Thursday, November 10, 2011

Batman: The Widening Gyre vol. 1 (comics)

Writer: Kevin Smith
Artist: Walt Flanagan
Collects: Batman: The Widening Gyre #1-6

If at first you don't succeed...

Kevin Smiths second crack at the best Batman story he can tell was received as badly as the first. Maybe worse, in some ways. Some other blogs - and even comic websites - proclaimed it as the "worst comic ever". Now, I'm certainly a fan of hyperbole - when the Muppets guest starred on Monday Night Raw this past Halloween I declared it the best thing ever - but here the exaggeration is a bit unwarranted.

So, basically, story goes like this; Batmans in a particularly reflective mood of late, deciding to have copious amounts of flashbacks. The point of all of it is trying to face the fact that he needs to trust people more. This is compounded by the return of Silver St. Cloud - one of the best love interests Batman had that we've almost never seen since - into his life. Meanwhile, the new hero Goatman - okay, okay, Baphomet - shows up and starts kicking some ass. Soon, Batman is coming to grips with the idea of a replacement and retiring. That's when it all falls apart.

Alright, first, the sexual innuendo is still here. But thankfully, it's not nearly as bad as "Joker strips down for buttsex in gratitude for being broken out of Arkham". Still, it's there and as such, you can never really escape the fact that this is a book written by Kevin Smith. If, for some reason, you manage to come close, don't worry, the book will be damn sure to remind you. This is the one thing about Smith that really irks me; it seems like he cannot go long without piling on the sex jokes or really dirty humor and he is as subtle with it as an oncoming train.

Other than that, Smith's not a bad writer, from what I've seen. Last go around he stumbled, but by this point he seemed to have a better handle on what he was dealing with. His dialogue for Batman is a bit less ridiculous than last time and - sex jokes and out of place humor aside - he goes out of his way to try and tell a story about Batman coming to grips with feelings. He doesn't completely stick the landing - and the "can't I be happy, do I really have to do this" thing's been done better - but he puts honest effort into selling it through flashbacks, the people coming into Batmans life and the circumstances that surrounds him.

Something that didn't bother me as much as I expected were the references, which were derided elsewhere. I usually do not like this kind of thing, especially when it's overdone. Kevin Smith went to the well once too often in Cacophony. He doesn't exactly tone it down for Widening Gyre, but it's not as noticeable anymore. Part of it is that they don't stick out like a sore thumb as much as last time. I think the other side of the coin is that a good number didn't get quite as cutesy as they did in Cacophony.

Smith blows it in the last issue, however, where it feels like the writing just sort of goes off a cliff. This book has a portrayal of Catwoman that is... more jealous slut than sexy, independent woman, which is very unfortunate, but it reaches its nadir in the last issue. Then there's the Silver situation, where Batman gets the idea in his head that she's a robot and... roughly handles her. Then there's the complete and utterly baffling scene with the crossbow, where Deadshot can somehow feel that it's a crossbow pointed at his head - yeabuwha? - and a misunderstanding of, you know, the basic mechanics of a crossbow.

The ending is also a problem. Batman reveals his secret identity to someone right after he got done debating whether the villains should be killed or not with them. You can probably see the problem; even with the book trying its damndest to sell that Batman realizes he needs to trust others more, it's still a questionable decision, especially given the fact that this person isn't even a hundred percent sold on the principles Batman and his organization operate on. There's trust and then there's stupidity.

I've read worse, though. Damning with faint praise, I'm sure, but still. It's an improvement over Cacophony for sure. It's easiest to read this book when you just take it as its own thing and don't try and tie it to any one portrayal of Batman. Seems difficult, especially given the fact that he's picking up and using toys from the Englehart run, but it's the way to go.

Walt Flanagan has also improved, but he's still got a ways to go to be great. There are still noticeable gaffes, like an eye at the wrong angle or place. There's the occasional hideously drawn face, as well. Also, in one of the middle issues where she has her hair in pigtails, his Silver St. Cloud is a dead ringer for Harley Quinn, which I doubt was intentional. Regardless, DC regularly employs far worse artists.

The Score: 6 out of 10

It's an improvement over Cacophony, for sure, but I'd still say it was middle of the road. If the final issue hadn't gone off the rails it would probably be more like a seven. As it is, though, it's a flawed work that could have been better but is still readable.

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