundance, it's truly terrifying villains. Gotham City is stocked top to bottom with bad guys who feel like they just stepped straight out of a nightmare. There's the obvious ones, of course, your Jokers, your Scarecrows… But honestly? It's the less obvious ones you should probably be more worried about.

Take the Court of Owls, for instance. Depending on how new you are to Gotham, the name may not be familiar to you, but that's all right. They weren't familiar to a lot of people for a very long time. That's kind of their whole deal (which we'll get to in a moment). For now, if you're looking for a great place to start—and a great way to celebrate the upcoming Batman Day—you should head out to your local comic shop and pick up the brand-new Essential Edition of BATMAN: THE COURT OF OWLS SAGA, which includes the first eleven issues of the legendary New 52 run that started it all, plus all kinds of special bonuses and artwork.

There's no such thing as "required reading" for Batman Day, this is a holiday after all, but this story is about as critical as they get to really understanding not just the Dark Knight himself, but Gotham City as a whole. So, you know, if you're interested in that sort of thing, this is the best place to go.

What, exactly, makes the Court so special? We're so glad you asked.

The Court of Owls is actually less a "villain" and much more of a...well, city-wide conspiracy, to put it lightly. They've been lurking in the shadows of Gotham for years, pulling the strings, staying out of sight. They're not really after your traditional costumed criminal conquests, either. It's not fame or jewels or chaos they're after, it's power in the absolute rarest and most basic form. They want complete and total control of Gotham's fate, no questions asked. And the worst part? They've had exactly that for more years than anyone could really count. They're not starting from the bottom and going to war against the big bad Batman—they've basically already won.

The Court of Owls has been directing the tides of the city in secret for centuries, and not even Batman was aware they existed. In fact, like the majority of Gotham, he believed them to be a folktale—a nursery rhyme meant to be a cautionary tale for disobedient kids.

Beware the Court of Owls, that watches all the time,
Ruling Gotham from a shadowed perch,
behind granite and lime.
They watch you at your hearth,
they watch you in your bed.
Speak not a whispered word about them,
or they'll send the Talon for your head.

Of course, like so many things in Gotham, the things that go bump in the night actually turned out to be very, very real.

We won't elaborate too much on just how Bruce uncovers the identity of the Court, or what they want from him to save you from errant spoilers. For that, you're just going to have to pick up the book and find out yourself. However, we can assure you that the root of the story is something that will fundamentally alter your understanding of not just Batman, but the entire Bat-Family in the process.

That line in the nursery rhyme about Talons? That's a real thing, too, and they're not unrelated or disconnected from this whole string of events. It’s something that brings a handful of people very, very close to Bruce into the mix in ways that aren't always comfortable.

At the end of the day, the Court of Owls may be a newer addition to the Batman pantheon, but they're one that has become as foundational and critical to the shape of things as some of their older counterparts. They may not have the Golden Age history of someone like Hugo Strange or the immediate distinction of the Joker, but their introduction has placed them firmly at the heart of things in the DC Universe—and you'll find the more you start to familiarize yourself with their influence, the more you'll start to notice it. Not just in Gotham, but around the globe.

Pick up the Essentials Edition of Batman: The Court of Owls Saga to start your slow descent into the conspiracy and madness that has dominated Gotham all this time and peel away the secrets that make the city what it is today.

BATMAN: THE COURT OF OWLS SAGA: THE ESSENTIAL EDITION by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo is now available in print and available tomorrow as a digital download.

Meg Downey writes about Batman and the DC Universe for DCComics.com and is a member of the #DCTV Couch Club. Follow her on Twitter at @rustypolished.