He’s useful as an early villain in street-level game, or as part of a New York City villains alliance against more seasoned heroes. He’s closer to an old James Bond villain with a small power, than to a hands-on super-villain.
The Owl’s profile is presented as a series of shorter, chronological profiles (technically, chronconned profiles).
I hesitated since his stats block, characterisation, background block, etc. change little from 1964 to 1992. But he uses a lot of devices, which makes for longer profiles. So let’s go for thin slices.
The series goes :
- The Owl (Leland Owlsley) part #1 – 1964-1975. This here writeup.
- The Owl (Leland Owlsley) part #2 – 1976-1981.
- The Owl (Leland Owlsley) part #3 – 1982-1992.
- The Owl (Leland Owlsley) part #4 – 1992-2003.
- Real Name: Leland Owlsley.
- Marital Status: Presumed divorced.
- Known Relatives: Owlsley seems to have had two marriages. Later on we learn that he has a daughter, Jubula Pride.
- Group Affiliation: Leads his own criminal crew.
- Base of Operations: New York City. For a time, Chicago then San Francisco.
- Height: 5’11” Weight: 210 lbs.
- Eyes: Blue Hair: Reddish brown.
Powers & Abilities
The Owl’s primary asset is his talent for finance. He’s a highly capable investor, and for a while he was among the biggest fortunes in New York City. He covertly invested most of that, so the Owl’s plans are usually well-funded.
Though he doesn’t treat his henchmen and allies well, the Owl is normally accompanied by his own armed criminal crew. I’d imagine he pays well.
He also likes using vehicles, especially owl-themed helicopters.
By 1960s standards, he’s big and strong. He’s also surprisingly fast and has a powerful presence and energy level. He’s a better hand-to-hand combatant than most criminals, though it’s not sufficient to oppose Daredevil (Matt Murdock).
He also was seen operating all sorts of vehicles. Including motorboats, rocketships and helicopters.
He has good night vision. Nothing superhuman, but noticeably above average.
The Owl has a long track record of recovering from massive physical trauma. Even when doctors agree he can’t possibly recover, he does. In a super-hero comic book it’s not as remarkable, but it’s still notable.
The Owl attributes this to his superior willpower, of course. But it might be a side effect of the serum (below). Animal-themed powers in the Marvel Universe often are associated with a small healing factor .
As the owl flies
The Owl regularly takes a special serum that gives him the power of flight. It is limited, though. It’s more about cancelling gravity than soaring.
On his own, the Owl can reach an altitude of five metres or so, and glide for a bit less than seven times his elevation. His maneuverability when doing so is at best adequate.
However, he’s adept at using air currents to rise significantly higher and manoeuver, like with a parachute. Furthermore, his cape is specially designed to act as a wingsuit, boosting his maneuverability and lift.
This small power saved his life on many occasions. It is particularly handy to escape, and the Owl prefers to fight in or on taller buildings.
The serum is having a mutagenic effect on the Owl’s body. Daredevil could tell by their first encounter that his heartbeat and odour had been subtly altered. However, the Owl remained in denial for decades.
As the owl nests (part 1)
The various bases the Owl used usually had an imposing throne with owl motifs.
The Owl’s original base was a sinister, eccentric millionaire’s mansion. It was on the Palisades in New Jersey, which are cliffs along the Hudson River.
- The colourful architecture was difficult to see from the river.
- There was the mandatory hidden trapdoor to facilitate throwing people all the way down into the Hudson.
- There were cages for prisoners. These were suspended from the ceiling and looked much like giant bird cages. The steel wasn’t that great, though.
- The Aerie was facing Manhattan, so the Owl could stare at his future prize.
- The Owl was familiar with the air currents in this area.
(In the retelling in Daredevil: Yellow, the Aerie doesn’t exist (the Owl operates in a normal-looking Manhattan building) and the Owl is already visibly mutated. Here we’ll stick with the original version).
Island and castle
His 1966 base was a craggy, volcanic, remote Atlantic island. Somehow, there was a full-sized medieval castle there.
- There were bird-style cages there too, rigged to fall from the ceiling. This was so quick even Daredevil couldn’t react. Furthermore, the bars could be heated so as to burn flesh on contact.
- There was a bottomless pit. And cables to bring the cages over it, then open their floor.
- Hidden in the castle was his then-current master weapon, a giant robotic owl.
There also was a backup Aerie somewhere else. This came it handy after the island and castle were wrecked.
The Owl routinely uses advanced technology in his schemes. Most of it isn’t quite sci-fi, just somewhat unfeasible. Such as handguns that shoot blinding knockout gas, or capes allowing a big guy to glide.
There’s often just one sci-fi gizmo, such as a robot or a knowledge draining machine. It’ll be the lynchpin of his current nefarious scheme.
This stuff is detailed in the game stats sections.
So, a popular 1964 song, lessee… Heh, the Serendipity Singers. I had forgotten they once existed, but it’s a reasonable fit.
Leland Owlsley seemingly had a dismal, violent youth. He mentioned that his father threw boiling grease at him when he was six, scalding him. He also seems to have married young – then abused his wife until she could leave him.
However, he turned his life around. He had a genuine talent for investing and finance, and became wealthy. He used his developing fortune for local philanthropy, bankrolling youth centres and the like. His second marriage also worked incomparably better.
He developed a rivalry with financier Paul Greyson. They sought to outdo each other in boardrooms and on the stock exchange. However, this seems to have remained mostly legal.
Owlsley was eventually approached by the mob for a money laundering scheme. This soon became major revenue for him, but FBI agents arrested him. Owlsley framed an accountant, one George Grey. This led to Grey’s suicide.
(There’s a small discrepancy between Daredevil Vol. 1 #3 and #302/303. Here I’m using the later version, where Grey dies before Owlsley fully becomes the Owl.)
Quicker, easier, more seductive
Learning of Grey’s death, Owlsley had some sort of breakdown or dissociative episode. He now only answered to the title of “the Owl”. He abandoned his friends and family. His countenance also changed, as he now exuded menace and evil intensity.
He set up how own mob, and worked to become the king of crime in New York City. During the early phases of this, he still pretended to be a legit financier.
Investigations would soon make that impossible. But by that point the huge Owlsley fortune was gone. A large chunk had been invested in the Aerie, his ominous residence. Another part had bought a serum giving him a limited power of flight. The rest had been covertly invested.
However, he eventually learned of the Kingpin (Wilson Fisk). Knowing that he couldn’t compete with Fisk further twisted him with envy.
(It seems likely that Owlsley became the Owl not too long before the fall of Alexander Bont, who was the kingpin of New York’s underworld before Fisk. The power vacuum before Fisk rose may have given the Owl the impression that he had a genuine shot at the crown.)
As he abandoned any pretences of not being a criminal, the Owl hired to grow his Owl Gang. That included four notable hirelings :
- One of the unnamed thug in the background was later stated to have been “Crusher” Creel, as retcon.
- In the Daredevil: Yellow retelling of DD’s early career, the Owl is helped by a haunted-looking woman who manipulates Nelson & Murdock as part of Owlsley’s plan (below). She goes by “Grace”, but it is heavily implied that she actually is Gilda Dent, who fled Gotham City after committing several of the Holiday murders to protect her husband; D.A. Harvey Dent. So yes, it was a stealth crossover with the classic Batman: The Long Halloween Limited Series.
- Owsley then hires two henchmen as lieutenants for his nascent Owl Gang :
One attempted recruitment was Matt Murdock. The Owl needed a lawyer as a mouthpiece. He thought that the young and blind Murdock would be helpless against him.
This led to a clash with Daredevil. The Owl captured the black-and-yellow vigilante after inevitably kidnapping Karen Page. He intended to show his captive to other mob bosses so they would acknowledge him as leader.
(This is nonsensical Silver Age writing. However, decades later it was established that Alexander Bont had become the original kingpin of New York in a similar way. He had murdered the Defender (Don Stevens) during the late 1940s. So this retcon means that there was a tradition the mobs could agree to follow.)
The Owl narrowly escaped from Daredevil, but was arrested by the NYPD. The Aerie was stormed by the police and the Owl Gang remained stillborn.
The Owl was sentenced to prison by one Judge Lewis. However, he soon escaped an retreated to one of his hidden bases. This one was a private volcanic island somewhere in the Atlantic, with a tarmac for his private plane. There, he assembled the first actual version of his Owl Gang.
Driven by ego and revenge, the Owl wanted to try Judge Lewis in turn. He assembled a “jury” of criminals whom Lewis had condemned over the years. Then he kidnapped the judge – plus Matt Murdock as the “defence attorney”. This strange endeavour collapsed when Daredevil “inexplicably” intervened, and the volcano inevitably erupted.
The Owl’s giant robot owl failed to kill Daredevil, but it allowed the criminal to escape. So, see, giant robot owls are useful despite what everybody says.
You are an agent of the Assassin
In 1971, the Owl was one of the parties controlled and manipulated by Mister Kline, the Assassin. Owlsley apparently had been freed from prison and given equipment by Kline.
The Owl and Kline’s owl-themed agents launched an airborne robbery, raiding a thinly disguised Macy’s with gas pistols. The actual goal was to reel in Daredevil to capture him – alive. However, ol’ hornhead fought harder than planned.
The Owl ended up seemingly killing DD, sending him to crash into the Hudson River. Kline released Owlsley from his service.
Kline had anonymously warned the Black Widow (Natalia Romanova) about the battle. She thus was in the right place at the right time to fish Daredevil out of the Hudson.
The two heroes were on hand when the Owl attempted to rob the Treasury with a small crew and a ramming vehicle. They defeated the attackers, and the Owl and his men were arrested.
The Owl escaped within months at most. He moved to Chicago, where super-hero presence was much lighter, and set up a new Owl Gang.
This one was seemingly assembled in partnership with a mobster named Broussard. This likely was meant to save time, though the Owl and Broussard was obviously planning to betray each other.
(The Owl refers to “years of planning”. So it would seem that the Chicago scheme started before he was forced to work for Mister Kline.)
The Owl also procured a strange machine that could drain knowledge, and upload it into his own mind. Various experts were captured to feed this machine, including Dr. Tumolo. Despite the Cat (Greer Nelson)’s intervention, Tumolo was subjected to the machine and suffered brain damage.
The first clash with the Cat resulted in the Owl having three of his men gunned down so they wouldn’t talk. The second resulted in the police attacking his headquarters. Broussard seized the moment to betray the Owl and use the knowledge machine. But a stray bullet hit a control panel, leaving him a vegetable.
The Owl narrowly escaped from the Cat.
San Francisco, où êtes vous
He moved to San Francisco. SF had recently been home to Daredevil, but he had moved back to New York City – so the Owl thought it would be safe. However, the Black Widow was still there, and Daredevil popped back to visit her. In 1974, they thus interfered with the Owl’s protection racket.
The Owl and his gang soon struck back, capturing both. He attempted to use a brain-draining machine — presumably a copy of the Chicago one — on Daredevil. But the Black Widow burst free and thrashed him and his gang. Holding a gun to Daredevil’s head, the Owl forced the Widow to work for him.
The criminal wanted Romanoff to kidnap zoology expert Shanna O’Hara to drain her knowledge. He didn’t know that Dr. O’Hara was also known as Shanna the She-Devil. Romanoff and O’Hara promptly allied and freed Daredevil, who narrowly captured the Owl.
The Owl is a sinister, domineering megalomaniac who revels in his own cruelty. He dreams of being the richest and most powerful man in New York City, holding the entire metropolis in a reign of terror like a vampire king.
He’s driven by ego for a thirst for utter control. Everyone should obey him out of fear, and the Owl should hold total power. Nobody should ever be able to oppose him, or even slightly disobey him or talk back. He becomes physically violent if anything or anyone tries to deny him.
He’s fond of stock bits such as making grandiose declarations of power — up to and including omnipotence, which gliding apparently brings — and of sacrificing his henchmen.
As part of his theme, the Owl prefers to strike at night. He’s also fond of tacky owlike decorations and statues for his lairs.
TLDR – at this point he’s a generic rich bad guy. Like Auric Goldfinger or Hugo Drax with a different schtick, I guess.
“The Owl accepts no one at face value ! If you claim to be as strong as an ape, I shall make you prove it ! Enter this cage, if you dare !”
“For within the Forbidden Chamber stands my supreme creation — my greatest weapon ! Completely obedient to my every command — unbeatable — unswerving in its loyalty to me — created for one purpose alone — to destroy the enemies of the Owl !”
“You’re blind now, Daredevil ! Helpless before the power and genius of the Owl !”
DC Universe History
The Owl would so easily fit as a Batman villain nobody’d ever notice. But I’m not convinced he does anything that’s not already covered by more impressive Batman baddies.
Perhaps he was active before Batman (Bruce Wayne)’s time and was taken down by the Reaper (Judson Caspian) near the end of his career. Or was he ? With his track record of surviving seemingly fatal ailments, the nigh-forgotten Owl could make his return decades later…
To be continued
This entry continues in part #2 !
Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG
The Owl (Classic)
|Dex: 04||Str: 03||Bod: 04||Motivation: Power|
|Int: 05||Wil: 06||Min: 04||Occupation: Professional criminal|
|Inf: 06||Aur: 05||Spi: 05||Wealth: 010|
|Init: 017||HP: 045|
Gliding: 03, Jumping: 02, Regeneration: 01, Ultra-vision: 01
Bonuses and Limitations:
- Regeneration is Form Function, but cannot regrow tissues beyond what’s humanly feasible.
- Ultra-vision is limited to making the Owl’s low-light vision twice as good as the human average.
Evasion (Aerial only): 06, Martial artist: 05, Vehicles (SEAL): 04, Weaponry (Firearms): 04
Bonuses and Limitations:
Evasion only when he can manoeuvre, which normally requires his CAPE.
Familiarity (High-tech devices operation), Headquarters (Specifics by story), Scholar (Finance), Stroke of Genius (Knowledge drain machine).
Underworld (Low), Odd technology providers (Low).
CAPE [BODY 02, Flight: 05, Limitation: Flight can only be performed along suitable air currents].
The Owl has moderate AP levels, but a decent amount of Hero Points for his niche. This allows him to hold his own for a little while. An AV boost here and there, some LDDs, that sort of things.
His Martial Artist substitutions are also wisely used. This gives him more AV and RV than you’d expect. Especially if you use the default Action Tables (as opposed to, say, double-scale), as it ups him by one Column.
If you’re using house rules for Skilled Character Interaction, add Charisma: 05.
This robot seemed to have a wingspan of 12 metres or so (it varies greatly from panel to panel). It attacked by swooping with its talons out, and was remarkably swift and manoeuvrable. It was captured, but the Owl remotely blew it up.
Its main weakness is that it needs to be manually controlled from a console. One suspects that the range isn’t the greatest. Outside of control range, the owl will simply glide/fly straight ahead.
[DEX 06 STR 05 BODY 08, Flight: 07, Gliding: 05, R#03]. Controlling the robot from the console takes all Actions, and the Range may be as low as 05.
The self-destruction- charge likely amounted to Bomb: 12.
During this story, the Owl deployed :
- A helicopter. My guess would be a modified Sikorsky H-5 (one of the larger variants, like the HO3S, with all but one seat removed), with a cosmetic owl-shaped “prow” and an advanced auto-pilot.
- Five agents with at least “Spandex-clad henchman” stats. Their owl-themed masks doubled as full gas masks. These men were oddly tough – and since they actually worked for Mister Kline, it is possible that they were actually advanced androids.
- Each agent had two pistols. One was a normal handgun, the other shot blinding knockout has [BODY 02, Knockout gas: 04, Sensory block (Sight): 05, Bonus: Sensory Block is Combined With and active throughout Knockout Gas, but resisted by the same RV boosters as KO Gas].
- One agent had a video camera with real-time feed on his chest. The helicopter was also festooned with cameras. The feeds were transmitted to a control post in the helo, as well as in the Owl’s base.
- They later used a sort of four-persons supercar with an owl-head-shaped ram. It had extensive crash safety features, and could be driven through a thick stone wall. The three henchmen helping the Owl also had knockout gas grenades.
In Chicago, the Owl deployed :
- A trio of henchmen with green gliding capes [BODY 01, Gliding: 03] and common handguns.
- Four more henchmen with the same costume and handguns, but no cape.
- Another helicopter with an owl face decoration on the front. This one didn’t have cameras, but had a powerful searchlight. The man at the door also had a submachinegun.
- The knowledge transfer machine wasn’t quite seen in action. It was more of a plot device. However, the Owl did it use once and early – to copy the knowledge to build a new one to his brain. Hence his Stroke of Genius.
- Spandex clad henchmen, helicopter, one guy with a submachinegun at the helo’s door, you know the drill.
- A poison injector ring [BODY 03, Poison touch: 06, Bonus: Poison touch can be Combined with the Owl’s unarmed EV]. The ring presumably holds but a few doses.
- Weighted nets falling from the ceiling (Snare with an AV of 10 and an EV of 04).
- High-pressure nozzles pumping the room full of gas within seconds. This is a new blinding formulation (Sensory block (Sight): 09 tested against BODY/BODY, Sealed Systems and Systemic Antidote both help) to which the Owl is immune.
Source of Character: Marvel comics.
Helper(s): Sean MacDonald, Darci, Dr. Piispanen; Brian Cronin’s column for the Golda Dent crossover.
Writeup completed on the 7th of October, 2019.