Kevin Smith and Walt Flanagan reunite for another Batman story, The Widening Gyre. I like Kevin Smith. I like his sense of humor. There are a lot of things Smith gets right in this story, but unfortunately the negatives outweigh the positives.
A new superhero comes to Gotham wearing a wooden goat mask, calling himself “Baphomet,” and kicking evil-doer ass, giving Batman the idea that this might be the man he’s been looking for to replace him and let Batman retire. Meanwhile Silver St Cloud re-enters Bruce Wayne’s life after her husband’s death, and the two begin a whirlwind relationship. But who is Baphomet and why has he suddenly appeared to take down Batman’s Rogues Gallery?
“Gyre” is a mixed bag for me – there’s plenty of action but not a strong enough plot to say this is a great Batman book. For example, there are a lot of old Batman villains that get aired for a few pages before being taken down again – Baron Blitzkrieg, Etrigan, Cornelius Stirk, Black Spider, and Crazy Quilt all get some face time.
Now I don’t mind the retro flashbacks that Smith added with the tongue-in-cheek dialogue. It’s a nice homage to a bygone era of Batman comics and it’s clearly coming from a place of genuine love and nostalgia. Smith isn’t holding back with these elements as it’s a nice tip of the hat to what’s come before. It also provides a nice contrast to the more grim present day events. I imagine a lot of fans are rolling their eyes at stuff like Batman calling Robin “chum” and pointing to it as evidence that Smith doesn’t “get” Batman – but I’d argue the opposite.
There are moments in the dialogue where you definitely start to hear Smith’s voice instead of Batman’s, but for the most part he does an admirable job rejecting Miller’s no-nonsense, hard-boiled interpretation (particularly in the voice over sections). One of the most controversial elements seems to be including moments like the sandwich and the revelation that Batman wet himself during one of Year One’s most pivotal and iconic moments. I agree that Batman pissing his pants is a bit much (though Smith does love defending this), but I actually thought the more subtle attempts at humanizing Batman were sort of interesting.
The artwork is… well, it’s pretty bad. I did not like Flanagan’s work in Cacophony either. The proportions are way off most of the time. Facial features change dramatically from panel-to-panel, and people bend and move in ways that look utterly ridiculous. Flanagan is actually a pretty skilled visual storyteller, and the layout of the panels and their angles is often very clever – it’s just the basics of human anatomy that he needs to work on. It’s really distracting and often robs a scene of whatever dramatic weight it’s supposed to have.
My biggest issue with the story, though, is its treatment of the female characters. Silver St. Cloud doesn’t remotely feel like the same person she was in the classic Englehart runs. Here she’s a school girl with a crush, not a woman in love. She looks and sounds like a teenie bopper at a boy band concert.
Catwoman fares no better. I just don’t buy her as “the other woman”. Selina Kyle is way too strong and stubborn for the sort of behavior she displays here. Even if she were this jealous of Bruce’s relationship, those feelings would probably manifest themselves in a completely different (and more passive-aggressive) manor than what happens here. Smith makes Kyle seem desperate, whiny, insecure, and rather pathetic. Their relationship is so much more complicated.
The Baphomet story is the interesting piece of the puzzle, though he de-masks early on and it’s nobody from Batman’s past that’s relevant. In fact, it’s kind of a red herring, but I don’t want to spoil it for you.
I like the themes Smith is skimming the surface of here and I don’t think The Widening Gyre is the train wreck a lot of detractors would like you to believe it is, but the fact is there are much better Batman stories out there. It’s not a total misfire, not even close, but for me it was more than a little disappointing. JQ gives this book a 5/10.